Partnership for Learning ~
an Effective Empowerment




   An Approach with An Attitude

Partnership for Learning (P4L) pairs a student mentor with a teacher in their major area of interest. The student is a catalyst for technology learning and gains a new perspective of the field through the teacher.

  • Uncovering abilities rather than teaching applications will lead to more effective teaching.
  • Creating conditions for evolution, rather than planning for reform, will lead to deeper learning.
  • Developing fluency ~ the independence to discover and learn for themselves what works in their classroom ~ improves with a catalyst and a spark.

Background: Why spark and catalyst and not a hook?

As a fractal image is developing, the pattern and beauty are often unseen. This can be true of the learning process as well. And just as one mathematical formula can create a wide variety of fractals, each instance of the catalyst + spark can result in a unique creative learning experience.


"...our universe is alive with sparks. We have at our fingertips an infinite capacity to light the spark of possibility." 
The Art of Possibility
Zander & Zander

The concepts for this approach are rooted in over 20 years of teaching classes, running training sessions, participating in train-the-trainer programs. I learned that finding the learner's passion was key to ownership and success. The question evolved, "What's their hook?" However, images of hooks are not pleasant ~ even Disney's Hook is a villain.

I was uncomfortable with the underlying message: hooking someone into something has a sneaky, negative connotation. They are victims and not partners. This was not what I wanted to convey nor was it my vision of the process.  As the idea of a spark and catalyst evolved, the fractal, including its sparks, seemed an obvious choice.

SPARK: a quality with latent potential; something that ignites.

CATALYST: agent of change; something that initiates or accelerates action or reaction; something that dissolves or loosens.


Inklings: Mary & John ~ Relevancy & One-on-One Mentoring

Mary's Marvelous Adventure

Problem: Mary's boss knew Excel would be a big help to Mary and asked me to train her. Specifically, he knew it would help with her student abroad balance sheets. She attended training sessions, but it just wasn't clicking. She was dubious and reluctant. I began working with her for 20-30 minutes twice a week. The sessions were two-part: I was learning how she did her job in order to build a spreadsheet template and she was learning Excel. Progress was slow. She couldn't see how it would be much better than what she was already doing very effectively and comfortably.

Solved: Just two days before a group of 22 was due to leave for Italy and Austria, one student dropped from the program. Everything had to be recalculated. It took Mary six hours - a very long night! When I met with her the next day and brought up the spreadsheet, I typed '21' in the cell that had '22' for the number of students. Viola! Close to instantaneously, the calculations were completed.

Results: Mary's astonishment (hand to mouth, drop back in chair, audible gasp) was a delight. We completed the training in another week. She began converting all of her work into spreadsheets. She taught herself other applications for her office work and began using these in her work as clerk for her church. Most importantly, her resistance to technology melted and she became inventive in how she approached her work and using technology.

Would this same idea - a relevant project - work with teachers?   What worked with Mary was the complete relevancy of the project to her technology learning. While she made progress through her philosophical commitment to learning Excel, it wasn't until the demonstration of applicability that she was emotionally involved with the learning. With relevancy, she took ownership of the project and of technology in general. Could relevancy be one point that holds back teachers from learning and integrating technology as well?

Mentoring with Students:
John Slides into Tech

Problem: John used hundreds of slides in teaching history. They were talking points that brought the people and events alive to his students. Manually loading and unloading the carousels and filing the slides was tediously time consuming. In class, it was cumbersome to go back eight or ten slides to illustrate a point in class discussions.

Solved: I hired a student to scan that huge collection of slides. The student not only scanned the slides and put them into PowerPoint (PPT) presentations, but also ran the presentations in class. It was a fruitful partnering as the student was enrolled in the class so, not only provided technical assistance and was a valuable resource for what worked academically, but also gained a better grasp of the subject matter.

Results: The following quarter, the student continued to scan images and create PPTs, but John now ran the presentations. By spring quarter, John had created his own six-slide PPT for the first day of class covering his syllabus and course expectations. John always referred to the "confuser" with disdain, but now he had gained confidence in file management and could use the equipment in any classroom. He was no longer intimidated.

