Faculty Perspectives: Mentoring and Peer Observations

What is mentoring?

Mentoring relationships between faculty and graduate students provide personalized guidance and support to students throughout their graduate careers and beyond. Mentoring is also a critical component of faculty teaching expectations, and documentation of student mentorship should be included in promotion and tenure documents. These individualized relationships in which the mentor helps guide the student through the complexities of navigating graduate school and professional development will vary by student and by discipline. Graduate students have a myriad of roles and responsibilities within the institution which include a combination of their academic coursework, teaching roles, service obligations, and research. Mentors are often assigned to graduate students to help support them in some or all of these areas.

Some of the primary roles of a mentor include: 

  • Getting to know the mentee on an individual and personalized basis
  • Helping to develop the mentee’s academic and professional goals
  • Modeling and guiding excellence in research, teaching, and service
  • Facilitating professional development and networking opportunities
  • Providing structure and accountability throughout the mentee’s graduate career
  • Providing personalized constructive feedback and support
  • Supporting the mental health and well-being of the mentee

Click through the toggles below to learn more about various aspects of mentoring

Mentoring Agreements

Communication, clarity, and transparency are key ingredients in the development of a successful mentoring relationship. Mentoring agreements serve to outline the goals and expectations of the mentor-mentee relationship. Expectations of both the mentor and mentee need to be clearly established and boundaries, both personal and professional, defined. Mentoring agreements are one tool that can be used to achieve these goals and copies of mentoring agreements can be included with promotion and tenure documents as evidence of engaged teaching.

To highlight your mentoring you could include an example of a completed mentoring agreement with annotations to describe the type of feedback you provided students or to provide rationale for a grade you assigned to a student’s work. 

Sample Mentoring Agreement

Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

Individual Development Plans are personalized documents that help guide the professional development of graduate students. IDPs help graduate students: assess their skills, strengths, weaknesses, and interests; develop and define a strategy for reaching their academic and professional goals; and communicate with mentors, advisors, and supervisors about their goals and skills development. These documents are dynamic documents that should be revisited and revised to reflect growth and progress in a graduate student’s skills and qualifications along with reflection on progress toward the short and long term goals identified in the document. 

You can include an example of an IDP form that you created in your dossier to highlight the core competencies that you value and prioritize with your graduate students. You can also include an annotated IDP in your dossier to describe the types of activities you provide to your students to obtain those competencies or the type of feedback you provide to students. 

Sample IDP Form 

Resources for Supporting Mentees in Developing an Individual Development Plan 

“Individual Development Plan (IDP) for Graduate PhD Students at UD” University of Delaware  

“Helping your Mentee Write and Individual Development Plan” University of Wisconsin

“Your Individual Development Plan- Key steps” Stanford University

“The Individual Development Plan-Chart Your Course” University of Nebraska-Lincoln 

“MyIDP: Interactive IDP Plan” Science Careers Individual Development Plan

Graduate Teaching Assistant Observations

Class observations of graduate teaching assistants are typically formative in that they are designed to provide insights to help these developing instructors improve their teaching practice. These observations provide graduate students with feedback from their supervisors/ mentors that allow them to reflect on their teaching to identify areas of strength and improvement in their teaching practice. Documenting the observation process for graduate TAs is also a way that faculty can provide evidence of involvement in teaching service through meaningful contributions to graduate TA improvement.

Sample Graduate Teaching Assistant Observation Form

As supervisors and mentors of graduate teaching assistants, our guidance in the professional development of their teaching abilities is a crucial contribution that warrants documentation in your portfolio. Minimally, it is recommended to provide a short description of the observation process that is used and a tally of the number of observations that are conducted each semester. If you train or supervise others that conduct these observations, that should be documented as well. Additionally, you can choose to provide a more in-depth description of the process, including and pre- and post-observation meetings that are conducted and any follow up that occurs as a result of the observed teaching behaviors of the graduate TA. This can help to highlight the importance of this role and the follow-through that occurs to improve the quality of teaching in your department. Finally, additional documentation could be warranted if you have taken concrete steps to modify the graduate teaching assistant observation process.. For example, if you have made modifications to the structure or frequency of observations in your department or have made improvements to the observation form or process that is used, it may be prudent to document these contributions as well. 

Selected related publications on mentoring:

Johnson, W. Brad. (2007). On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Nicholls, G. (2002). Mentoring: The Art of Teaching and Learning, Chapter 12 in: The Theory & Practice of Teaching, Peter Jarvis (ed), Stylus.

University of Michigan, (2006). How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty at a Diverse University.

What is peer observation?

Peer observation is a process in which one faculty member observes and provides feedback on the teaching practices of another faculty member. It is a collaborative approach that allows colleagues to learn from each other, share expertise, improve their teaching skills, and document teaching.

During peer observation, a designated observer visits a colleague’s classroom and attentively observes various aspects of the teaching process, such as instructional methods, student engagement, classroom management, and assessment strategies. The observer may also review course materials, syllabi, and assessments to gain a comprehensive understanding of the teaching context.

