Involvement Powers Improvement

On the last post I introduced you to Ed Deci’s theory of Intrinsic Motivation. Sorry to be so academic but it seemed like a good way to share something about motivation that is very likely to impact most of us. I’ll try to lay-off the academic stuff in future posts, but let me use Deci’s theory to make one more observation about motivating what I am calling the Growth of Novice and Advancing Amateurs.

Deci says people that are intrinsically motivated to engage in a certain activity (e.g., photography) are likely to feel self-determined, competent, and connected to other people – in our case to people who are also interested in photography. When you are determined to go out on a photo shoot because you will enjoy it, and are feeling competent that your photographs are improving, and are looking forward to a photo shoot with another photographer, you are very likely to be intrinsically motivated. Now let’s focus on the last characteristic in Deci’s theory – connected to others.

Connected to Others – A Photography Mentor

Imagine that you were a Novice Amateur just learning and trying to improve your photography skills without anyone around to help you. You have books, magazines, and on-line information but no one that can personally answer your questions. You take plenty of photographs that you can compare to the images in your books but no one to critique your photos. What would you be missing? What could you add to your journey that would help you improve your photography and motivate you to really work at improvement?

That sounds rather lonely so let’s change the resources a bit. You are a Novice Amateur with very little skills or experience but you have a neighbor who is a professional photographer. He has a studio at home and a gallery in town and after going to one of his presentations it is obvious that his knowledge and experience is extensive. After his presentation you stick around, shyly approach him, and mention to him that you live right across the street. You ask him if he would be willing to talk to you about photography sometime over a cup of coffee or a beer. He agrees but seems rushed and not terrible willing to give you any of his valuable time.

Would you be willing to stop in his gallery to ask him questions about exposure or composition or Lightroom? Would you be willing to bring him some of your photos to critique? Could you ask him if you could tag along with him on a photo shoot?

Your answers to these questions depend a great deal on your personality and your photographic confidence. If you are hesitant to talk with you neighbor, what about a colleague from work whom: You are comfortable talking with; Is interested in photography but isn’t a professional; Is straight-forward and honest, but is a good listener who never belittles others. I imagine most of you are much more likely to approach your co-worker than your neighbor.

Can you learn more from your co-worker than your neighbor? For many of you the answer is probably –“Sure, I’ll gladly take time to be with my co-worker.” But can that co-worker really help? Don’t you need a true expert that knows everything you need to know? I suppose that having that expert be your mentor for 4-5 hours a week for a few months would be very beneficial, especially if that mentor was a good listener and made you feel comfortable. But since he will charge you for his time, could you afford that mentor? I certainly couldn’t afford him.

So what is an amateur photographer to do? In my 37 years as a college professor I spent more than 25 years creating a variety of peer mentor program. I must admit the original idea came from my students and was often revised using their ideas; they could learn from one another if I was there to support them with strategies and resources. In my last five years I met with approximately 50 peer mentors each week to revise the program, create resources, and help them deal with problems. And I am convinced that a peer mentor program would be beneficial for amateur photographers. Now I would like to use what I have learned about peer mentor programs to build a Peer Mentor Photography Program (PMPP) for the Teton Photography Group.

In the most recent posts to this blog I have tried to introduce you to some of the key elements in working with a peer to improve your photography skills, your image quality, and your motivation to move forward and grow as a photographer. To build an effective peer mentor program we need to develop a program where participants:

  • work together and participate regularly (monthly?) in a photo shoot;
  • feel comfortable asking questions and giving feedback to one another;
  • encourage one another to reflect on their progress;
  • share new ideas and techniques about photography;
  • support one another’s growth as an amateur photographer
  • help one another gain confidence in their progress.

To improve on any skill it is important to take some risks. Whether you are learning a sport, or a new job, or a new hobby, or photography, you have to be willing to try activities just outside your comfort zone – and you probably need some support as you take those risks. A professional coach could really help, but a peer who gives you support may have just as much of an impact. So what can you expect from the Teton Photography Group PMPP?

Basic Goals of the Peer Mentor Photography Program

  1. Create a Community of Amateur Photographers that gives support.
  2. Learn to give Information Feedback in a way that supports and encourages the improvement of effective photographic skills.
  3. Build Peer Mentor partnerships that work together at photo shoots and give Informational Feedback to one another as partners.
  4. Meet monthly for PMPP critiques that focus on Informational Feedback but also include sharing what we have learned together as a group.
  5. Highlight topics such as composure and exposure and post-processing to focus on how to improve our photographs.

These are Randy’s tentative goals as of March 2016. One of the many things I learned from my Peer Mentor Leadership Program at the university was that the program worked most effectively when I invited my peer mentors to be involved in the development of the program. I will work to do the same in OUR Peer Mentor Photography Program. I have to start some place to get you involved but I want your input on what is most likely to benefit you. Please give me some feedback in the comment section of this post. Don’t say “Awesome” or “Horrible” 🙂  Tell me, and the other readers, how a program like this might help you. What are you excited to do? What might be challenging and keep you hesitant to make a commitment? What might make you uncomfortable? What can Randy do to help you feel excited to get involved?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have joined the Teton Photography Group about a year ago. I was immediately connected to a group of photographers (from amateurs to professionals) who were patient, willing to answer my questions, and eager to go out on a photo shoot with me. As a member of the Steering Committee I felt committed to go to all the meetings, which encouraged me to take some risks including sharing my images with the group. I have learned so much from my experience … and now I hope I can share what I have learned with you.

On Monday March 21st I will be making a presentation for the Teton Photography Group on the Peer Mentor Photography Program. The presentation will be at 6:00 pm to about 8:00 and will be held in the Jackson Hole Real Estate Association at 80 West Broadway, about a block west of the town square in Jackson WY. I hope to see you there so I can answer your questions.

