In an article entitled Synthesizing Theories and Practice: Praxis for Professors, published at NEA Higher Education Journal in 1995, Patricia Helps and Patricia Ryan, Professor of Education from University of Central Arkansas and Oberlin College, Ohio, tell a story about two well-educated princesses who live in an Ivory tower. Every day, farmers visit the princesses to learn new knowledge about farming.
Although the two princesses read a lot and attend a numerous meetings intended to improve their knowledge and skills in farming, they still feel that those activities could not satisfy their eagerness of new knowledge and skills. Therefore, with the purpose to refresh their farming knowledge and gain new skills, they finally decide to go to the field and work with the farmers.
Working with the farmers in the field is not an easy activity for the princesses. It requires a lot of energy and, physically, it has made their nice skin wrinkled and mud covers their beautiful dress. However, they found the activity is self-satisfying. Working with the farmers has not only refreshed their knowledge about farming, but also helped them acquiring new ones. Thus, they return to the tower feeling renewed and empowered.
The two princesses are lecturers who live in an ivory tower called college; and the farmers are teachers who work in the field named schools. There are many literatures identifying the benefits of partnership between lecturers and teachers.
Schools are real-life laboratories for lecturers to apply and practice the theories and knowledge they got from reading books and academic journals. Working with teachers in schools will provide lecturers with opportunity to not only refresh their knowledge about teaching, but also gain new ones. Then they bring those newly acquired knowledge and skills to college and share them with their students. Thus, the teaching and learning process in college will become more contextualized and always updated.
Meanwhile, teachers will also get benefits from this partnership. Working with lecturers will provide them with a mentor who can give assistances in the form of new ideas for dealing with daily problems in classroom. Thus, the partnership between lecturers and teachers will become a praxis, a dialectic and empowering relationship that bridges theory and practice.
Then, where to start? In every school in Indonesia, there is usually an organization where teachers get together and discuss daily issues in schools. The organization is also intended to facilitate teacher professional development activities. In elementary schools, the organization name is Teacher Working Group (KKG) and in secondary schools, the organization is Subject Teacher Discussion Forum (MGMP).
In reality, the organization does not work effectively in realizing its goal to support teacher professional development due to many problems such as formal regulations from local authorities. Usually, teachers from several schools in a region, for example a sub-district, are grouped in a KKG or MGMP. They have to identify the coordinator and committee for their group who will then work in developing programs and deciding the meeting schedules. However, since the group consists of a large number of teachers, it is difficult for them to identify meeting schedules that satisfy all the members. In addition, funding is also another problem to deal with.
KKG and MGMP could become a gateway into partnership between lecturers and teachers. However, in order to deal with the problems that inhibit the effectiveness of KKG and MGMP, the operating procedures of the teacher discussion forum should be changed into less formal and the scope should be minimized into a small context.
A small step taken in a small context would provide more immediate and contextualized impacts. Instead of working with a large group of KKG and MGMP in sub-district level, lecturers can develop a partnership with a KKG and MGMP in a school setting.
There are advantages to do partnership with a small group of teachers in a school. For example, a lecturer of a college of English education could work with an MGMP of English teachers in a school. Usually, there are at least four to six English teachers in a secondary school. Working with a small number of teachers will be easier to manage; it will also easy to find days for meeting that satisfy all the people; and it will surely be more budget-friendly.
Another advantage of working with KKG and MGMP in school level is that the issues addressed in the partnership work will become more localized and contextualized. In this partnership work, lecturers could play many different roles. They could become a facilitator or tutor who introduce new teaching methods and strategies; they could also become a coach, mentor, or co-teacher who guides teachers in dealing with daily problems in classroom. In addition, they could also become a co-researcher and write and disseminate the findings with other peers in the area. And even, lecturers could become learners or, at least, become someone to whom the teachers could talk to.
To provide direct impact of the partnership to students at teachers college, lecturer could invite teachers to become a guest speaker in college classrooms, or involve the students in all partnership activities.
If every lecturer in teachers college has partnership works with, at least, a teacher or a KKG and MGMP in a school, and all the lecturers share and collaborate their partnership programs with each other, then they will create a huge learning network. The partnership will become a large learning community for everyone to share and learn from each other. As the consequence, they will all improve and be empowered.
One thing should bear in mind to make this partnership work effectively is that all rigid and formal regulation should be removed. The partnership should run in as less-formal as possible. For example when deciding the meeting place, lecturers and teachers could arrange a meeting in school, in college, or in the house of the teachers and lecturers; or even in a mall. In addition, they could also use all social media platforms for maintaining communication among them.
Lastly, this partnership works require a lot of energy, emotion, and other sources. There will be perhaps clashes and hostility occur during the process. Therefore, everyone involved in this partnership should be persistent and forgiving. If managed effectively and persistently, this partnership could become a powerful professional development tool for both parties.
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