To celebrate the release of Pedagogical Partnerships: A How-To Guide for Faculty, Students, and Academic Developers in Higher Education (Cook-Sather, Bahti, & Ntem 2019), I spoke to the authors about their experience practicing and writing about pedagogical partnerships. 

We started at the very beginning: Why did you decide to write Pedagogical Partnerships?

Alison: Given that pedagogical partnership is a burgeoning area of exploration and practice, I get very regular requests for information and guidance regarding how to develop and launch pedagogical partnership programs. For good reasons, people tend to ask many of the same questions, and rather than continue to repeat the same recommendations for what people might consider and what steps they might take, I thought it might be time to try to write down the larger conceptual, structural, and practical considerations as well as share very detailed descriptions and outlines of the approaches we have developed in the SaLT [Students as Learners and Teachers] program. Because I have run the program for so long—since 2007—and a lot of what I do feels like second nature, and because I wanted to model in writing the book the kind of partnership the book calls for, I invited Melanie and Anita to co-author.

What brought the three of you together on this book?

Alison: Melanie and Anita had already worked in partnership with me in multiple roles—as student consultants in the SaLT program when they were undergraduates at Bryn Mawr College, as co-facilitators and co-researchers of SaLT program practices, as co-creators of conference presentations, and as co-authors of articles. 

Melanie: Working collaboratively allowed us to model the values of partnership that we describe in the book. As in any partnership, we all brought different strengths and perspectives to the work, which helped develop the manuscript into a more nuanced, organized, and multifaceted product than it could have been with a single author.

Alison: They brought essential experiences and perspectives to the process of identifying what we might name and unpack in the how-to guide. I also knew that we would work well together: I knew we could be honest and direct with one another, I knew we’d see things from different angles because of our different identities, experiences, and perspectives, and I knew we would have a good time enacting this extension of our existing forms of partnership.

Alison, Melanie, and Anita affirmed the value of bringing different perspectives to the project by sharing similar but distinct responses to the question: What key takeaways would you like readers to get from this book? Alison started with the essential questions that guide thinking about partnership.

Alison: That it is important to think through and talk about big questions—How do you define “partnership”? What are explicit and implicit purposes of partnership? What are the thresholds to partnership? What language might you use to name partnership work and those in partnership roles? What are the emotional as well as intellectual and practical demands of partnership?)—and to consider deeply what shared and respective responsibilities faculty students, academic developers, and others have in pedagogical partnership. 

All three spoke about the importance of understanding and being attentive to context:

Anita: Partnership is perceived, fostered, and experienced in many different ways, therefore everyone is at a different stage in their interaction and development of partnership. There are great resources and examples of institutions that demonstrate the development and execution of various pedagogical programs and practices in this book, however, understanding one’s setting and culture is such an essential element to keep in mind when thinking through what partnership is and what partnership will look like for one’s respective setting. 

Melanie: There are so many elements of the book that we think are important, but many of them boil down to the importance of intention and consideration for one’s context when establishing and sustaining partnership work. There are many points in the process, from considering names and language around a program to thinking about how to set a focus for an individual partnership to assessment and reflection, that require attention to the specific constellation of circumstances at work in an individual institution. 

Alison: I want people to realize that it’s important to be attentive and intentional in developing partnerships but also as they unfold; the processes of reflecting and revising are ongoing.

And each emphasized the value of the book’s resources as launch pads for individualizing this work. 

Anita: Readers should feel free to use the resources of this book as a framework and as guidance in how they will engage, explore and tweak best practices so that they can own this process as their own. 

Melanie: I hope that the book serves as a companion as readers consider what feels right for them, that it prompts reflection throughout the process, and that the resources and examples we include are useful jumping off points for new ideas.

Alison: I also want them to be able to use and adapt the many resources we have developed over the 12 years we have run the SaLT program—outlines for orientations and weekly meetings, guidelines for developing institutional positions such as post-bac fellows to help develop partnership programs, sample questions for how to assess partnership work, and much more.

Finally, I wanted to know about the lasting impact of partnership on their current work, even as their roles have changed and evolved. How do principles from this book continue to inform your current work and roles?

Alison: Writing the book afforded us an opportunity to make our assumptions and practices explicit—to name with one another in a new way what we have been doing all these years. Preparing for and producing the book also raised interesting new questions and areas of further exploration. For instance, as I travel to various countries around the world sharing ideas and practices that are presented in the book, I learn how the language of partnership has to be translated such that it resonates and supports the work it aspires to do. This learning requires new forms of respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility—the premises my colleagues Cathy Bovill and Peter Felten and I identified as underlying partnership in our 2014 book, Engaging Students as Partners: A Guide for Faculty. Closer to home, I am working with a student partner this semester to analyze how I facilitate weekly student consultant meetings (building on some of what we include in the book).

Melanie: I currently work in instructional design, so my day-to-day work is informed very closely by my experiences with partnership work. The practices of attentive listening and collaboratively identifying areas for future growth are a big part of my interactions with faculty. I also find that having been in a student partner role, which explicitly affirms the value that comes from outside of content expertise, makes me feel grounded in my own knowledge and what I bring to course design.

Anita: As an assistant to the CEO of a charter school network, part of my work involves communication with the leaders, managers, and representatives of our schools across the regions. Understanding the dynamics embedded within each region, school, and their respective priorities makes me realize how much cultural dynamics is such a huge aspect that I must pay attention to and think carefully about. The principles of this book provide me the opportunity to think about cultural contexts, where we are in current communication, and how we can take what we know and where we are in order to move forward in executing a task. Thus, this becomes a collaborative process that is established by recognizing the different stages of where a school is and finding a middle ground in how we can partner to learn from each other. Realizing what makes the most sense for us based on the context allows us to feel good owning our process and next steps! 

The entire book and individual chapters are available for download now at no cost to readers through the Center for Engaged Learning’s Open Access Book Series. Check it out in full along with 34 supplemental resources on the book’s homepage:

Sophia Abbot is the 2018-2020 Center for Engaged Learning Graduate Apprentice and a student in the Masters of Higher Education program at Elon University.

How to cite this post:

Abbot, Sophia. 2019, December 4. Pedagogical Partnerships Interview with Authors. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from