By Susan Feibelman
How do we define great teaching? What ingredients are essential for optimal learning to occur? What’s the perfect combination of qualities that we are all looking for when building a learning community? Back in the US it’s hiring season in the independent school world and I have spent the past four days engaged in non-stop conversations with Finnish and US educators about our work as instructional leaders, connected educators, and life-long learners. Still I couldn’t stop thinking about the classes—students and teachers—I had the privilege to observe this week and the “demonstration” lessons I will be watching when I return to my campus. So I turned to my Finnish colleagues for their insights about building robust teaching and learning communities.
Olli Määttä –teacher trainer—from Helsinki Normal Lyceum describes great teachers as being “warm, empathetic, and outgoing.” Olli’s focus on the affective qualities of teaching reflected both his belief in the importance of teaching/reaching the whole child and his confidence in the Finnish system of teacher preparation—which combines a degree in a content area/academic discipline in addition to graduate course work in instructional methods, child development, special education and “teacher training” that includes an introductory and basic training period, followed by field work and independent, advanced practice.
Tiina Korhonen, vice principal, at Koulumestari School/Learning Center emphasizes the importance of fostering a school environment that encourages robust innovation and promotes relational trust amongst teachers, students and parents. Her consistent focus on what’s best for the individual child and building a great school for all children is another encouraging view. The question at the heart of the matter is what’s good for kids and Tiina describes this as finding the “fire” in each student. She touches her hand to her heart as she expresses this idea. The goal is for every student to learn what type of environment they best learn in and where their passions lie.
I believe we want the same thing for our students in US schools—to attract compelling, well prepared, and compassionate educators who want to find the “fire” in each student. So I return to my electronic file of resumes with this essential charge at the forefront of my search.