Students as Partners Interview with Dr Chng Huang Hoon
What is your working definition of Student-Staff Partnership (SSP) or Students as Partners (SaP)?
This one: Partnership is a “collaborative, reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis” (Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bovill and Peter Felten, 2014)
What metaphor would you use to describe the relationship with your student partners?
I see the partnership as an adventure and that we are travel companions setting out to see the world together. We are “co-journeyers” and “explorers” of new territories. And as is usually the case with exploration, we all discover new things about ourselves and about one another along the way. This discovery of (dormant) facets of our identities is a very good outcome for all of us.
Can you share a specific project wherein you engaged in student-staff partnerships? Tell us more about the project?
I co-supervised a children’s literacy project with my colleague, Ting Ting, where we guided two students Sheryl and Wan Xuan on a learning journey to understand how home environment and caregiver’s support of children’s linguistic development have great impact on how students learn English. Being highly literate ourselves, prior to the project, we have only vaguely appreciated the challenges some children have in acquiring English in an English-dominant Singapore society. Through this project, we realized that the things we took for granted (e.g. having books and magazine in our homes as ‘resources’ that were made available to enable our own literacy) was not a given for some children in our midst. Over and above the formal exposure to English (i.e. at school, through private lessons), young children need a resource-rich home environment to thrive in their linguistic development in early childhood.
What obstacles to partnership did you encounter? How did you overcome it?
One obstacle I faced personally was learning how to be a good and true partner to my students. Partnership is as much a mindset shift for me, the instructor, as it is for our students. In my institutional and cultural setting, we are still not so used to partnering students and overcoming barriers posed by a built-in hierarchy in the teacher-student relationship are real. I am not sure I have fully overcome these barriers even though I am much more actively aware of the power differentials, and the normative practices I have been embedded in for so long. And due to this active awareness of the power elements in the teacher-student dynamic, I think I put in extra effort to minimize this difference to the extent possible.
What lessons did you learn or what benefits did you see from engaging in student-staff partnerships?
Many lessons, but perhaps the one at the top of my list is, I learn what it means to respect the students’ perspective, to learn to listen and understand the way they look at an issue. Very often, most students’ perspectives feel rather different from how I would look at an issue, but having to learn that my perspective is not the only way of seeing – that is a humbling and an important lesson for me. It certainly has helped me to resist offering my way of knowing and seeing as the only way to go.
What did your students gain from the student-staff partnership?
This is a question we should be asking our students and not attempt to speak on their behalf. But I do have a wish: I hope that among other things, students in partnership with us would have gained to assert their own voice and have learnt to be a co-researcher through the exposure we have provided on the project platform.
What takeaway message do you have for teachers who want to try out student-staff partnerships?
Don’t hesitate to take the first step! We all learn along the way by experimenting and doing. Challenges aside, the overall experience is very rewarding, because learning and teaching become more personalized, and we do get deeper and more active engagement from our students, something every teacher wants from any class they teach. The experience is very transformational, for all involved.
- Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.