By: Verone Kennedy
Schools improve when they learn from other schools. Isolation is the enemy of all improvement. -Andy Hargraves
As a former Coordinator of Middle School Initiatives for the City of New York, much of my work revolved around addressing the low 4 year graduation rates of our H.S. students via a comprehensive strategic campaign to assess and address the quality of “middle level schooling” throughout the city. Today in NYC, “ student performance” relative to high school graduation and college readiness (far from the same) continues to reflect low level outcomes in addition to glaring disproportionality across demographic/sub-grouped learners.
This week I have been extended a rare opportunity to travel with a cohort of eight colleagues (and our UPENN GSE Program Director) to Helsinki, Finland to spend an extensive amount of time with Pasi Sahlberg, faculty from the University of Helsinki, school leaders, teachers, students and parents. My overarching objective is to gain insight into the manner in which Finland shifted its paradigm of practice courageously rethinking and implementing that which they believed mattered most for the stakeholders of Finnish schooling and ultimately their society at large. According to the 2006 PISA report, Finland’s transformation from a system of mediocrity to one of highly effective practice/outcomes occurred largely due to “effective teacher education” and a systemic model of design that employed the following:
- Flexibility and Diversity relative to school-based curriculum development which was informed and supported by relevant data (quantitative and qualitative information)
- A major emphasis on Broad Knowledge placing an equal degree of emphasis across developmental pathways considerate of the acquisition of knowledge, skills, socialization, creativity, personality, morality, etc.
- Trust through Professionalism leading to a systemic effort to treat teachers and administrators as professional practitioners who possess requisite skills and a clear sense of mission to effectively teach/lead.
During these five days abroad, I am most interested in exploring and better understanding the emphasis Finland places on the facilitation of “Broad Knowledge Learning” and the manner/measure in which its policies, practices and protocols support the facilitation of a holistic approach to student development. Considering the aforementioned, I intend to forge a mini-study taking a more focused look at student diversity and the manner in which Finland explicitly/implicitly addresses differentiation across curricular, instructional and social constitutions. My goal is to leave with a greater degree of insight into the strategies/approaches that we (as educators working in urban systems of significant diversity) can employ to more effectively facilitate learning across racial, socio-economic, gender and related service support lines? Finland’s emphasis on “Broad Knowledge” offers a promising perspective by which we can think more critically about creating, sustaining and in some cases improving our learner centered communities.
I invite you to join us as we set out on this experience of observation and discourse. My invitation to you is not a call for passive reading or one limiting you to an act of self-reflection. Quite the contrary, we are imploring you to actively engage in this study by sharing relevant thoughts, ideas and personal connections. So . . . it is with a spirit of appreciation for this opportunity that I thank Joe Mazza, my study colleagues and of course you for the role you will play in supporting our team’s relevant, rigorous and relational learning this week in Finland.