Building Learning Partnerships

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Most often, Learning Partnerships involve two partners. Occasionally, they might involve three or four partners. To ensure their long-term sustainability, Learning Partnerships should never exceed seven partners. 

Whatever its size, each partnership must be built to support and accomplish four things:

  • Focus its partners' attention on the issues, concerns, and problems that the complexity of their work and the dysfunctions in their lives are creating for them.
  • Encourage each partner to question whether the complexity of the issues and problems currently troubling, frustrating, or confounding them will ever respond to simple solutions.
  • Encourage each partner to share their own lived experiences and personal expertise with their partners in ways that assertively support clarity, respect, and understanding.
  • Create an environment where the partners are neither an authority figure for the group nor a subordinate member.

The environment these four tenets create enables the partners to recognize the complexity of the issues they're dealing with. It helps the partners come to terms with why they need to bring forward, into the partnership's joint knowledge construction process, their own internal voices and, in this context, recognize, value, and support the partners' interdependent collaboration. Learning Partnerships respect the partners' deepest voices and personal experiences. In this way, the partners realize the importance of learning-to-learn ideas, techniques, and know-how in their efforts to strengthen their respective meaning-making capabilities.

Every Learning Partnership is a journey into the terrors and wonders of complexity. As suggested in TLO's October blog, Transformational Learning Basics, this journey is always a developmentally sequenced effort. Post adolescence, each partner's journey progresses through as many as four or five evolutionary stages. Supporting the sequential evolution of one's own worldview over the weeks and months that are required to challenge and reframe it is what each Learning Partnership is built to support, facilitate, and encourage.

The developmentally sequenced journeys that Learning Partnerships are built to facilitate are almost always challenging to their Learning Partners. This is because most new partners are not accustomed to the high level of vulnerability that they'll be asked to confront along the way . Nor have they been taught throughout their lives how to surrender personal control and relax into the mutual influence processes that are the touchstone of an effective Learning Partnership.

Learning about all this -- and getting accustomed to what it feels like to be both vulnerable and challenged inside the partnership -- is an essential part of each Learning Partnership's startup. The members of a Learning Partnership need to begin their journey by working their way through a distinct set of questions that, when answered, establish the partnership's context and its specific conversational rules and boundaries: There are, so to speak, "first moves" that must be made by the partners if they're going to introduce, support, and enact the four tenets summarized above. Some partners must make the first moves, others need to respond. Whoever does what, years of experience and volumes of research clearly prove that the partners' initial interactions with one another must follow a predetermined script that, for the Learning Partnership as a whole, will constitute the learning partners' "opening dance routine."

This "first dance" becomes a sequence of decisions that creates a setting for the partners. One that allows the partners to decide whether each will be safe while one is being vulnerable with the other. Each new partnership's opening dance enacts the trust-building "moves" the partners need to confirm for themselves whether their own sense of self-worth, dignity, and value is going to be "mirrored" in their new learning partners' eyes, hearts, and behaviors. Each opening dance routine creates a framework that lets each partner "confirm" whether or not they can safely trust their learning partners through the terrors and wonders of the learning journey they're about to step into.

This blog is the first of at least three more that we'll offer about building effective Learning Partnerships. Subsequent blogs will explore the five components of an effective Learning Partnership:

  • The partners' presence
  • Their frames of reference
  • The partnership's infrastructure
  • The long-term dance routines
  • The interaction cadence needed to build and sustain appropriate focus and momentum.

 Questions? Comments? Contributions? Criticisms? We welcome your input and feedback on this or any future Learning Partnership blogs.