Stephen Bloch-Schulman, Claire Lockard and maggie castor on Student-Faculty Partnerships
by Ketevan Kupatadze
Recently I was extremely fortunate to have a conversation with Dr. Stephen Bloch-Shulman and then undergraduate, but now graduate students, Claire Lockard and maggie castor, about their experiences with partnership in teaching and learning. Stephen, maggie, and Claire have worked in partnership on a number of different projects, co-authored publications related to their experience with partnership, and co-led discussions and panels at the American Association of Philosophy Teachers and the American Association of Colleges and Universities conferences. But, more importantly, they were able to create and nurture an ongoing friendship as they collaborated on research and co-developed and even co-taught courses. Reflecting on the experience, maggie shared that partnership work helped them learn not only philosophy but also learn the profession, how to be a professional, and how to be a better, more responsible, compassionate member of the community.
Curious about the ways in which they would differentiate partnership from a more traditional mentor-mentee relationship, I asked them if they saw or felt there was any difference. In response, maggie said that while they considered faculty to be their mentor, partnership was qualitatively different, particularly in the kind of responsibilities that were shared. They were engaged in a project together and each assumed the responsibility of doing their part. Everyone also understood that not doing one’s part would set up others for something less that success. Both, students and faculty underscored the sense of shared responsibility as a distinguishing feature of pedagogical partnership.
Claire and maggie also spoke of power dynamics that they noticed were present at the institutional level. Although they emphasized that one characteristic of partnership was the equality that they felt in their relationship with the faculty, they also pointed out that in some cases, faculty have power (status, authority) where students don’t. So navigating these hierarchies within the institutional and professional setting was not always easy. Partnership, in their opinion, gave them an opportunity and strategies to work towards altering these power dynamics and creating a more democratic culture within the higher education system in which both sides could share responsibilities for teaching and learning.
Stephen noted that he saw partnership as an integral part of his professional life, not only teaching. He also said that he does not think of student partnerships as outside of classroom structure. On the contrary, partnership was the goal both inside and outside the classroom. “Where it is not yet a partnership, the goal is to make it a partnership,” he said. In his words, it is important to develop skills necessary in both faculty and students to engage in partnership, as it is an essential life-skill. The goal, he said, was to figure out what skills and knowledge were needed for faculty, as well as for students, for a successful partnership. He used an example of a research lab where, ideally, there would be a community of mentors, teachers, researchers, and learners: faculty mentoring, teaching and working with post-docs; post-docs mentoring, teaching and working with graduate students; and graduate students mentoring, teaching and working with undergraduates. As students matured, it would be Stephen’s expectation that they would pass this along and continue to nurture these types of relationships with younger generations.
Thinking about their extensive partnership experience with different people and in different contexts, I asked maggie, Stephen, and Claire what (if anything) their experience has taught them and what they would do differently in the future. All of them pointed out that self-knowledge was one of the most notable benefits of partnership. Understanding oneself and approaching a situation by contemplating beforehand what they want to take from it, what their responsibilities are and how to fulfill them best, was one of the lessons of partnership. maggie and Claire also came to think of and understand partnership as a process in which sometimes things might go wrong, but you acknowledge them and together try to resolve the issues that arise. Claire said that it gave her more confidence to take control of the situation when and if she thinks that something isn’t working for her. As a result of the pedagogical partnerships she had as an undergraduate student, she had more confidence, as well as a better sense of responsibility. However, they all acknowledged that this aspect of partnership was also the most challenging one. It required a type of honesty that could put all parties in a difficult, vulnerable position as it challenged the established boundaries in the relationships between students, faculty, and administration. They acknowledged that navigating these boundaries was not always easy.
Both Claire and maggie noted that they have encountered situations in which partnership was neither offered nor expected and this absence helped them understand the benefits of partnership more acutely; they even started missing partnership. Claire said that as a result of her experience with student-faculty partnerships “I am a less patient student,” because she always expects to be treated as a partner when decisions about what to teach, how to teach, and why are made.
Finally, I asked Claire, maggie, and Stephen if they had an advice for anyone (faculty or students) interested in pedagogical partnerships and what they thought was the most valuable attribute of student-faculty partnerships. Stephen thought of three characteristics of partnership that he valued the most: “Self-understanding. I understand myself better due to the partnerships that I have had with student partners. Of course, friendship is also a big part of it, and opportunities to do work that I could not do myself.” Claire said that partnership work allowed her to do things that she would not have been able to do otherwise. She continues to seek out student-faculty partnerships as a graduate student, beyond the typical dissertation director-directed relationship. When speaking of the most valuable characteristic of partnership, maggie pointed out that it was the feeling of responsibility and the creation of more responsible, compassionate, and appreciative community members.
All three of them agreed though that their advice for those who are contemplating to partner was to “get started. Whatever you think that is going to make it hard is also going to make it worth it.” You can start small, and often the skills needed are the skills that one already has as a member of the university community.
My conversation with Claire, maggie and Stephen certainly reinforced my understanding of some of the most notable benefits of partnership: an increased sense of responsibility both in faculty and students through a better awareness of how one learns, as well as the process of teaching and learning in general, and as a consequence, a creation of more egalitarian, democratic communities in which the responsibilities are not compartmentalized but rather shared. The conversation also made me realize how much thought and energy goes into creating and nurturing partnership between students and faculty, as well as how much courage sometimes is required on both sides to engage in it.
To read more about Stephen, maggie and Claire’s partnership work and experiences, see this selection of their publications:
- Bloch-Schulman, S., and maggie castor, “I Am Not Trying to Be Defiant, I Am Trying to Be Your Partner: How to Help Students Navigate Educational Institutions That Do Not Value Democratic Practice,” Partnerships: A Journal of Service Learning and Civic Engagement, 6(1).
- castor, m. (2011). Listening to Students: Creating Democratic Spaces. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 43(5), 65-66.
- Lockard, C.A., (Elon ’16), Helen Meskhidze (Elon ’16), Sean Wilson (Elon ’16), Nim Batchelor, Stephen Bloch-Schulman and Ann J. Cahill. (2017). “Using Focus Groups to Explore the Underrepresentation of Female-Identified Undergraduate Students in Philosophy,” Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, 3, (4).
- Manor, C., Block-Schulman, S., Flannery, K., Felten, P. (2010). Foundations of Student-Faculty Partnerships in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In C. Werder and M.M. Otis (eds.), Engaging Students Voices in the Study of Teaching and Learning (pp. 3–15). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
- Meacham, M., castor, m., & Felten, P. (2013). Partners as newcomers: Mixed-role partnerships as communities of practice. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, 1(10), 5.
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.