Section A: Literature Review

Please cite this publication in the following format:
Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. (2016). Faculty Mentoring for Teaching Report. Toronto: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, University of Toronto

Although mentoring research has its foundations within the business sphere, the past two decades have seen an increase in scholarship that identifies effective higher education faculty mentoring program models (Zellers, Howard & Barcic, 2008).

Much of the literature on faculty mentoring focuses on an analysis and examination of a combination of instructors’ roles related to research, teaching and service. This study addresses the broader and more prolific field of research on faculty mentoring but acknowledges and addresses a gap within the literature specific to mentoring for teaching.

In this section:
Institutional Climate and Support for Faculty
Teaching Issues and Concerns for Faculty
Definitions of Mentoring and Mentors
Benefits of Mentoring
Mentoring Challenges
Approaches to Mentoring: A Continuum

  • Informal Approaches
  • Formal Approaches

Faculty Mentoring Models

  • Dyad Mentoring
  • Group and Mutual Peer Mentoring Models
  • Networks and Broader Community Teaching Support
  • Mentoring Model Framework

Mentoring Beyond New and Junior Faculty
Summary of Literature Review



There are no comprehensive studies on the existence of faculty mentoring programs (teaching is subsumed here) within higher education. Authors make assumptions and estimates on the availability of such programs, and there is a general understanding that mentoring for faculty has been deemed an important area within higher education (Jones, 2008; Yun, Baldi & Sorcinelli, 2016; Zellers et al., 2008). Austin, Sorcinelli and McDaniels (2007) contend that early career faculty seek and value a “culture of collegiality” and,

want to pursue their work in a community where collaboration is respected and encouraged, where colleagues serve as mentors and role models, where friendships develop between colleagues within and across departments, and where there is time and opportunity for interaction and talk about ideas, one’s work and the institution. (p.61)

Unfortunately, research draws attention to faculty reports of isolation and dissatisfaction within the early years of their careers (Bode, 1999; Hemer, 2014). Boice’s (1992) seminal work on faculty mentoring focused on the gaps in such systematic programs, challenging the notion that laissez faire or ‘natural mentoring’ would suffice in meeting the needs of new faculty. The more recent work of Bean et al. (2014) states that,

University administrators should take heed that one of the most important elements of developing and retaining promising, probationary level faculty members and maintaining satisfaction of more senior faculty members is to ensure that there are opportunities to enter into formal support systems, that is, mentoring partnerships. (p. 68)

Few opportunities to discuss teaching. Zellers et al.’s (2008) comprehensive critical review of faculty mentoring programs states that “one must view these relationships within the organizational or cultural contexts in which they occur,” and Britnell et al (2010) and Mathias (2005) acknowledge that specific to mentoring for teaching, one’s institutional context (e.g., research intensive) may lessen the focus on the need for formalized and intentional mentoring programs. Mathias further contends that department administration frequently assume that sending new faculty to teacher development courses will adequately meet both the personal goals of the faculty member and the departmental priorities for teaching. Gran (2006) refers to a related common faculty development problem: that of the ‘return problem’ in which instructors participate in pedagogical workshops and events but face few avenues for follow-up discussions with colleagues and/or opportunities upon returning to their home departments. Ultimately, specific to mentoring for teaching practices, one’s broader institutional climate is a key factor in understanding how mentoring relationships evolve, and are sustained over the long term (Jones, 2008). Jones notes:

Essentially most new faculty members have two major obstacles to overcome in order to be exemplary teachers: they must strive to move beyond their natural tendency of egocentrism in the classroom, and they must challenge the culture of their institutions, which in many cases has belittled in either deed or in thought the role of faculty as teacher. (p.95)

Developing and enhancing effective teaching practices within higher education faculty requires sustained efforts at many levels within an institution to tap into the enthusiasm that new faculty often bring to their teaching appointments. While participating in pedagogical workshops or other such educational development activities is a key step for many instructors, a broader institutional commitment is required. Evers and Hall (2010) assert: “it is important for universities to develop appropriate teaching and learning programs to promote faculty development and support student learning” (p. 2-3). Mentoring for teaching is one such avenue that may address faculty concerns that address both the individual and the wider context in which they teach and discuss their pedagogy.



