Peeling Back the Onion: A Multi-Layered Coaching and Mentoring Model for Faculty Development in Higher Education

Concurrent Session 4
Streamed Session Blended Research Leadership Equity and Inclusion

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Brief Abstract

Investing in faculty development to address the challenges of teaching in hybrid environments can be achieved by building a teaching community of practice through a multi-layered model that incorporates coaching and peer mentoring. This model is transferable across institutions that have increased their online presence in an effort to ensure strong and ongoing faculty support.


Extended Abstract

Peeling Back the Onion: A Multi-Layered Coaching and Mentoring Model for Faculty Development in Higher Education

With the ongoing expansion of online and blended learning, it has become increasingly critical that instructors are provided with initial and ongoing support to better understand the needs of their learners and enhance their teaching practice (Bloomberg, 2021; Golden, 2016). Investing in faculty development, specifically designed to address the challenges of teaching in the online environment, develops a culture of ongoing support, providing opportunities to enhance both individual and organizational capacity. While onboarding training can provide faculty with the required knowledge and pedagogical skills, faculty members require ongoing support networks to enhance professional development, and inspire continuous improvement as engaged members of the educational team. This can be achieved by building a strong online teaching community (Bloomberg, 2020, 2021). Building community through coaching and mentoring allows faculty an opportunity to more fully engage with each other, share experiences and resources, and model effective teaching practices to support their colleagues.  Apprenticeship relationships are key to sustaining robust communities, and the process by which new members become part of the community is a generative phenomenon, with learning becoming a naturally emerging outcome based on an evolving and continuously renewed set of relationships (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Learners become part of a community of practice through legitimate peripheral participation, and as newcomers develop understanding and knowledge they move from the periphery of the community to the core, ultimately becoming experienced members themselves (Lave & Wenger, 1991).  


The faculty development model that has been implemented in the School of Education at one online university aligns well with the community of practice construct in that learning is conceived of as a continuously evolving set of relationships situated within a social context. This university has implemented a holistic model which includes a central coaching and mentoring component, whereby faculty are provided with support and guidance to teach in graduate degree programs. Both coaching and mentoring include an essential reciprocal learning relationship that is characterized by trust, mutual respect, and commitment, in which a coach or mentor supports the professional and personal development of another (Zellers et al., 2008). As the first layer of support, all faculty are assigned a coach who serves essentially as a mentor to enhance their teaching practice, and meetings take place using synchronous collaboration tools. Coaches work to provide guidance regarding ways of ensuring teaching presence and effectively facilitating learning through a process of guided individual discovery which results in increased engagement, experiential learning and skill building, goal setting, accountability for goal achievement, and specific and measurable action planning. In addition to individual coaching, peer mentoring communities provide further informal opportunities for learning and development through colleagues sharing resources, expertise, and skills; thereby adding a further layer of faculty support. The mentoring community facilitators are comprised of experienced faculty members who are knowledgeable about the University’s culture, policies, and teaching resources and who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to maintaining high academic standards. Community members work collaboratively, engaging in ongoing and regular dialogue groups to support each other as peers and colleagues, and sharing relevant information, resources, and materials.


Through this integrated faculty development model, the School strives to develop an organizational culture that supports and guides learning for continuous growth and performance improvement. This multilayered model, which is based upon both formal and informal support structures, is focused essentially on achieving three key goals; building a culture of learning and collaboration, fostering a growth mindset, and facilitating reflective practice. The model is potentially transferable across the range of online and hybrid contexts and at institutions that have increased their online presence since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to ensure strong and ongoing faculty support and development.


Research Findings:


From late 2019 till early 2020, two studies were conducted using open-ended surveys to assess how and to what extent our faculty development model provides a platform and resource for meaningful learning and ongoing support regarding pedagogical expectations and requirements.  The research purpose of both studies was to uncover insights and more comprehensively understand faculty experiences of coaching and mentoring as a means of support. Survey transcripts were manually analyzed through a qualitative process of open coding and thematic development. Overall, the findings illustrated how coaching and peer mentoring singly and in combination contribute to establishing and maintaining ongoing pathways to enhance online teaching practices for the purpose of continuous growth and performance improvement.


