What would partnership look like if someone walked in on yours?!

Steering Committee meetings for the REACT project are proving to be inspiring and thought-provoking. If you have visions of committee meetings being dull and highly structured ways of making sure a project is performing, then REACT is bucking that trend. Of course we do keep a close eye on project progress, but we have also been maximising the value of bringing together a group of people who are motivated to support ways in which students and staff can work in partnership. We are like-minded in terms of many of our aims and aspirations, but our backgrounds are varied and we are constructively critical and questioning of one another and of the REACT project. At the Steering Committee meetings, we have engaged in a series of exercises and activities that have helped us to explore elements of partnership working in more depth. Some of these activities/tools can be found on the REACT website (http://www.studentengagement.ac.uk/index.php/resources/react-tools)

At the Steering Committee meeting on 2nd November 2015, I was invited to lead one of these activities. I wanted us all to try to articulate more clearly some of the principles of partnership and what partnership looks like in practice. We considered partnership in broad terms - partnership in learning and teaching within the classroom, partnerships to investigate institutional policies and practices, partnerships involving a whole group/cohort of students, partnership between one member of staff and one or two students. The question I posed to the committee was: What would you see if you walked in on genuine partnership? The responses focused on both underpinning principles as well as visions of what partnership looks like and I've selected a few of the rich range of responses to share here:

•Shared purpose – buzz in the room

•Where are the eyes of the learners? On books, on a blackboard, on one person? Or on each other, moving around the room, communicating with others. / Body language of person directing the learning – is it 'all about me' or 'all about us'?

•Disagreement

•Tolerance for uncertainty

•Fairly lively / heated debate and discussion NOT minute/agenda led orderly processes

•Openness to taking risk to learn with/from one another and arrive somewhere new (for all involved)

•Collaborative planning and action to achieve shared goals and values

•Staff and students talking on equal terms

•Ongoing mutual feedback = constructive and developmental nature

•Fluid and specialised division of labour (partners contributing their expertise and experience as appropriate)

•High noise levels during group work (or conversely quiet concentration), not obvious who is who or where leadership is taking place

My reaction to these responses was one of excitement at the visions of partnership that staff and students on the REACT Steering Committee aspire to and support within their work. I was also encouraged by how many of us agreed about important aspects of partnership practice - including the importance of enabling space for disagreement, if that's not an oxymoron! I am enjoying spending time thinking further about these responses and I think the depth of ideas contained within these statements are an indication of the complexity and nuance implied by the idea of partnerships. I am really looking forward to the continued growth of the interesting resources being made available on the REACT website (www.studentengagement.ac.uk) as well as the prospects of future Steering Committee meetings.

Dr Catherine Bovill, University of Glasgow, REACT Steering Committee Member