Co-mentoring: The Iterative Process of Learning about Self and “Becoming” Leaders

Feb. 08, 2016

Source: Studying Teacher Education, VOL. 12, NO . 1, 3–19, 2016
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors are pre-tenured faculty at dissimilar institutions in different regions of the USA, who found themselves in similar, unenviable positions – both were assigned to administrative positions that they did not seek. This study is an investigation of their processes of becoming leaders and how they aligned and/ or conflicted with their espoused beliefs.

The primary data sources for this study are shared journals, email correspondence, and face-to-face meetings occurring three times per year. Supplemental data included weekly time usage logs, calendars, to-do lists, feedback from constituents, and personal reflections.



The data revealed an evolution in the authors' practice and identities as leaders, in some ways paralleling the change stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing outlined in team-building models. Data analysis revealed an evolution in their practice and identities as administrators.

Forming and Storming
There was uncertainty about the scope of the authors' responsibilities and what resources the authors had available to them.
Similarly, they initially struggled with managerial tasks (e.g. completing reports). They initially endeavored to operate in a manner masking feelings of insecurity, admitting them only to one another through their journals.
This solitary enactment of administrative roles was inconsistent with who they strive to be as teacher educators. They value transparency, vulnerability, and shared decision-making, yet found themselves working in isolation and growing increasingly resentful.

Over time, their frustration grew. Tensions they both experienced included lack of time and unanticipated tasks that became necessary priorities that drew attention away from their teaching and scholarship. In addition to fulfill leadership obligations, they were forced to sacrifice time they had previously spent in the professional and personal pursuits that had brought them to academia. As resentment mounted, their shared experience and collaboration were lifelines, helping them regain balance between values and practices and professional and personal lives.
Eventually, they began to see more moments of clarity. They were gradually more effective and efficient in completing managerial tasks, thus leaving time and energy to think beyond immediate demands. However, there was not a smooth progression through the stages of change. They experienced roadblocks in the form of others’ expectations and internal politics.

Norming and Performing
Over time, the authors began to see their positions as opportunities for change and improvement rather than simply fulfillment of obligation. As they entered the norming stage, they became more efficient and less reactive, reclaiming time for other commitments and passions. Moving into the performing stage, they were able to be more reflective, using their individual and shared experiences to align practice with ideals of effective leadership.
Consequently, the authors have committed themselves to revisit the journaling and co-mentoring that supported them through their entry into academia and their first leadership positions in higher education.

Familiar New Ground
Two years have passed since they initiated this study. In that time, they have both received tenure and promotion and have further developed skillsets for their roles and responsibilities.
As the authors are at the beginning stage of learning their “newer” roles and responsibilities, they are again coming to grips with the loss of the autonomy and control that initially drew them into academic positions. The authors realize they have diminished control of their time, research agendas, and teaching assignments.


The process of engaging in self-study and being willing to honestly reflect with a trusted friend alleviated the authors' angst in their new roles and was the catalyst through which they saw change in their identities and practices as leaders. The authors recommend anyone placed in an administrative position find a trusted friend or colleague to ask provocative questions, provide other perspectives, and offer critique of ideas and work in a safe, supportive way.
They advocate for all faculty appointed to administrative positions to receive some form of mentoring. Systematic and intentional mentoring benefits all involved, lessening the anxiety and missteps of new leaders, streamlining decision-making, and facilitating positive change.

Finally, they encourage leaders at all levels to seek alternatives to the generic, traditional models of leadership that are the status quo in higher education. They recommend leaders, voluntary and involuntary, take up the charge to add to the limited body of work, collectively transforming the way leadership is envisioned and enacted.

Updated: Feb. 14, 2017