Home » Pre-Trip » Do I Have The Correct View of Progressive Ed.? Does Progressive Education Translate in Finnish?

Do I Have The Correct View of Progressive Ed.? Does Progressive Education Translate in Finnish?


By Kavan Yee

“The activities in Finland will be hosted by University of Helsinki’s School of Educationand will allow participants the opportunity to investigate U.S. educational leadership issues through the lenses of Finnish school leaders.”

The way that people like to use the word “lens” has always been interesting to me. Throughout my life, I have understood that light or images can pass through in all different directions, depending how the “lens” is shaped.

The other day I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Tom Little, President of the Progressive Educators Network (PEN). Tom was visiting Lowell School to observe how we view progressive education through our own “Lowell lens”. Over the last seven weeks, Tom has travelled across this country visiting over 40 progressive schools, trying to collect data to answer questions such as: What does progressive education look like in 2013? How do we define progressive? What are the stereotypes of progressive values? Can the progressive approach be successful in a national education system that demands accountability through high stakes testing? Can we transfer what has been typically successful in private schools to public?

I hope that Tom found his visit helpful for his research. The timing of his visit was, in fact, serendipitous: As I set to embark on my own journey to Finland–“The West’s Education Superpower”–I can only wonder if their country’s success is due to the same values or approach that any progressive educator would want to uphold:

  • democratic values: validation of student voice and choice
  • creation of integrated-thematic based units
  • experiential hands-on learning
  • understanding the whole child: academically, socially and emotionally
  • development of problem-based units that promote skills in communication and collaboration
  • commitment to differentiation and child-centered learning
  • opportunity of shared leadership amongst the faculty
  • importance of building a strong community between parents, faculty, staff, and students
  • trust in our educators: teacher autonomy

All of the articles and research I have read thus far about Finland’s education policies sure leads me to believe that their approach to teaching and learning is similar.

Pasi Salhberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, states that in Finland “the main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.” I see this policy practiced every day at Lowell amongst our faculty and staff. This commitment to modeling collaboration is what I feel makes my school so successful. It’s unfortunate that our national system has created this competition between private and public, public to public, and even private to private.


If Sahlberg is correct that “there’s no word for accountability in Finnish…accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted”, how does this translate in our society where there’s “no child left behind”? Do Finnish school leaders create accountability by adding progressive values? Do Finnish school leaders share the same lens as progressive leaders in the U.S.? Are we asking the right questions? Can the progressive movement help lead the U.S. to success?

For my personal journey: Do I have the correct understanding of progressive values or is my lens mis-shaped? Am I looking through rose-colored glasses? I hope that my view of progressive education has been shaped correctly and does have a correct translation in Finnish.We shall see…


  1. Kim Wendel says:

    Love the blog! I can’t wait to read about and/or hear your impressions of the Finnish system. What an amazing opportunity, K! Bring back everything you learn and keep sharing. Word up.

  2. Mary Ann says:

    Sounds like an interesting journey, Kavan.

  3. Joe Mazza says:

    Great questions, Kavan. As a fellow progressive thinker, I wonder the same thing. In Winnetka, we focused more on cooperation and less on accountability of test scores because the culture was such. I’m very interested in being immersed in the Finnish culture next week to compare and contrast.

  4. Pasi Sahlberg says:

    Great thinking, Kavan. I consider myself a progressive educators, together with most of my fellow educators here. Your question of how progressive education in 2013 looks like. I think not too many colleagues here has phrased the question that way really. Your list of features of progressive education reflect pretty much what I think Finnish education values. Still. I would be interested hearing from you what do you think after visiting us last week. It was great to see you here. keep up the good work.

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