By: Susan Feibelman
Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons (2011) drives home the point that Finnish culture serves to contextualize the educational reforms starting mid-20th century and gaining momentum in the 1970s onward. His description of the Finnish “phenomenon” makes me wonder once more how the culture of our US schools —Finnish, US public, charter, and independent schools serve to contextualize our values and beliefs about what constitutes an effective, equity driven educational system. Looking through the lens of an independent school educator-leader, I know that although each independent school has its own purposefully crafted mission statement, frequently the statements share a lexicon that include words and phrases such as: character, academic, empower, passions, potential, lifelong commitment, individual growth, social responsibility, ethical, effective citizenship, inclusive, respect, service, inspire, courage, and leaders. In one sense having a vocabulary as a common denominator suggests that from the outside looking in our schools have more in common with each other than their location, student bodies, and size suggest. But there’s also that 10% difference in each school’s DNA that serves to define the discourse that takes place between and amongst the members of the school community.
I continue to wrestle with the legacy of privilege that many US independent schools share, so I approach this week curious about the strategies used by the Finnish school system to promote equity and justice for all students and families. As US independent school wrestle with various models of teaching and learning that build a culture of community and cooperation, what habits of mind have informed the practices of Finnish teachers and principals who pride themselves on creating highly collaborative school climates? What role does the leader play in fostering this culture? How is school leadership defined and how is it enacted in Finnish schools? How does an educator’s social identity map onto leadership and the culture of organizations?
What excites me about our team is that we represent an array of diverse perspectives, which inform the lenses we will employ to explore schools and engage Finnish colleagues in dialogue this week. But we also share vocabulary, values and beliefs that enable us to challenge each other’s engagement and sense-making as teachers, school leaders, and researchers. Thank you to Joe Mazza, University of Pennsylvania’s GSE/Mid-Career Program and our Finnish colleagues for support our investigation.