So relevancy is a factor, but how does that tie to the one-on-one sessions? 
Peer mentoring has been an option for years. Several studies on developing technology integration through a mentoring process document success (Polselli, 2002). However, finding faculty peers that have the time is often a challenge.

Can students provide the path for scaling this to a larger group?
Varying approaches to student support for technology are reporting success. GenYes infuses technology throughout a school tying the outcomes to national standards. It provides a framework for the teacher and the student technology partner to develop the unit incorporating the appropriate technology. Ann Thompson's one-on-one partnering program, Faculty Technology Mentoring, at Iowa State University's Education College began at the university level. It spread to local K-12 schools in which the university student teachers were placed. Wake Forest University STARs program partners students with faculty across disciplines for development of faculty teaching and technology integration.

As I explored the ideas of mentoring, I found the following four recurring key points increase the likelihood of success.

  1. Choosing mentors ~ empathic partners empower
  2. Two-way mentoring ~ both gain and give
  3. Sustained commitment ~ one year or more consistently
  4. Accessibility ~ approachable and available

Would a student mentor from the field of the teacher's interest link relevancy and these four mentoring standards?

Emerging: Roger/Ella, John/Ethan ~ Spark & Catalyst

The Spark that Ignites:
Roger Lights Up

For Roger, Sociology courses are better served through original source materials than through text books. But his sources were dated. He used publications from the 12+ organizations as resources in his courses. This instructionist approach meant that students did little daily research on their own. He was unaware of the richness and relevance of online sources and thought the internet was just a collection of superficial materials. He closed his eyes whenever we opened a browser. Roger was unfamiliar with our online Library resources, including the college online card catalogue. Thus he could not verify his students' sources nor was he aware of the depth of their research.

Solved: We tried several mentoring and coaching approaches and agreed on utilizing the web as forum for technology progress. A web support-tech worked with him on his pages. The trainer worked with him on basic skills. I worked with him on classroom application utilizing the web resources. Progress was evident, but modest. With the launch of Partnership for Learning (P4L), Roger was a natural candidate ~ and an eager one! Ella, his student partner, made more progress with him in ten weeks than our team had in over a year. She was inventive and finally succeeded in raising his comfort level with the classroom systems.

Results: Roger is passionate about the subjects he teaches. That spark ignited his willingness to venture into technology. Through the use of web pages, Ella significantly raised Roger's awareness of the value of technology and alternative teaching and learning opportunities.

Why did Ella's mentoring outstrip other attempts? Several factors contributed to his transformation:
1. They met frequently amd regularly
2. She was availabile on a daily basis
3. She was his one point of learning
4. She was a Sociology major ~ understood the field and his approach

Of these four factors in the success of this partnership, the last point - her tie to his field - was perhaps the most critical. They related in ways that neither the trainer, the web developer, nor I could. Both the personal interest and the professional standpoint supported the partnership and led to progress. On several occasions, Roger consulted with Ella on how to approach sharing an issue with the students. Her grasp of the material, as well as her student perspective, gave her a unique place from which to share ideas. They were truly peers in their mentoring.

So how did we arrive at this success?


Ella and Ethan: Empathetic Evangelists
Empowered and Empowering


Problem: How to find the right mentors? Finding the right mix of skills (both people and technology), experience in the major, and a good match were all critical.  While the teachers and I were about to opt for hand-picking students, the Student Employment Office advised against that approach. They were interested in fairness; I realized that approach would lessen the student choosing to be part of the program.

Solved: We sent out applications, with a brief explanation of the program. The teachers culled through the responses for students that did well in the field and to whom they related. I looked over the technology and mentoring backgrounds. In this way, both parties made an overt choice to participate in the partnership.

Results: The matches worked well. Each student met with challenges that led them to move out of the traditional role of student and into a peer relationship. Both students gained new technology skills. Each student gained insight into the material on which they worked.

  • Ella, who had taken the course on Indigenous Cultures previously, found a deeper insight into the cultures through the improved materials.
  • Ethan, who was taking the course on Mexican History at the time he was developing the PPTs, often had discussionswith John that ranged far afield.

