Bryn Mawr College’s Experience with Partnership
by Ketevan Kupatadze
Bryn Mawr College’s Teaching and Learning Institute (TLI) developed a student-faculty partnership program, “Students as Learners and Teachers” (SaLT), that has been successfully running and expanding since 2006. TLI’s initial goal, when it was part of a larger initiative that included partnerships between staff and students as well as between faculty and students, was to change the relationships between faculty, staff, and students on university campuses and to make these spaces, as well as education itself, more democratic. Engaging people in these three roles as teachers and learners, the project was conceived with the idea of developing the civic capacity on the college campuses.
This larger initiative was launched in 2006 and was supported by not only faculty and students, but also by administrators and members of the College’s Board of Trustees. It was funded by The Andrew Mellon W. Foundation. Writing about the initiative, Cook-Sather and Lesnick note that “the goals of the TLI [were] to create new structures within which all members of the campus community – faculty, staff, and students – interact as teachers, learners, and colleagues; to collaborate and create relationships that move beyond the limitations of the traditional roles we play; and to link everyone within the college community to educational opportunity and the opportunity to foster it for others (http://www.brynmawr.edu/tli)” (2010, p. 3).
Students as Learners and Teachers (SaLT), piloted in the 2006-2007 academic year, was one of the programs under this larger umbrella. Under the leadership of Dr. Alison Cook-Sather, who was the Coordinator of Teaching and Learning Initiative, focus groups of students helped shape the pilot’s structure and participants, proposing that five students of color launch the pilot. Five faculty members worked with these students with the goal of making their classrooms more welcoming to and supportive of a diversity of students (Takayama, Kaplan, & Cook-Sather, 2017). The SaLT program took its structure from this pilot and continued to partner undergraduate student consultants with faculty members to explore pedagogical issues. With additional support from the institution’s administration, as well as The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Bryn Mawr College’s Teaching and Learning Institute has flourished, with Haverford College partnering with Bryn Mawr to collaborate in some of the TLI initiatives, SaLT among them.
Students who wish to work as consultants in SaLT are required to have educational or leadership experience; they are asked to provide two letters of recommendation and explain why they want to take on the role and what qualifies them to do so. Faculty new to the colleges who wish to participate in SaLT can choose to participate in a seminar as well as work in a one-on-one partnership with a student partner for a reduced teaching load in their first year, and faculty at any stage of their careers can work in such one-on-one partnerships with students with no compensation. Keeping students’ experiences, faculty needs, as well as everybody’s schedules in mind, the program director pairs faculty members with student consultants. The partnerships usually last anywhere from several weeks to one semester, although some are sustained for a full academic year and occasionally into the summer, during which faculty and student partners meet on a regular basis to discuss what is working well in the faculty member’s classroom and why, and also what might be improved.
Partnerships are generally structured like this:
- Faculty members meet with their student consultants at the outset of the partnership to identify pedagogical goals.
- Student partners visit the faculty members’ classrooms weekly and take detailed observation notes on the issue(s) the faculty members have identified;
- Faculty and student partners meet weekly to discuss their different perspectives on the teaching and learning unfolding in the classroom;
- Student partners conduct midcourse feedback within the class;
- Student partners meet weekly with the program director and the other student consultants to discuss how best to support participating faculty members.
Cook-Sather (“Developing ‘students as Learners and Teachers,'” forthcoming) writes, “Since the advent of the SaLT program, 230 faculty members and 145 student consultants have participated in a total of over 280 partnerships.” Many have been new faculty members and many with considerable experience. Students have come from many different disciplines, are sophomores through seniors, “claim different identities,” and have different “degrees of formal preparation in educational studies” (Bovill, Cook-Sather & Felten, 2011, p. 135). The vast majority of students who participate “claim membership in one or more equity-seeking groups (e.g., students who are racialized, LGBTQ+, first generation)” (Cook-Sather, “Listening to equity-seeking perspectives,” forthcoming). In “Listening to equity-seeking perspectives,” Cook-Sather (forthcoming) reports students’ assertion that “the affirmation the program offers all students, through valuing their being and knowledge, is particularly important for those who are under-represented in and underserved by higher education.”
For more information about the SaLT program at Bryn Mawr College, visit their web page: https://www.brynmawr.edu/node/6430 or contact the director, Alison Cook-Sather, at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bovill, C., Cook‐Sather, A., & Felten, P. (2011). Students as co‐creators of teaching approaches, course design, and curricula: implications for academic developers. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(2), 133–145. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2011.568690
- Cook-Sather, A. (forthcoming). Listening to equity-seeking perspectives: How students’ experiences of pedagogical partnership can inform wider discussions of student success. Higher Education Research and Development.
- Cook-Sather, A. (forthcoming). Developing “Students as Learners and Teachers”: Lessons from ten years of pedagogical partnership that strives to foster inclusive and responsive practice. Journal of Education Innovation, Partnership and Change.
- Lesnick, A. & Cook-Sather, A. (2010). Building Civic Capacity on Campus Through a Radically Inclusive Teaching and Learning Initiative. Innovative Higher Education 35(1), 3-17.
- Takayama, K., Kaplan, M., & Cook-Sather, A. (2017). Advancing Diversity and Inclusion through Strategic Multi-Level Leadership. Liberal Education. http://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2017/summer-fall/takayama_kaplan_cook-sather
Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.