Austin, Sorcinelli, and McDaniels (2007) cited several studies that agree teaching is a “primary source of anxiety among new professors, many of whom begin their first academic positions with little or no preparation in teaching” (p.65). The authors noted, however, that these new and junior faculty are “deeply committed” to teaching.

Gaps in mentoring for teaching. Within the context of Ontario universities, Britnell et al.’s (2010) report showed that “there is still a relatively abrupt transition from graduate student to faculty positions, with little or no support for learning how to teach” (p. 14). The report included data from focus groups coupled with an online survey of faculty at six participating universities. More than 50 per cent of new faculty members had engaged in educational development for the first time through new faculty orientations at their respective institutions. “Mentoring” was undertaken by 37 per cent of the sample (mainly the more senior faculty), while 18 per cent (mainly those earlier in their faculty careers) were “being mentored.” Just over half of mentees in Britnell et al.’s study reported that they never discussed teaching and learning with mentors. Aside from mentor-mentee findings, less than one third of respondents discussed teaching and learning with their colleagues on a weekly basis and overall, many respondents wished they had had opportunities to discuss teaching with colleagues earlier in their careers. As Britnell et al. (2010) state:

Therefore, inasmuch as informal discussion with colleagues has proven to have merit, it is also important to note that more formal guidance or structure is desired and needed in order to foster an exchange among faculty members about their teaching experiences. In addition, many faculty members expressed a desire for collegial support and for validation from chairs and deans that teaching is valued beyond its intrinsic rewards. (p. 60-61)

Britnell et al. cited Theall and Centra (2001) and Brookfield (1995), who suggested that activities that contribute to a shared public account of teaching are valuable for one’s growth as a teacher – and that sharing with colleagues is an activity that fosters this type of public sharing (p.50). Specifically Fagan-Wilen et al., (2006) strongly recommended that institutions provide faculty development in a range of areas to enhance teaching. The authors listed the following topics where current gaps in mentoring often occur:

Effective teaching strategies (components of effective instruction, adult education theory, demonstrations of active, collaborative, and experiential learning); curriculum development; information about forces that shape the curriculum; policies and procedures (grading, syllabus preparation, departmental and university policies); and anticipating potential problems (challenging classroom situations). (p. 43)

Added to this list are the following teaching-related concerns drawn from the literature: teaching to a diverse student body, heavy teaching loads, course evaluations, insufficient preparation for lectures, and a lack of a teaching community with which to address these sources of anxiety (Austin, Sorcinelli, & McDaniels, 2007).



Mentoring within the higher education context has historically focused on a one-to-one relationship, often hierarchical in approach (Harnish & Wild, 1994; Johnson, 2006). Mentors have been variously described as someone who is deemed an effective teacher, trusted guide, sponsor, counselor, advisor, coach, trainer, colleague, and role model (Harnish & Wild, 1994; Gaskinm et al, 2003; Fraser, 1998; Mawer, 1996).

More recent shifts in faculty mentoring approaches have described a more reciprocal dyad that enhances learning for both individuals involved (mentor, mentee/protégé) (Ambrosino, 2009; Luecke, 2004). This collaborative relationship is “characterized by trust, respect, and commitment, in which a mentor supports the professional and personal development of another by sharing his or her life experiences, influence, and expertise” (Zellers et al, 2008, p. 555). Such relationships grow over time and have been described as intentional, purposeful and interpersonal. Participants in Boice’s (1998) mentoring study showed strong agreement about “the essence of mentoring: support and guidance in socializing new faculty” (p.169).