How to best develop the idea of the catalyst ~ the two-way mentoring? The spark - the relevance that engaged the teacher - was evident in that first experience with Mary and held true with the early experiences with both John and Roger. Finding the best way to mix that relevance with mentoring was the next step.

Mentoring programs tended to put the teacher in the role of learner and rarely as a teacher. Several exceptions - Louisana's Intech, Broward County, Florida's DETA, and Fort Smith Arkansas school system - all provide components in their programs where the teacher comes back to share or teach. Nevertheless, there is still a hierarchical nature to most mentoring approaches.

I sought a process whereby both partners would be in the role of giving as well as gaining, where both would have the opportunity to learn as well as to teach. This approach would empower both by building in interest, interdependence, and trust. As noted above, empathetic partners empower each other.  As each partner gained confidence in his or her role through the support and successes of the partner, they were empowered to take initiative. This ownership of the partnerships that led in unexpected directions and to far more progress than anticipated.

  • We expected Ella to provide Roger with the training on the equipment. None of us anticipated his need or progress in learning to utilize online databases.
  • We never anticipated the Ethan's success in teaching John to use Google image searching. This was not part of the original plan.

Progress: Ownership & Training ~ Learning at Lunch

So what happened in our ten-week quarter?

Adjustment ~ Initially, the students focused on the projects. It was an opportunity to build relationships through the regular meetings. Both partners gained trust and respect. At the end of two weeks, the students, working with the teachers, developed a scope document for the full three quarters. It covered goals for each partner, a description of the projects, and skills each will have mastered. Though I discussed the general ideas and focus of P4L with the teachers and students individually, I gave little direction in the specifics of the scope. Both partners used this to take ownership of the process, the project, and their expected outcomes. The partnerships themselves refined these and implemented their own sense of how to proceed. This was far more powerful: empower and get out of the way.

Training ~ Weekly tech training sessions with the students broadened and deepened their skills and confidence. We began filling in the holes in their tech experience. As authentic learning opportunities arose, they shared their new knowledge with the teachers. Occasionally, one of the students taught us a special skill or shared tech tip they found helpful. As the student group grew in their feeling of community of practice, they felt more comfortable sharing gaps in their knowledge and asking for suggestions.

Mentoring ~ In the initial meetings with the students, I covered the power the concept of two-way mentoring. We all acknowledged how empowered we felt when we were the "one who knew." Therefore, it was important for them to find opportunities to be on the receiving side of the equation. We also shared ideas about listening for the concerns behind the words and creativity in finding gracious ways to address those concerns. We discussed the collaborative nature of a partnership, the sharing together ideas about the process and the projects.

Each student was challenged in various ways by the shift in roles. For example:

  • Ella's initial disillusionment about Roger's ignorance of the College Library resources led her to renewed determination and she took this on as an additional challenge. The joy he took in sharing his new-found resources was a thrill for her.
  • Ethan struggled with managing unrealistic expectations from John on the number and timing of tasks he requested. The shift from the more passive role of a student to the more active role of a partner required a significant shift in his thinking.

Gains ~ Each student learned more about their field (see below) and grew in their own technology skills. Both teachers made significant strides in their technology fluency. In the ten weeks, Roger went from inability to run equipment or use the web on his own, to regular independent use in the classroom. John was comfortable running PPT at the start of the quarter, but learned about web images and mastered PPT authoring.

Proof: Successes in Fluency

They are having fun and are proud of their accomplishments! All of the partnerships are eager to continue. Other teachers are asking about joining the program because they have seem the strides John and Roger are making.

While it is too early to see much evidence of transference of technology skills to other applications, both teachers began to ask questions about other options. Both are now eager for more independence; both have asked to use Blackboard next quarter where they will have more independence, more flexibility in the course direction and resources. They are interested in exploring the e-discussion options. The most significant change is in their attitude: an eagerness to approach technology options grounded in confidence rather than a reluctance to consider new options rooted in fear.