Following the observation, the observer provides constructive feedback to the observed faculty member. This feedback typically focuses on the strengths of the teaching observed and offers suggestions for improvement or alternative approaches. The feedback should be specific, actionable, and geared towards enhancing the observed faculty member’s teaching effectiveness.

Peer observation can involve in-person classroom observations, where the observer attends a face-to-face class session, or it can be conducted through the review of recorded teaching sessions or online courses.

Documenting observation of peers

To document one’s service as an observer in peer observation of teaching, there are a few essential steps to follow:

Objective Recording

Start by recording the date, time, and location of the observation session. Clearly state the purpose of the observation and any specific focus areas or objectives.


After the observation, take time to reflect on the experience. Consider how the observed techniques align with your own teaching philosophy and what aspects could be incorporated into your own teaching practice. Reflect on the overall impact of the observation on your professional development.

Documentation Report 

Compile all the observation notes, reflections, and feedback provided into a formal documentation report. Include a summary of the observation, highlighting both positive aspects and areas for growth. Make sure to maintain confidentiality and seek permission from the observed instructor before sharing the report.

By participating in peer observation of teaching as an observer and documenting your service thoughtfully, you contribute to a supportive and dynamic academic community while enhancing your own teaching practices and professional growth.

Why might someone wish to engage in peer observation?

Professional development 

Peer reviews offer an opportunity for course instructors to enhance their teaching skills and receive feedback on their instructional methods. It helps them identify areas of improvement and develop strategies to create a more effective learning environment.

Quality assurance

By seeking input from colleagues, course instructors can ensure that their teaching aligns with institutional goals and meets the expectations of students and professional standards or department goals. Furthermore, by serving as an observer you can document your service as an ongoing commitment to improving teaching. 

Fresh perspectives 

Peers from different disciplines or backgrounds bring fresh perspectives to the review process. They can offer insights and ideas that may not have been considered by the course instructor, leading to innovative teaching approaches.

Collegiality and collaboration 

Peer reviews foster a culture of collaboration among faculty members. It encourages sharing ideas, exchanging experiences, and supporting each other’s professional growth. It also strengthens the sense of community within the academic institution.

Documentation of teaching 

Peer reviews provide valuable support to substantiate one’s teaching statement in a dossier. It’s one thing for you to say you do something and another to have it echoed by a peer. 

What are the types of peer observations?

Formative Peer Observations

The primary purpose of formative observations is to provide insights and guidance in order to help an instructor improve upon their teaching practice. Typically, these observations are conducted in a confidential manner and can be done by colleagues within the department, outside of a department, or upon request by university programs such as the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Summative Peer Observations

Performance appraisals, personnel decisions, and promotion and tenure evaluations typically use summative peer evaluations. These evaluations are not confidential, although there are typically limitations upon the forums in which these documents are shared. 

What do peer observations look like?

Peer evaluations of teaching typically consist of a pre-observation component, a classroom observation, a post-observation component, and a reflective summary. 


This component of the peer observation process consists of two elements. First, the course materials that are used to support student learning are examined by the observer(s). Second, a conversation is conducted between the instructor and observer(s) in order to establish the context of the course, discuss class expectations, and provide the necessary background to contextualize the observation. Often, this component also includes a brief discussion of the overall process of the teaching observation. 


This component of the peer observation process includes observing behaviors at the individual and group level in the classroom setting within a specific class. The observation is both focused and purposeful in order to gather information on teaching and learning in the class.


This component of the peer observation process typically involves a meeting between the instructor and observer(s) to provide feedback. A discussion on the successful components of the class structure and delivery as well as highlighting areas for improvement. Additionally, strategies for improvement may be provided. 

Reflective Summary

This final component of the process consists of a brief written analysis of the outcomes of the observation. The summary provides the opportunity for integration of what was gained from the observation and how this will affect future teaching. 

Additional resources and selected publications

Additional Resources: 

“Adapting the Faculty Peer Review Process to Your Context.” Northeastern Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research. 

“Peer Observation of Teaching: Best Practices.” Iowa State University Center for Excellence in 

Learning and Teaching.  

“Peer Observation of Teaching: Maximizing Benefits for Teaching and Learning” Oregon State University: Center for Teaching and Learning

“Peer Observation of Teaching”. Elon University Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. 

“Peer Observation of Teaching” University of Texas at Austin: Center for Teaching and Learning

“Teaching Resources: Peer Observation” University of South Carolina: Center for Teaching and Excellence

Selected related publications on peer observations:

Atkinson, J. A., & Bolt, S. (2010). Using teaching observations to reflect upon and improve teaching in higher education. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(3), 1-19


Bell, M., & Cooper, P. (2013). Peer observation of teaching in university departments: A framework for implementation. International Journal for academic Development, 18(1), 60-73.


Gosling, D. (2002). Models of peer observation of teaching. LTSN Generic Center Learning and Teaching Support Network, 1 – 6.

Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D., & Carr, S. E. (2007). Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching. Medical Teacher, 29, 297-300.

Created by: Christina Budde, Amy Bustin, Alyssa Lanzi. Elizabeth Sargent