Teupin Asan, Aceh, Indonesia 17 May 2007 - Pak Junaidi is head teacher at Teupin Asan, a remote village on the west coast of Aceh, one of the areas badly damaged by the tsunami in 2004. As part of the reconstruction process, he and his colleagues have embraced a program of professional development co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania and the International Rescue Committee.
"I've done what I can to support my teachers," he says, "but this support for professional development really shows them that they are part of a bigger network."
The Penn mentoring program is part of a holistic plan to revitalize Gugus, the local educational system that clusters nearby schools. With the support of the IRC, Pak Junaidi and other teachers from a group of six schools meet on a monthly basis to work out ways to implement a competency-based curriculum and introduce active-teaching methodologies in the classroom.
"I've been involved in this since the very beginning," says Junaidi. "There have been a lot of changes. Now, I think, the teachers are able to plan and organize things for themselves."
During a typical mentoring session, teachers observe each other's pedagogical styles and guide each other as they hone their methodologies. They also discuss issues that affect their schools in general, such as improving classroom management, supporting new teachers, motivating students, and accommodating children with special needs.
Kathy Schultz, a professor of education at Penn, notes that these mentoring sessions "are based on the idea that teachers have knowledge, and to build on this knowledge means encouraging a deep respect for the teacher." Pak Junaidi agrees. "The traditional model is for someone to come into the classroom and be a judge," he says. "This collaborative mentoring means that we can think together about how to develop things."
He is speaking in a meeting hall nearby his school, which has been indisposed by a flash flood. Without any fuss, the teachers have repaired to a safe, dry place to continue their mentoring session. Pak Junaidi laughs. "It's just another example of how we work together to solve our problems," he says.