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Building School Communities Based Upon Mutual Trust

By: Susan Feibelman

It was a full day of dialogue with professors at the University of Helsinki—Dr. Jari Lavonen, head of the Teacher Education Department, who shared his reflections on the context of teacher education in Finland, and Dr. Heidi Krzywacki, University Lecturer in Mathematics Education, who engaged us in dialogue about primary education. We concluded with Atso Taipale a retired upper secondary school principal, who discussed school leadership and his 35-year career as an upper secondary school principal.

Although our heads were about to burst with information and the new questions we are eager to discuss with our Finnish colleagues this week, straightaway we began to unpack the themes from the day. Interestingly each conversation led us back to the Finnish concept of trust.

Note to self: “Key word is trust; Finnish schools encourage collaborative work amongst teachers and principals. Principals have faith in the ability of teachers to make good instructional decisions.  Decision-making takes on a transparency that encourages teachers to take risks and recognizes that teachers learn from making mistakes. The sub-text is transparency, transparency, transparency in school leadership and teaching practices.”

Dr. Heidi Krzywacki, University Lecturer in Mathematics Education

Dr. Heidi Krzywacki, University Lecturer in Mathematics Education

Atso’s remarks emphasized that Finnish principals trust teachers’ professional skills; Heidi described Finnish educators as fostering a culture of trust. And our casual interactions with Finns over the first 30 hours on the ground in Helsinki has made us wonder if this culture of trust extends beyond the school yard.  Is mutual trust part of Finland’s national identity and if that’s the case, how does that inform our thinking about the strategies US educators use to foster relational trust in schools back home?

We tweeted our question to expand the conversation:

Jennifer Botzojorns ‏@JenCESUVT

we must model trust as leaders, all the time, a willingness to be honest and open, to share leadership #pennfinn13

Gwen Pescatore ‏@gpescatore25

RT @bwileyone: RT @IamOkema: #pennfinn13 Transparency & empathy – in front of the counter & behind it. #TrustInSchools #pennfinn13

Clement Coulston ‏@clementc26

Engendering Trust – a mutual partnership of respect, honesty & transparency between #students, #teachers & #administrators. #pennfinn13

Jason Flom ‏@JasonFlom

Building trust requires attention to ecosystem of relationships. Teacher & student. Student & student. Parents & school. #pennfinn13

Brandon Wiley ‏@bwileyone

Thought-provoking conversation right now about “trust” – how do you create trust in your school community? Critical to success? #PennFinn13

At dinner our colleagues—Pasi Sahlberg, Olli Maatta and Tinna Korhonen—described Finnish schools as closely-knit communities of teachers and students.  “Schools feel like home.” If this is the input, then is  relational trust an inevitable outcome?

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