According to Clutterbuck and Lane (2004), “to some extent, definitions do not matter greatly, if those in the role of mentor and mentee have a clear and mutual understanding of what is expected of them and what they should in turn expect of their mentoring partner” (p. xvi). This comment points to the important aspect of mentoring relationships: the need for specific expectations to ensure that mutually agreed-upon outcomes are realized.



Mentoring can meet numerous personal, professional development and institutional goals. Bean, Lucas, and Hyers (2014) highlight many qualitative and quantitative research studies that demonstrate the positive effect of faculty mentoring programs on faculty satisfaction, retention, tenure, and promotion rates. Kilter and Sketris (2003) provided a summary of benefits to organizations such as strengthening capacity, easing transition for new faculty, both attracting and retaining new faculty, succession planning (mentee), among others. Faculty mentoring has been reported to build networks amongst mentors and mentees (Gray & Birch, 2008; Lumpkin, 2011). Mathias (2005) described a mentoring programme for new university teachers that revitalized and empowered collegiality.

Zachary (2005) discusses how mentoring “humanizes the workplace” as relationship building is more likely to become embedded in the organization’s culture and the “ripple effect” may occur in that mentoring can have a positive effect on others, including those outside of the mentoring relationship. Mentoring has been reported to help people build new relationships and strengthen existing ones (Boyle & Boice, 1998); people become more collaborative in their performance and learning, and individuals feel more prepared to offer themselves as mentors to others (Bean, Lucas, & Hyers, 2014, p.58). Formal mentor programs can grow the seeds for informal mentoring to occur – “mentorship has a resonating phenomenon – and indicates that mentees are more likely to become a mentor later on in their career” (Ragins & Cotton, 1999; Stewart & Krueger, 1996).

Finally, mentoring has been found to positively impact new faculty members’ teaching effectiveness (Boice, 1998; Carr, Bickel & Inui, 2003). For example, Carbone (2014) sought to explore the benefits of a peer-assisted teaching mentoring scheme (PATS) to improve course evaluations and teaching practices and found that 17 of 25 participating courses showed an increase in their course evaluation rating for the item: ‘Overall, I was satisfied with the quality of the unit [course]’. In addition, focus group sessions with mentors and mentees revealed the benefits attributed to this structured programme. Carbone summarized their feedback: “PATS was valuable and provided opportunities for academics to reflect on their own teaching and share ideas in a non-threatening, friendly and relaxed environment” (p. 437). Denecker (2014) shared qualitative comments from faculty who participated in the Teaching Partners Program (TPP) (Holgrem, 2005) whereby new and mid to senior career faculty together sought to shift teaching discussions and support for pedagogical innovation within the university. One participant noted:

I particularly enjoy a regular, structured, social time to think about my teaching within a big picture framework. This has been directly applicable to my classes – after each TPP I have learned something that I use in the next class that I teach. (p.64)

The quality of the relationship between mentor-mentee is key to successful mentoring programs (Bean et al., 2014). Mathias (2005) rigorously evaluated the UK Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP), a mandatory two-module, part-time and work- based programme for new lecturers, and found that both mentors and mentees benefitted. The author noted that ‘collegial mentoring’ in teaching is a key skill in “developing effective researchers and effective staff management practices. Such a wider range of pay-offs may well justify the investment of time” (p. 103).

Maryann Weimer (2010) emphasized the important role of mentors for teaching – one that socializes new faculty into their academic roles. The author argued that, “Early on, new teachers need to realize that real instructional issues are much more complex and much more intellectually intriguing (para. 2).” Similar to Britnell et al. (2010), Weimer stressed that mentors can guide new faculty into raising questions and discussions that take teaching to a higher level, one that is “without easy answers” (para. 2).



