Three-Way Partnership

Elizabeth Barkley states that “teachers have the greatest control over what happens to students in the specific courses they teach, but their efforts to foster engagement will be both easier and more effective if their instructional environment is supportive. Additionally, engagement will be deepened if what students are learning in the classroom connects to the broader institutional, community, and global context” (Student Engagement Techniques, pgs. 41-42). Robert Smallwood, quoted in personal communication, December 15, 2008, supports her point by saying that “in many respects, [student engagement is] a three-way partnership between students, faculty, and administration that results in a classroom environment conducive to maximizing adult learning” (pg. 42).

When I read this section of the textbook, I could not help but think about the organization I currently work for and say I wish. The relationship the students, teachers and administration have is often dysfunctional, like most families I guess. I work as an instructor and as an administrator/curriculum developer at a private language school. I spend countless frustrating hours thinking about the relationship between:
  1. The administrators (the product developers)
  2. The teachers (the service provided)
  3. The student (the customer)
I have also spent many hours counseling students about what their expectations of the course are vs what is happening in the classroom, counseling teachers on what is happening in the classroom vs what the student and company expect and counseling myself on what makes a strong course vs what the reality of the classroom is. A three-way partnership is a notion to which I had to shake my head in defeat about. And yet, feel inspired by.
This partnership is important because without students, there is no school, but without schools no learning can take place. We need each other, just like family, if I continue on with this metaphor.  

One example I can draw upon representing this gap is a university pathways class I recently observed. The teacher had printed three different articles from the internet to host a seminar style discussion. The topic in the textbook that week was ethics. He distributed the articles, and I was surprised to see that one of the titles was “Man vs. Lion.” I imagine that the topic of animal rights led to exploring animals in general. However, from a student perspective, even if they are interested in the topic, as the teacher told me when I asked, they are paying quite a bit of money and are under a lot of pressure to meet the course requirements to get into college. The teacher did not realize what a disservice he was doing to his students.
To bridge the gap between:
  • What the instruction thinks the teachers are delivering
  • That the teachers think is important
  • That the students are experiencing
CLASSE survey instruments should be used to open a dialogue about how important different teaching strategies are to student success, how often these strategies are used, and what a teacher believes is important to a certain course (Barkely, p. 43). The data from this type of survey puts assessing student engagement and expectations in the hands of both the institution, who can then implement change, and the instructor, who can then adapt lessons accordingly. Surveys I have seen used include questions like:

1 L
I like my textbook

My teacher respects me

I am happy with my class

This tells the institution nothing concrete about student expectations, the lessons being delivered, the goals of the specific program, etc. Surveys should be given on an institutional level to audit the reality of the classroom experience to close the gap between what teachers think is happening and what is actually happening. Also, these surveys should happen on a daily basis in a classroom context using CLASSE documents and reflection techniques. Teachers will then hopefully stop viewing the class as “their class” and take a more holistic approach.

I plan to implement a Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG), modified from, to students currently taking the Pathway program. The questionnaire is divided into categories including understanding, skills, attitudes, integration of learning and pathway expectations. 

In addition to this survey, I will create on to give to teachers of this program. The categories will include: teaching strategies, assessment techniques, student engagement, administrative support, and pathway expectations. It is important for both students and teachers to see what the course is designed to do in relation to articulation agreements made between the school and partner schools. So this final category called pathway expectations will include questions about what the colleges and universities expect graduated from this program to demonstrate. Based on these results, which will be published or students and staff to see, I will invite feedback on program improvements.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


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