Can developing peer mentoring relationships improve teaching development in Higher Education (HE)?

Research output: Other contributionBlog Post


Teaching excellence has been at the forefront of policy worldwide (O’Leary and Savage, 2020). In the UK, the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), ranking tables, scrutiny from the Office for Students (OfS) alongside the continual lens on student fees and post pandemic student experiences, places quality assurance (QA) and quality enhancement (QE) as key drivers (Fletcher, 2018). The continuous conundrum of how we measure teaching quality and define teaching excellence remains on the tip of many tongues. Senior managers, governors and the sector want reassurance via metrics, but these may not truly reflect teaching excellence or encourage positive staff wellbeing.
To improve staff engagement, the institution moved away from an evaluative model of Peer Observation of Teaching (POT), creating a coaching model, the Teaching Development Scheme (TDS). As the scheme has evolved over seven years, it has tried to do both QA (via a threshold pass) and QE (via a coaching approach) but teaching staff can be wary of the dual purpose. If we can rely on alternative, existing QA mechanisms, the TDS can truly provide a developmental, collaborative culture of pedagogical enhancement via peer mentoring devoid of hierarchy. To enhance coaching skills within the scheme, 17 mentors from the TDS were supported through a three month Leadership and Coaching qualification. Mentors undertook self-regulated online study, weekly catch ups, launch and culmination events to create a sense of community, share experiences, reflections and engage in coaching conversations.
We undertook a longitudinal, mixed methods study to evaluate and explore the mentors’ experiences of the staff development and their perceptions after one year. This involved the use of interviews pre and one year post completion of the CPD, content analysis of the online discussion and a pre-post questionnaire. Current findings highlight four questions we feel institutions and practitioners could explore:
1. Mentors or coaches? Even within the literature, the terms are entwined (Mullen, 2020) and in HE, a mentor tends to be the person you ask any operational questions on commencing employment. Our findings saw some staff emerge as coaches, some positioned themselves as mentors, although they encouraged more reflection and action from their mentees with less direct feedback, suggesting small steps towards the coaching culture. We also must ask ourselves what individuals need, some may not be ready for coaching or want it at the time, so matching them with the right support is key to the relationship.
2. Mentoring qualification? Thematic analysis suggests undertaking the qualification was valued by mentors, it enhanced reflection and gave experienced staff confidence via validation of practice and less experienced mentors a deeper toolkit. Completing it as a group created a community which enhanced motivation and contextualisation, needed as it was a challenge to workload. The minority did not value the type of training, an online, self-regulated course, but this can be concluded as individual preference in both learning and teaching approach.
3. Quality assurance? Where the scheme focusses on development rather than evaluation, if QA issues arise, mentors viewed the safe space the scheme affords as a tool for conversation to enhance quality without barriers or additional anxiety, at least in the first instance.
4. Where does this leave us with evaluating quality? Not to engage with teaching as a contextualized and ever-changing environment, by holding a view that it can be unproblematically ‘observed’ and ‘evaluated’ despite participants’ needs, does teaching staff (and students) a continuing disservice. The greater the mentoring culture, the better positioned we are to gain the cultural shift and acceptance that there is no single definition of teaching quality, but there remain ongoing questions around whether enhanced mentoring will provide the reassurance that HE governance currently demands.
If anyone is interested in exploring this and other teaching development routes in HE further, we will be presenting a symposium on the 12th September at the Annual BERA Conference and would love to see you in Birmingham!
Fletcher, J. A. (2018). Peer observation of teaching: A practical tool in higher education. The Journal of Faculty Development, 32(1), 51-64.
Mullen, C. A. (2020). Practices of cognitive apprenticeship and peer mentorship in a cross‐global STEM lab. The Wiley international handbook of mentoring: Paradigms, practices, programs, and possibilities, 243-260.
O’Leary, M., & Savage, S. (2020). Breathing new life into the observation of teaching and learning in higher education: Moving from the performative to the informative. Professional Development in Education, 46(1), 145-159.
Original languageEnglish
TypeBERA blog
Media of outputBERA website
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jul 2023


  • Higher Education
  • Mentorship
  • Teaching


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