Reflections on “Teaching and Learning Together: The Opportunities and Challenges of Pedagogy Partnerships”
Reflections on “Teaching and Learning Together: The Opportunities and Challenges of Pedagogy Partnerships,” a workshop held at Grinnell College (Iowa) on June 13-14, 2023
In 2018 Dr. Jackie Greene, (then) Dean Michelle Yovanovich, and I created the Lucas Center Student-Faculty Partnership Program (SFPP), and I have co-facilitated this program for the last five years. The SFPP places a faculty member in partnership with a student, who serves in the role of pedagogical consultant to the faculty partner for an entire semester (or longer, in some cases). The student consultants observe their faculty partners teach at least once a week, they take detailed notes of their classroom observations, they meet weekly with their partners to provide feedback, and they meet weekly with their fellow student partners and the program facilitators to share their experiences, seek peer feedback, and provide support to one another. In the five years since our program began we have worked with 97 faculty members and 77 students in a total of 157 partnerships.
Based on the success of our program and the ongoing relationship we have with Dr. Alison Cook-Sather, who has been leading partnership efforts at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges for over two decades and who served as a consultant during the planning and initiation of our SFPP, I was invited by her and Dr. Caleb Elfenbein of Grinnell College to participate in a June 2023 workshop that brought together the “experienced and the curious”—nearly 50 faculty, staff, and students from institutions across the country who came together to consider how to build successful, sustainable partnership programs. As one of the “experienced” partnership program facilitators, I was also thrilled to be able to bring a student partner to the workshop, and Angeline Pierre, a senior FGCU Biochemistry major, joined me at Grinnell.
Over the course of two extremely fulfilling days of reflecting and learning, I came away with a renewed sense of the transformative power of partnership for both faculty and students. In fact, the perspectives shared by the student participants throughout the workshop were perhaps the most moving and inspiring aspects of our time together.
Some of these students were: a current participant in an undergraduate partnership program, a recent graduate about to begin a post-baccalaureate partnership fellowship, a doctoral candidate who first partnered as an undergrad a decade ago, a former partner who now runs a program at an Ivy League university, and many more. No matter their present role, these current and former partners all cited their partnership experiences as transformational, and I don’t believe it is a coincidence that most of them have continued to work in higher ed and/or are seeking graduate degrees. Their partnership experiences affirmed the value of their perspectives on teaching and learning and validated that they belong in a university community of practice.
Angeline Pierre, a three-time partner in the FGCU partnership program, was generous enough to take time from her busy summer schedule to travel with me to Grinnell and reflect on her experience, and I am grateful to her for contributions to the workshop and this blog.
The pedagogical conference that I attended in Grinnell, Iowa turned out to be one of the most transformative experiences that I have had during my undergraduate career at FGCU. I took away lessons that changed my outlook on life and added to my professional development skills. On the first day of the conference, I was welcomed into an atmosphere of warmth and encouragement which was maintained in the following few days. It was kind of interesting to me that this conference about pedagogical partnerships was in fact taking place like a pedagogical partnership, in which the focus of it was discussion. We brought up the subject of belongingness, and through this I remembered how being an undergrad in STEM meant my experience was always shadowed by a fear of not being enough. It was only recently I learned that I had been experiencing the imposter phenomenon during those years. Participating in the student-faculty partnership program at FGCU was the first time in my college career where I felt a sense of belonging. This was healing for me because before then I was struggling to discover where my voice was valued in the ocean of classwork and academic rigor, and being in this partnership program opened the door for me to be heard. This realization also made clear how important it was to bring this partnership ethos to all of my other endeavors. Whether I was at work, or with my classmates working on a project, I made an effort to foster a partnership wherever I went, and the results were empowering.
The folks in attendance at the Grinnell pedagogy workshop also inadvertently taught me that success has different definitions, depending on who you ask. I thought of this when I considered how each individual was able to get into this work while coming from diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, everyone present carried rich insight and wisdom, and no doubt inspired their fellow colleagues in attendance. This is important in the light of pedagogical partnerships here at FGCU because it means that students and faculty are encouraged to make goals reflective of their experiences and to not structure their partnership in a way that would hinder the spirit of collaboration. Students participating in a partnership program do not have to carry expertise on the art of education, they just need to be curious, as brilliantly phrased during the conference. What makes this idea so powerful is that students are valued for their unique perspective, which opens the door for any student to engage in this partnership program and have a successful partnership.
This experience also highlighted the fact that faculty are, many times, in solitude when it comes to teaching. The partnerships were not just about me or the students. It was a connecting point for faculty, department chairs, staff, students, and everyone involved in the learning process.
“Partnership is a balm for pedagogical isolation”. They are so much more powerful than what they are known for, and faculty, staff, and students involved benefit so much from a healthy professional relationship such as a partnership. For the university, they are a “bridge between two worlds”. The conference made me realize that this is a restoration to what education should intrinsically look like: which is a collaboration. It’s the missing part that so many students and faculty have been craving.
I left Grinnell feeling inspired to spread this concept of partnership to my future career in medicine. Having been exposed to various forms of clinical practice already, I feel in my heart that there is room for growth. I want to observe pedagogical partnerships and their application to learning environments in highly specialized fields such as medicine. I am grateful to have been a participant of the pedagogy conference and the richness of my experience has encouraged me to search for more experiences like it.