Approaches to Mentoring: a continuum

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

Different approaches to mentoring can be viewed on a continuum (Angelique, Kyle, & Taylor, 2002; Cawyer, Simonds, & Davis, 2002). Zellers et al. (2008) reviewed mentoring programs in the United States in business and academe and argued that while debates continue regarding the superiority of formal over informal mentoring the crux of the issue remains, that:

Most researchers conceded that contemporary workplaces do not afford all of their members equitable access to informal mentoring relationships; therefore, some type of institutional intervention is deemed as necessary. Establishing a formal mentoring program is one organizational approach. (p. 564)

The intentionality and formality of mentoring programs has also been addressed by Jones (2008) who discusses how “institutional support for new faculty members can make them more effective as they seek to develop and refine their teaching (p.93).” Chism (2004) further noted that institutional and departmental contexts can play a strong advocacy role in nurturing individual growth in teaching, via rewards for example.

Informal approaches. Mentoring in this style has been found to benefit mentees within the realms of business and academe (Ragings & Cottone, 1999) and effective mentoring can occur spontaneously (Weimer, 1990). McLauglin (2010), however, suggested that mixed opinions exist about the relative effectiveness of informal (self chosen, voluntary, organic) versus formal (assigned, programmed) mentors and mentoring. But Boice’s (1992b) early analysis of mentoring suggested that more informal, casual arrangements include “… optimistic expectations, unfortunately, [that] overlook the fact that “natural mentoring” occurs for only about a third of new teachers.” Such informal relations are often irregular and short-lived (Boice, 1990; Diehl & Simpson, 1989). Britnell et al. (2010) reported that almost half of the respondents prior to their first academic appointment and almost three quarters of respondents indicated that they had informal discussions with peers about teaching at the beginning of their academic careers. Focus group participants discussed the importance of talking to peers early in their careers. Such discussions were deemed as an important aspect of their growth as teachers and that they benefitted from observing and working closely with more seasoned faculty. Yun, Bladi and Sorcinelli (2016) shared that isolated pockets of mentoring had occurred across their large, research-intensive university,

but such activities were inconsistent at best, and ineffective or inequitable at worst. Further complicating matters was the lack of clear institutional message about the importance of faculty mentoring and the requisite guides and resources to encourage the adoption of good practices across departments and schools/colleges. (para. 4)

Formal approaches. Intentionality in structure is a core characteristic of more formalized mentoring programs (Beane-Katner, 2014), as well as explicit program activities (Mathias, 2005), and systematic approaches (Boice, 1998). Such opportunities are often administered centrally, are non-voluntary and include shared expectations and monitoring of the relationship (COACHE 2010; Meister & Willyerd, 2010; Zellers et al, 2008). Being deliberate in an approach is more likely to ensure that, “there is a difference between mentoring and remediation” (COACHE, 2010). Further to this point, Gaff and Simpson (1994) suggest that some of these remedial notions and underlying beliefs about faculty mentoring can inhibit mentoring programs from serving those who could most benefit. More formal mentoring structures and practices make it more likely that new or junior faculty will participate as informal mentor matches are often neglected often due to the “busyness” of academic life (Boyle & Boice, 1998; Diehl & Simpson, 1989).

Boice’s (1998) study demonstrated that systematizing mentoring programs ensures that paired mentors met regularly, over a longer period of time and experienced greater program (and even campus) involvement. Both mentors and mentees/protégés who may have traditionally been left out of mentoring programs, were engaged in the formally structured programs. Furthermore this study identified the added benefit in that mentors learned from each other which resulted in further mentoring involvement: “without the structure and interactive learning of programs like these, mentors tend to carry out their roles more narrowly and less confidently” (p.173). In Mathias’ (2005) analysis of mentoring new university teachers he suggests that “using mentoring as a mainstream development tool… needs to be well managed and organized rather than left as a relatively informal arrangement between mentor and mentee” (p. 102).