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TLI Through a Theoretical Lense

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Laura Hummer

"This paper addresses the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI) and attempts to frame some of the underlying pedagogical themes imbedded in its work through theory." 
TLI Through a Theoretical Lens
            This paper addresses the Teaching and Learning Initiative (TLI) and attempts to frame some of the underlying pedagogical themes imbedded in its work through theory. More specifically, it will engage the themes raised by three of the papers already posted in this document. Those papers are, Empowering Lessons by Lindsey Giblin, So What is an Empowering Learners Partnership, Anyway? by Shelley Nash, and Adult Learners: the Promises of Voluntary Education by Amie Claire Raymond (this last, while not specifically about the TLI, still deals with many of the same themes). It is important to frame the work that the TLI does in this way because it is focused on providing education in ways and contexts that are not normally seen as academic. However, these pedagogical themes are equally present (if not more so) in the structure and achievements of the TLI as in traditional classroom settings.
Flexibility, Cooperation and Understanding
            When participating in TLI programs, it is very important to remain flexible, try to cooperate often with those around you, and be understanding of others. These principles are all supported in different ways by pedagogical theory, and have been worked into the structure of the TLI.
Giblin, in her paper on teaching in empowering ways, talks about the need to “re-examine words” and “[de-center] a fixed truth so as to make room for alternate realities and experiences”. Nash, in So What is an Empowering Learners Partnership, Anyway?, writes that “perfection is not necessary” and that “part of the point of the learning partnership is for both partners to learn and grow”. Raymond, writing about adult education, also discusses how “the relationship between teacher and student needs to be reflexive”. All of these ideas point to the need for flexibility while working within the TLI. The goal of bringing people from various parts of the Bryn Mawr College hierarchical structure together to learn from and teach each other in new, affirming, barrier breaking ways is complex and delicate, and therefore requires the people involved to be willing to change. This is especially true since the partnerships in the TLI are based around teaching different people varied skills, and “schooling structures should adapt to the particular needs of and variations among [students]” (Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler, 177). Because of the less formal structure of TLI programs, and the individual nature of the goals of each partnership, it is more possible to “treat all learning projects…as occasions for dialogue rather then as transmissions of knowledge from expert to novice” (Herman and Mandell, 12), which allows both sides to have greater input and control over what is being taught and how.
            This flexible, dialogue-based approach to teaching and learning also allows for a greater sense of collaboration and cooperation from the parties involved. Students (like Giblin), are “more often than not encouraged to learn as consumers and not always as producers or inquisitors of knowledge” but within the TLI it is “acceptable to rely on your partner’s own knowledge and expertise to help you create lessons”. When teaching and learning are structured in a more collaborative way, it is more likely that all participants will learn more. After all, people learn best when they are interested in what is being taught, and when the format of the lesson suits their preferred learning style and capabilities, and it is much easier to figure out what these various determinants are when the people who will be learning are involved in the planning process.
            Another way of saying this is that “the reasons [people] engage in learning impact what and how they learn” and that a teacher “must understand the motivations and goals of the learner” (Raymond). Being flexible and cooperating with others involved in your learning project are important, but they both rely on an understanding of the situation in which the lesson is being taught and who the various participants are. Understanding who your partner is and where he/she is coming from is extremely important for work within the TLI, since most partners come from diverse backgrounds and are at different developmental stages in their lives (most of the pairs are between staff and students or faculty and students, although there are a few that involve staff and faculty or staff and staff partners). After all, “knowing is…a complex process of…agents…adapting to and affecting one another and their dynamic circumstances” (Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler, 57), and the agents will not be able to adapt and affect one another or their circumstances without at least some understanding of who each other are as people and what their circumstances are at the moment.
Empowerment, Voice, and Value
            Through its encouragement of flexibility, cooperation and understanding, the TLI fosters a sense of empowerment, promotes legitimacy of individual voice, finds value in sometimes undervalued people and skills, and builds relationships between people from all walks of life.  Even though these four outcomes are not necessarily always stated as goals of education in general, and the TLI more specifically, they are in fact indispensable to the creation of a truly collaborative, growing, and challenging learning community. They also make the work done through these kinds of programs more meaningful and important to the communities they serve.
            Before the first partnership was even formed, Lindsay Giblin wrote that she felt the planning process was “highly empowering…because we all got to contribute” and “felt more like a think tank or board meeting than a college classroom”. The ability to give meaningful input placed Giblin in a position she did not normally find herself in as a college student, which is what made it feel more like a collaborative business space and less like the formal, teacher dominated classroom that she was used to. Allowing people to feel comfortable in a space that they do not normally interact in, and having them make meaningful contributions to projects (especially in ways that they are usually seen as not good enough for) is an effective way to make them feel empowered.
            One part of helping people feel empowered is allowing each individual to recognize that they have their “own voices and unique ‘expertises’” (Giblin) and that those voices are all valid and deserve a space in which to be heard. The structure of the classes and partnerships offered by the TLI provides that space while also making it more common for people to act in roles they don’t normally occupy, thereby making it easier for everyone to feel that “sense of efficacy and agency” (Nash) that Shelley Nash found so important for a learning partnership. When staff members, faculty, and students come together for the whole group meetings in the TLI, interact in the computing classes, or join up for any of the one-on-one programs, there is a “bringing forward [of] what is excluded, concealed, implied, or otherwise unsaid” (Davis, Sumara, and Luce-Kapler, 39). For example, before becoming involved with the TLI, staff members in the facilities department felt (and in some cases were explicitly told) that they were not allowed to interact with the students on campus. Now, however, this mentality is slowly changing as more staff members develop friendships with their student partners and the separation between the two groups is lessening. This happens simply because barriers between structural groups on campus are being removed (at least for a time) and honest dialogue is invited to shed light on some of the less known areas of this campus’ life.
            Along with providing a space for people to share their voice, the TLI offers to value (and validate) those voices. It shows students that they have “valuable tools [they were] taught in schools” (Giblin), and lets the staff know that the skills they have (whether it’s related to their job, a hobby, or life experience) are also worth learning and enjoyed by students. The TLI does this by “treat[ing] all participants to an inquiry as whole persons” (Herman and Mandell, 12) so that neither side is seen as deficient and needing to be taught by a smarter being, but rather everyone brings something different to the table and both sides learn from each other.
            By fostering a sense of flexibility, cooperation and understanding, the TLI breeds empowerment, provides a place for individual voice to be heard and values those voices. In their essays, Lindsay Giblin, Shelley Nash, and Amie Claire Raymond spoke to these different underlying themes within the work of the TLI. This paper has attempted to show the benefit (and necessity) of working with this framework for the program by using the pedagogical theory laid out by Davis, Sumara, Luce-Kapler and Herman and Mandell.
                                                            Works Cited
Davis, Brent, Dennis Sumara, Rebecca Luce-Kapler. Engaging Minds: Changing
Teaching in Complex Times. New York: 2008, The Taylor and Francis Group.
Giblin, Lindsey. “Empowering Lessons”
Herman, Lee and Alan Mandell. From Teaching to Mentoring: Principle and Practice,
Dialogue and Life in Adult Education. New York: 2004, The Taylor and Francis
Nash, Shelly. “So What is an Empowering Learners Partnership, Anyway?”.
Raymond, Amie Claire. “Adult Learners: the Promises of Voluntary Education”