Study 1: A purposeful sample of faculty members was created based on the inclusion criterion that they had engaged in faculty coaching over the past year (N=18).  Research participants were each sent a survey that consisted of open-ended items. The findings shed light on faculty perceptions, perspectives, and insights regarding the School of Education’s faculty coaching, and were analyzed according to three categories with associated themes:


  1. Faculty Perceptions Regarding the Significance and Importance of Coaching


  • Faculty appreciated the learning and development opportunities provided by coaching
  • Coaching supports ongoing improved practice


  1. Faculty Perceptions Regarding the Specific Value of Coaching


  • Coaching has ultimately allowed faculty to better serve their students
  • Coaching provides the personalized support that is needed to be a successful instructor
  • Coaching enhances ongoing knowledge-building through collaborative learning opportunities
  • Faculty valued the reflective opportunities that are provided through coaching


  1. Conceptualization of Educator as “Reflective Practitioner”
  • Faculty valued reflective practice in that this facilitates ongoing improvement
  • Some faculty view reflective practice as an aspect of lifelong learning
  • Reflective practice facilitates the opportunity to think more deeply about one’s own thought processes (metacognition)


Study 2:  An open-ended survey was sent to the group of faculty in the School of Education that volunteered to serve as mentors for their peers (N=16).  This study yielded findings related to their motivation to serve as faculty mentors as well as their perceptions regarding the value of professional mentoring communities within the School. Key findings included the following:


  • Faculty motivation to serve as peer mentors was bound to their desire to support their colleagues.
  • Faculty appreciated the support and collegiality offered through the mentoring communities, and the value that mentoring adds to the organizational culture.


Findings illustrate that this faculty development model fosters opportunities for faculty to learn with and from their peers, and hence ongoing development is embedded within layers of support, multiple participation opportunities, voluntary levels of engagement, and continuously evolving working relationships with colleagues. At the same time, this model eases adjustment to the academic environment by promoting a culture of collegiality and collaboration thereby relieving feelings of isolation that many faculty members typically experience in the online environment. Investing in faculty development by adopting this multi-layered model specifically designed to address the challenges of teaching effectively in the online environment is an opportunity to build both individual and collective capacity. In addition to the connection with the Community of Practice theoretical framework that forms the basis of this model, the way that faculty perceive and experience faculty development also reflects the School’s core values and goals. Moreover, it is apparent that ongoing collaboration, reflection, and deepened relationships have evolved through membership of these communities of practice. The author proposes recommendations for further research to shed light on designing, developing, implementing creative and impactful ways to improve faculty development offerings in this ever-evolving education environment.


Conference attendees will be presented with the findings of the two research studies that were conducted at one institution to better understand how and to what extent this model provides a platform and resource for meaningful learning and ongoing support regarding pedagogical expectations and requirements, and how faculty engagement in communities of practice builds a culture of collegiality and support. Interaction will be a key component of this presentation so that attendees can “lock in new learning”. Toward this end, reflection checkpoints will be introduced at periodic points during the presentation so that participants will have opportunities to share insights and engage in discussion about the ways in which formal and informal faculty support structures can serve to address three key areas: (1) build a culture of learning and collaboration; (2) foster a growth mindset; and (3) and facilitate reflective practice. Furthermore, a reflection checkpoint will be built into the close of the session to discuss lessons learned, critique the model, articulate limitations of the study, and offer suggestions for further research in this area.


What will attendees learn from this presentation? By attending this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Gain insight into the value of a multi-layered model of faculty development in online and hybrid higher education contexts
  2. Identify intentional methods for engaging community members and bringing new members into the community
  3. Be aware of flexible and inclusive structures that can support the growth and evolutionary process of building communities of practice in online and hybrid contexts
  4. Understand the ways in which communities of practice in online and hybrid environments can offer a context for meaningful connections, support, and development
  5. Explore and articulate suggestions for further research around faculty development models in online and hybrid contexts.





Bloomberg, L. D. (2020). Coaching faculty to teach online: A single qualitative case study at an online university. International Journal of Online Graduate Education, 3(2), 1-22.


Bloomberg, L. D. (2021). Designing and Delivering Effective Online Instruction: How to engage adult learners. Teachers College Press, Columbia University.


Golden, J. (2016). Supporting online faculty through communities of practice: Finding the faculty voice. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 53(1), 84-93.


Lave, J. &Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.


Zellers, D. F., Howard, V. M., & Barcic, M. A. (2008). Faculty mentoring programs: Reenvisioning rather than reinventing the wheel. Review of Educational Research, 78(3), 552–588.