Traditional, hierarchical mentoring models within both business and academic settings have been criticized for a reported lack of diversity in leadership positions, with women and racialized faculty experiencing differential access to mentors in some institutions (Boice, 1993; Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004; Touchton, 2003). Concerns have also been raised regarding whether mentors can in turn be involved in an evaluative component of the tenure and promotion process. A further concern that has been reported is the social stigma that has been associated with ‘remedial’ notions of new faculty hires who may be in need of assistance (Beans, 1999; Murray, 2001). As Zellers (2008) noted: “Junior faculty members are especially vulnerable to being stigmatized in academic settings in which mentoring is not embraced as a cultural value or accepted as a core academic responsibility” (p. 562). Furthermore, a new faculty hire may be “wary or fear the mentoring process based on evaluative components, particularly if mentors are from the same departments and may be involved in retention, tenure, and promotion decisions” (Diehl & Simpson, 1988, p.159). However, Mathias (2005) reported markedly different results from his study of subject- based collegial mentors in an initial teacher development program for new lecturers as departmental mentors served as both collegial partners and formal assessors.

Logistical challenges may occur when recruiting mentors and mentees due to time constraints within academic environments that stress a combination of research, teaching and service roles and responsibilities (Carbone, 2014). For more structured, formalized programs that build in recognition and rewards, a mentor’s teaching and research responsibilities may be adjusted to support such mentoring relationships. Such incentives are often tied to a positive climate that values and supports reflective teaching practices (Mathias, 2005).

While institutional, departmental and personal goals can be met through mentoring programs, a dyadic format may have limitations in that one person is identified to take the lead in the mentoring relationship and the onus is placed on that mentor to fulfill a number of roles (e.g., provide advice/guidance on research, teaching and service). As Ganser (1996) remarked: “[administrators] may inaccurately look upon the mentor as the only person responsible for assisting the beginner rather than being an integral part of a complex process that includes them as well.” The pressure is likely to be removed from the Department or division to provide other options for multiple mentors. Ultimately, the overall climate in the department is most likely to determine the support for and value of teaching and teaching development.



Faculty mentoring has shifted from a focus on hierarchical support and coaching for new hires and junior faculty to addressing the mentoring needs of individuals across their career spans. Ponce et al. (2005) share that mentoring between traditional junior-senior faculty members can potentially hinder the growth of more experienced faculty who may too benefit from being mentored. Britnell et al.’s (2010) study of faculty engagement in teaching development activities reported on faculty advice and recommendations for mid-career teachers and those approaching retirement. The authors’ suggestions inform the role of mentor: become a liaison person for the department by sharing information about best practices and innovation within and external to one’s department (and at disciplinary conferences); collaborate with a network of newer faculty which can be a reciprocal learning experience (e.g., becoming familiar with teaching innovations from new or junior faculty). Mid-career faculty were also advised to spread the word about the value of pedagogical research in order to increase the profile of research about teaching.

Leslie’s (2014) research, while specific to the medical disciplines, notes that while many senior health professionals have much support to offer their new and junior faculty, they too often do not have their mentoring needs met: “mentoring initiatives and resources tend to be focused on more junior faculty” (p. 104). Zellers et al., (2008) also noted that mid-career faculty do not generally receive the mentoring that they would like, but more often that this gap pertains to faculty research rather than teaching.



There is limited academic literature on faculty mentoring specific to teaching as the focus tends towards broad mentoring for faculty as they embark on their new appointments. However, there are several promising mentoring models emerging in the literature. Faculty who are new to their teaching roles are likely to benefit from both formal and informal mentoring whether the model is a traditional dyad or it involves support from peers, in groups and, increasingly, in larger teaching and learning support communities and networks. Formal matches may offer opportunities for mentees to be matched with a mentor or group of peers who may take different approaches to teaching, thus shifting a mentee outside their comfort zone if they informally had sought a mentor with similar ideas. Finally, while much mentoring for teaching focuses on new faculty hires it is important to recognize that faculty of all career stages seek continual enhancement in their students’ learning and their teaching approaches. The evidence supports mentoring for teaching resources that include multiple mentoring model options. Faculty, staff and administrators who work directly or indirectly with faculty of all career stages may draw upon the most appropriate mentoring approach and/or model highlighted from the evidence-base presented here. Such choices can be made available based on what best suits a faculty member’s unique learning needs.