15 thoughts on “Involvement Powers Improvement

  1. Jeff Shaver

    Peer groups seems like a great way to bring people together that are 1) interesting in learning from each other, and 2) have a common interest (e.g., photography).

    What I’ve realized in my life and career is that not all people who are good at something really want to mentor others. A peer interest group is a great alternative.

    I also think of peer groups as a team with a coach, where not everyone has to be good at mentoring and that mentorship is something that can develop while participating in the peer group, but ‘coaches’ can help make connections between people.

    Randy, I think of you as our cross country coach, and your ability to get runners to work together in practices and races. Working together was not always intrinsic for even the best of runners on the team. You, as our coach, were able to bring the best out in all of us and to develop mentors and leaders. I see that you are continuing to be the catalyst, which of course doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.


    1. Jeff, I didn’t even know you were checking-out my blog. Thank you for the kind comments. I don’t know if you are doing it or not but using peer mentors in teaching can have a huge impact on your students. As I suspect you do know, there is nothing that improves our learning quite as much as teaching others. Many times after teaching someone I realized I was learning the subject oh-so-much better than I learned it as a “student.”


  2. Arnie Brokling

    I am looking forward to the opportunity to shoot with someone and gain their insights and share mine. Aristotle once said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This is sure to be true with your Peer Mentor Program.

    I’ll see you at your presentation!



  3. Arnie, thanks for the comment. I look forward to seeing you next Monday night. I completely agree with you about learning from others. The whole is greater. If you know anyone from Pinedale, bring them along next Monday.


  4. Curtis Leggett

    Randy; I think it is a great idea. The concept of peer mentoring certainly is strong enough to cover over to a hobby or nonrelated work activities. I have often thought that the real power of the concept is that everyone has a stake in game… mentor or mentee. Good Luck!


    1. I met with about a dozen folks Monday night to explain my ideas about a peer mentor program and to recruit some folks to join. In the next week I will move forward to recruit a few more folks to hopefully have about a dozen amateur photographers to join in the Peer Mentor Photography Program. Thanks for your support. Too bad you don’t live close by so you could join and enjoy the snow :-). It is snowing here tonight and for the next couple days. Hip-hip-hooray.


  5. Beth Holmes

    Randy, I was so sad to have missed your presentation! However, I’m glad I was able to read about some of your ideas here. Thanks!


    1. Beth, it is 3 years later and now I am about to expand the Peer Mentor Program with another group. In the last few days (due in part to the Wednesday meeting this week with 3 new folks) I have started to get excited about starting a new group and using what I learned from “you guys.” I will try my best to stick with you-all as long as possible but reading over this blog helped me to remember the process of starting another group. I hope you can help me with the veterans.


  6. Tom Lehrer

    This is an interesting post and one that is timely for me. As Membership Chair for our photography club, we have started a peer mentoring program for new members — a way of orienting them to the many offerings of our club and a way to break down some of the barriers inherent in being a “newbie.” Do you remember the day you first walked into the cafeteria as a student at your junior high school? You had experienced 6 or more years in one building, perhaps, as an elementary student, but now you were thrust in the midst of a throng of students from different neighborhoods, and the cafeteria lacked the structure of the classroom. That’s an uncomfortable feeling that I still remember, and it’s not unlike people who are new to a club in a new community.

    So, we have devised a peer mentoring program to meet the needs of our new members. It’s built on relationships, not professional photographic technique. Once the relationships are established between the mentor and the new members, the technical stuff can and will follow. Also, the key relationships are the ones that the new members will establish with one another. Those might be the most important and the longest lasting. It’s not hard to visualize how those relationships might evolve photographically and otherwise over time.

    Of course, our club also has peer groups that come in a variety of forms other than those for new members. Basically, the groups are focused on particular camera makes: Canon SIG (Special Interest Group), Nikon SIG, Lumix SIG, Lightroom SIG, SIG, Black and White SIG, etc.
    These groups are chaired on a rotating basis and have a theme for each month, sometimes formal and other times not. They have been existence for many years with high interest. These groups compliment the extensive variety of educational class offerings that exist — building on the subject matter that has been presented in the classes.

    Back to our new member orientation program which we call Perfect Exposure: So far we have had good participation, and our experienced members are enjoying their role as mentor. We have some refining to do, however. We cannot assume that a new member wants to participate. We also cannot assume that all new members have the same needs or are at the same experience level. Thus, we have contacted new members with a brief bit of documentation describing the program, then asking them to express their interest, and in what areas. We also ask them to assess their own level of expertise. We’ll see how that goes in the future.


    1. Tom, thanks for the comments. Wow, you guys/gals from South Carolina have a lot of members in your club. I like your analogy of the middle school adjustment. In a large club like yours it is very important to have some “serious meet-and-greet” so folks feel comfortable. I also believe it is essential that “newbies” feeling comfortable as they engage in a new group, otherwise you will lose some members that could become an important addition to your club.


      1. Tom Lehrer

        And peer collaboration just becomes such a powerful teaching and learning vehicle, as you know.
        In our Canon SIG, I have been asked to present a number of times on new and not so new equipment. With each presentation, my learning curve jumped and I found myself better acquainted by far with camera stuff I’d had for months/years. Plus, interpersonal discussions beat the hell out of reading users’ manuals.


      2. And getting a discussion going makes it more enjoyable for everyone. My college teaching experience taught me to work (WORK sometimes) to get everyone involved, even if you have to get everyone to wear a name tag to begin the process.


    2. Three years later … we need to talk (e-mail would be fine) about how your Membership Chair work has progressed. I am about to start a new peer member section since the one I was talking about 3 years ago has grown to over 30 people. The idea size is about 15-20 folks so another group with more “newbies” is essential.


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