Subs, sodas, chips, and cookies ~ modest fare for a small celebration for the four partners at the end of the first quarter of P4L. Though I planned a few remarks of thanks, my agenda was irrelevant. The meeting immediately took off with a life of its own! The genuine collegiality of the helicopter jock and the environmental ecohead surprised both students and me. John noted that both he and Roger had moved significantly toward fluency with technology - though they had used different tools, but the result was the similar.

The two faculty members were fascinated by what the other was doing and openly shared successes and challenges. John led the group into an evaluation of the impact of the two approaches (PPT and Web) on student learning. Notably, he asked wonderful questions of the group about 'spoon feeding' the students versus making them do their own search for sources. It was encouraging to see them all share ideas and directions as well as what they will do differently in the future. Their comfort with the technology skills gave them a fluency to consider the pros and cons of these approaches and of technology in general. Bingo!


Both faculty members were enthused about their student partners. The student partners were solicited for their views on what works from their perspective. The faculty wanted to know how their classroom approach could be different as well as what worked for student assignments and how to teach needed technology skills to the students. It was true collaboration that can be more ostensibly incorporated in the future.

  • John surprised himself with how much he achieved in the ten weeks. Not only were his tech skills advanced, but they had immediate applicability to his courses. His fluency with PPT enabled him to diverge from teaching plans to discussions sparked by the images. He discovered that jumping back a day or two in the images provided a great opportunity for review and reinforced frame of reference.
  • Roger noted that he had lost much of his fear and was no longer stymied when technology caused a problem, especially in the classroom. His comfort with the web led him (with no prompting from student helpers) to demonstrate in his class how to look for value in web sites in his course on Environmental and Social Change. One site on farming provided a great deal of concrete data; the other was a superficial emotional site. This step was so huge for him that he came to share his success immediately after class. His joy in his new-found dominion is rewarding.
  • Ethan fared far better in the Mexico History course through working on this project. While working on PowerPoints, he and Glen often engaged in side conversations covering material that was not necessarily part of the course, thus enriching his experience.
  • Ella began with some technology skills, FrontPage was completely new to her. Her change in her self-perception came about six weeks into the program. I received this voicemail message from her with notable excitement in her voice: "I never saw myself as a tech person and here I am designing web pages!" She became inventive in helping Dr. Batz toward independence. Learning to manage the technology in any classroom was her idea to help him gain confidence. She took the initiative to survey the class for an evaluation of her web site ~ both its design and content. The survey was pointed out some areas for improvement next quarter - notably in how Batz uses the web pages.

Future ~ Lessons Learned and Next Steps

Evidence thus far indicates that that one-on-one mentoring - a personal touch on a personal project - creates conditions that promote evolution of technology skills leading to a fluency in integration of technology into the classroom and curriculum. Combining the teacher's spark/passion with the student catalyst provides a powerful partnership for learning. Focusing on changing attitudes rather than on teaching applications engenders in both partners independence and initiative in utilizing technology.

  • Strategy/Framework: The idea of action research will play a key role as we progress. As Acosta-Sing noted in Edutopia, "We're just kind of learning as we go." (Chen, 2002) While action research is definitely not 'winging it,' it does provide a flexibility and openness for partnering  - for working side by side with collaborators in exploring opportunities.
  • Tactics/Tools: The concepts of collaboration, learning circles, communities of practice, and leadership coupled with educational theories, including project based learning and scaffolding, provide methods for moving forward.
  • Training: It would be advantageous to do a full or half day training with the students before they started. However, I would not want to lose the constructivist approach that developed through this process.
  • Setup: "Read" applicants carefully. One professor was never really committed to P4L. Rather, she was interested in getting help with data entry for a database. She did not seem particularly concerned about the lack of progress. A second one wanted the P4L and then was gone for two quarters.
  • Applications: One wanted a partner, and none applied from his field. It would be helpful to have a few students waiting in the wings for these opportunities.

Six teachers are interested in partners for next year. Another three from our high school are also interested. The time needed to manage students and partnerships is minimal, so scaling to a larger group will be reasonable. Management comes from the partnerships.






Fort Smith