Peer Mentors

This document is based on the seminar / workshop on Peer Mentors, that I gave in the Faculty Lounge, St. Thomas University, from 4:00 to 5:30 pm, on Tuesday, 26 October 2004, by invitation of the Learning and Teaching Development Committee.

The purpose of the workshop was to determine what was meant by peer mentoring and to establish some of the many different ways in which peer mentoring could take place.

I would like to express my gratitude to the following faculty members who filled out the questionnaires and enabled me (a) to assemble the raw material and (b) to attempt a definition of the nature of peer mentoring. Dr. Andrea Schutz, Dr. Julia Torrie, Dr. Craig Proulx, Dr. Christian Mbarga, Dr. Dereck Simon, Dr. David Korotkov.

Raw data

A. Write down briefly the sort of peer mentoring you would have liked to have received.

B. From which of the following would you like to receive advice and why?


Comment --The reasons for the choice varied from friend or fellow faculty member -- less threatening -- to senior faculty member and head of department -- more access to greater knowledge. Interestingly, most of the categories were selected as having different knowledge and resources.

C. On the basis of A and B above, reflect upon the assistance you would be willing and able to give other faculty members.

Comment -- From the above it can be seen that there are four main areas in which peer mentoring can be offered and would be useful:

    1. In the classroom itself -- especially in dealing with troublesome and threatening [this came from this and previous conversation] in class situations. Help here is usually needed immediately and early help can resolve critical issues before they become unmanageable.
    2. Preparing for the class -- resources, teaching styles, teaching material, group assignments, exam setting, timelines for classes and exams
    3. General university work -- especially timelines, forums / fora, group discussions
    4. Professional development -- especially renewal, promotion, tenure.

D. Some one is about to enter your classroom on a tour of inspection. What are your fears and hopes?

E. How would you like the person entering your class to proceed?




F. You are about to enter someone's class, at their request, to assist them with their teaching. Based on today's discussions and on your answers to the previous questions, establish a protocol for an in-class visit. Use the format outlined above -- before, during, after, written.


  • Pre-class chat about principles and what to do.
  • Identify and explore professor's fears and hopes. Establish a set of objectives and priorities. Agree to leave room for the "unexpected" (perhaps?). Maybe some playful exchanges along the way.
  • Discuss what you will see and determine styles and procedures. Establish the role in class which is to observe.
  • A conversation to establish parameters; determine what each party wants and keep this conversation open-ended.
  • Tell the person what to expect. Ask them what they want me to look at. Ask them what level of brutal reality they are capable of accepting.
  • Before class, I would like to chat with the teacher in order to help dispel any nervousness.


  • Try to be as inconspicuous as possible.
  • Introduce visiting consultant and explain what their role is and also the purpose of the visit. Educate students (perhaps in a previous session) about the value, purpose, and benefit of peer evaluations and commentaries.
  • Review student mood; pace of class; handling student comments; check number of student questions and manner of asking and replying; check professor's interaction with students.
  • Observation (a) from student's point of view and (b) as an informed observer.
  • Be invisible.
  • During class, I would like to take notes and would stay quiet or take part depending on the kind of class and the class atmosphere.


  • Post mortem -- what the teacher thought went well and maybe spin for what the teacher thought didn't go well.
  • An immediate but brief exchange of how it went (at the end of class). Reflection time (possibly an hour) where both observer and professor go apart to reflect on the experience of the visit in the light of the fears and the hopes, the planned objectives, and the unexpected. After this reflection time, a detailed follow up and de-briefing meeting which ends with some mutually agreed upon recommendations.
  • Did observations meet expectations?
  • Conversation perhaps with the written report circulated first.
  • Try to give the type of feedback that was negotiated before class.
  • After class, depending upon time demands, I would chat with the prof and respond to any remarks or concerns.


  • Report -- specific details for person or teacher.
  • Emphasis on constructive recommendations.
  • Pros and cons and suggestions for change.
  • Report.
  • Tell them what they are doing right then make suggestions in those areas where you feel change may be needed.
  • I would write an encouraging, mature, and concise report.


  • Ongoing conversations.


The Peer Mentor Project is ongoing and I would invite anyone reading this to respond to the material outlined above. This can be done by emailing your comments to

The material is also self-explanatory and I believe that peer mentoring is an exciting process that usually involves intellectual contact between mature individuals who wish to improve their teaching.

Clearly this peer mentoring can exist at many levels, but we have outlined four strategic areas above (1) in the class room; (2) preparing for the class; (3) general university work; and (4) professional development.

The area that generates most concern is the in class visit, and all the participants were aware of their own hopes and fears and were thus able to transfer to their in class preparations a series of plans to reduce those fears and materialize those hopes.

Should you, personally, wish to consult with a Peer Mentor, then you should contact the Learning and Teaching Development Officer of the Chair of the LTD Committee, or a member of the LTD Committee.


I have been doing a great deal of mentoring over the past couple of years, and I have covered several areas regularly. I believe some of the work I have done deserves to be mentioned.

  • WEBCT -- My knowledge of WEBCT is limited. I was however able to complete the workshop at UNB (8 hours) and two of the workshops at St. Thomas (16 hours and 8 hours respectively). In addition, I am using WEBCT in all 3 of my courses this year. Advice that I have been able to give to various faculty members includes --
    • loading normal files
    • loading PDF files and Powerpoint presentations
    • constructing discussion groups
    • using email
    • constructing a grades page
    • posting grades
    • tracking students
    • getting UNB students on to WEBCT
    • making WEBCT pin numbers available for UNB students
  • Renewal Promotion and Tenure -- I have worked with faculty members in all three areas. In particular, I have given advice on preparing the initial letter, on writing the Philosophy of Teaching, on what might be considered acceptable evidence, on marshalling and ordering the evidence, on portfolio presentation etc etc
  • WEB Advisor -- I have also worked with WEB Advisor, showing new faculty how to access class lists.
  • In class problems and advice -- I have been able to work with faculty, old and new, on problems arising in classrooms. These problems may vary from potential student grievances, to potential in class conflicts; from reaching out to quiet students to controlling noisy students; from making the best use of the teaching space to arranging the furniture into formations suitable for the individual class; from how the professor might take ownership of the class to what sort of examinations might be set; from how to write up the course outline to how to reorganize group work and teaching within a specific class or subject.
  • Contacts -- When I am unable to give advice, I can usually find the appropriate person to do so. Thus, passing on contact names and numbers is a key part of peer mentoring. It is also essential for the student professor relationship too. How to access the necessary and appropriate information in the shortest possible time can be truly important.

I have to admit that I really enjoy working with people and sharing whatever knowledge there is available. For me, peer mentoring, at all levels, is one of the best things a professor can do. Sometimes, the necessity of telling and sharing is all a fellow faculty member needs. Sometimes, a crisis will arise, and then it is up to the mentor to work with the individual who is seeking help as firmly and as objectively as possible.

An intimate knowledge of the campus is always useful; so, be knowledgeable about your campus and be prepared to share that knowledge. After all, your university is where you live your academic life!

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