Professional Development and Professional Recognition for University Teachers: a mentor’s eye view


I love being one of the 50 or so mentors on the Edinburgh Teaching Award : it’s a favourite part of my job. We’re all Fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), so we know what it’s like to take a good hard look at our own teaching and our students’ learning, to challenge ourselves to improve and to go public on our successes and disappointments and what we’ve learned from them. And those are exactly the things we encourage our mentees to do.

Each of us is allocated a small number of colleagues to support, and it’s our job to help them in 3 key areas:

  1. reflecting on and writing about their continuing development as teachers
  1. compiling a record of how they have made use of teaching-related CPD
  1. identifying and evidencing their effectiveness in teaching and supporting learning

We do this by:

  • offering written feedback on their blog posts or presentations
  • helping them to identify CPD opportunities
  • recommending reading and other resources
  • putting them in touch with networks of supportive colleagues
  • helping them to make sense of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) that specifies the core knowledge, areas of activity and professional values relevant to a university teacher.

After between 6 months and 2 years, each mentee presents evidence to an adjudication panel and, if successful, becomes a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy at the appropriate level.

I like to have a first meeting face-to-face with each of my mentees, so that I can find out what really matters to her or him and we can agree on the best ways of working together and a timetable for submission. I also take time to explain the structure of the award: they need to provide a reflective blog (or oral presentation) a record of CPD, and an account of their experience and success, all linked to the UKPSF at an appropriate level. After that, the process varies. Some people like to work on-line or by ’phone, others prefer to meet over coffee and cake. Some like regular reminders, others prefer to create their own deadlines.

However we do it, the focus of our work together is two-fold: development and recognition.

What do I mean by development?

Development is a slippery word. It has very different meanings in specific contexts: for example ‘property development’, ‘international development’ and ‘child development.’ It’s also often used in a vague way to suggest something unspecified happening somewhere else: “there have been developments…” Generally when we talk about teacher   development, we mean change in a positive direction. But I’m not sure we always check that we’re thinking about the same direction. Plus there’s the question of who does the developing. My job title is “academic developer” which seems to suggest that development is something that I should be doing to other people. (I don’t see it that way). In fact, when I say the EdTA is developmental, it’s easier to pin down what it’s not. It’s not a tick-box for individuals, it’s not a PR exercise for the institution and it’s certainly not just another administrative chore for mentors. For me, developing as a teacher means deepening my engagement with my discipline and with my students, learning from experience, from scholarship and from reflection. It means being able to do things I couldn’t do before; increasing my knowledge, enlarging my understanding and constantly posing the question, “What really matters here?”

So what about recognition?

First of all, as a mentor I see colleagues coming to recognise themselves as teachers. This is by no means straightforward for many academics who for a range of reasons may never have considered a teacher identity. By the time they join the EdTA, they have usually accepted the role that they play in the education of others and the privileges and responsibilities that this involves. However, I may still need to help them think through their definition of what a teacher does. In the EdTA we conceptualise teaching very broadly to include not only lecturing, tutorials and lab work, but also one-to-one supervision of projects, dissertations and PhD theses, meetings with personal tutees, workshops for colleagues and a range of other online and face-to-face activities that are designed to facilitate learning. We also pay attention to less visible aspects of teaching: designing and planning, scholarship, collaboration and horizon scanning. For senior colleagues, the focus shifts to the role they have in influencing the practice of other teachers and to their leadership, whether locally or internationally.

Secondly and more interestingly for me is when colleagues go beyond the question of “Am I a teacher?” to “Who am I as a teacher?” I love it when they recognise their unique contribution to their students’ learning and the continuation of their discipline. I enjoy hearing both the flashes of insight and the gradual realisations; the things that go well and the ones that go hilariously wrong.

Thirdly, as mentor I have to recognise what mentees do, know and value in relation to agreed criteria as represented by the UKPSF. I need to know the required dimensions of practice and to know them again (re-cognise them) when I see them embodied in my colleagues’ accounts of their practice and to make comment when they seem to be missing.

Finally, the teacher is formally recognised when the university and the Higher Education Academy accept that s/he has met the requirements for the relevant level and when the fellowship is taken into account when making decisions about recruitment and promotion.

Development and Recognition of Mentors

Importantly, mentoring can also be seen as part of an educator’s professional development and recognition. Becoming a mentor in the EdTA provides evidence of your commitment to learning and teaching in higher education and of your willingness to share your experience, understanding and ideas with less experienced colleagues. You can reflect on and write about your experiences as a mentor as part of your own EdTA submission for Fellowship, Senior Fellowship or Principal Fellowship.

If you would like to take part in the Edinburgh Teaching Award, either as a participant or as a mentor, please contact or in  the Vet School and in Mathematics

Read more about Daphne’s research: Loads, D. and Collins, C. (2016) Recognising Ourselves and Each Other in Professional Recognition. In J. Smith, J. Rattray, T. Peseta and D.Loads (Eds.), Identity Work in the Contemporary University: Exploring an Uneasy Profession Rotterdam: Sense Publishing ,169-179.

Daphne Loads

Daphne Loads works in the Institute for Academic Development and is academic lead of the Edinburgh Teaching Award.


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