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Boundless Learning Around the World

Our visit to Philly was part of Finnable 2020 project (www.finnable.fi) coordinated by Cicero Learning, University of Helsinki. Finnable 2020 fosters boundless learning that break through traditional boundaries about where, when, and with whom learning takes place. Finnable promote the research and design of collaborative, technology enabled learning environments for the 21st century—locally and internationally. These goals rose up in every place we visited.
Tip of the trip: We suggest that our common next step next fall is “Boundless learning Around the World” – sharing and collaboration in practice with students and adults using technology. What do you think about this? Are you in?

Kati, Minna and Tiina, Koulumestari School/ Learning Center Innokas/ University of Helsinki

In this school we are a family – Visiting Knapp Elementary School

In the beginning of our visit to Knapp Elementary School outside of Philadelphia, the Principal Joe Mazza welcomed all students, personnel and us visitors to begin the new school day through central radio.  The announcement included birthday wishes to all having birthday at a current day and because of becoming vacation, birthdays on summertime were also mentioned. Students were involved in the announcement and in the end of it they said their pledge to the day: “I am a smart, special, valuable person. I respect my self and I respect others. My words are kind and honest. I accept only my best in all I do. I am PROUD to be me!”
We began our school tour in the concert made by the school orchestra. They surprised us by playing our national anthem “Maamme”. What an awesome moment! It was really a pleasure to meet all the students and answer their questions. We were happy to tell them some cultural and other information about Finland and were asking the questions about their schooling. They were happy to hear about the possibilities to peer collaboration next fall with Finnish students.

After the school tour Knapp leadership teams shared comprehensive efforts on the part of the school teams. Teachers in Knapp may choose their team in the beginning of the term and there are approximately 7-9 teachers in a team. Sounds very familiar to us: we have same kind of shared leadership and teamwork idea also in Koulumestari School in Espoo. Sharing more specifically these practices and experiences could be very rewarding in the future.

In Knapp they use social media and web based tools to share the information needed. As the school is multicultural having about 22 languages spoken in the students’ homes, they have translated the most important information at their website into all languages by using Google translator. Also various other home school partnership practices was highlighted. This is also our common goal – developing home, school and community partnership and practices and the use of technology in this collaboration.

Warm thanks to Knapp personnel, students and parents! It was great to meet you and feel the family-like atmosphere at your school.

Tip of the day: How about recycling your children’s books? At Knapp they had a bookshelf where you can bring your old book and take a “new” with you.

Minna, Kati and Tiina, Koulumestari School/Learning Center Innokas, University of Helsinki

Caring for youngsters – A Visit to Science Leadership Academy (SLA)

Our school, Koulumestari is a normal Finnish elementary school, where we focus on child-centered teaching strategies, inquiry, project-based learning and the use of technology.


It was wonderful to pay a visit to the school, SLA, which shares the same thinking. Science Leadership Academy (SLA) is a public high school. It is a 1:1 project-based laptop school where all students and teachers use computers as a learning tool. There are a lot of similarities between our school and SLA and we would like to share a few examples of these practices with other educators. We think that the practices can be employed both with young kids as well as with older students. Internship At SLA, an internship is part of a student’s personalized learning plan. During their internship, 10th and 11th grade students work 2 hours per week every Wednesday in a place they have chosen together with their teacher. A few of the students interned at SLA as senior assistant teachers, one student described her job as an assistant in the medical museum. Experiences of these whole year internships were introduced to others as “capstone” presentations. During their internship year, a student can see if their intern job is something for them in the future. At Koulumestari school we have a similar practice, with the 4th, 5th and 6th grade students applying for an internship for a day. They apply for a job at the nearby library, day care center, the school kitchen, the school janitor’s or at the school as a tutor. After their work day they write and publish a blog entry about their day. Personal responsibility A key practice we observed at SLA was the development of self-image and self-regulation skills. On every grade the students’ reflection is guided by a few core questions (pictured below).  Posted on the walls, the questions are present in every school day.

Every person working in the building has access to every room. Students can spend their break in the teachers’ lounge and principal Chris Lehmann’s door is open for students, teachers or guests to pop in for a chat. The school presents a warm and caring atmosphere. Self-regulation skills are present also at Koulumestari School, on every grade level. We use various practices in order to encourage students in exploring themselves: Who am I? What are my strengths? We also use a lot of self-evaluation and goal-setting. During the past few years we have created learning places for students in and around the school. If a student has earned their teachers’ trust, they can choose their preferred learning place.  You can come across students working in the sofa group in the lunchroom as well as at tables in the hallway. It was great to notice so many similarities and get tips and new ideas during our visit.

Tip of the day: “If I want the teachers to take care of students I have to take care of teachers” (Chris Lehman, Principal/SLA)

Kati Sormunen, Minna Kukkonen and Tiina Korhonen, Koulumestari School / Learning Center Innokas/ University of Helsinki

Know the Neighborhood You Teach In

This week, Finnish educators from Koulumestari Elementary and Helsingin normaalilyseo (Normal School) are here visiting US schools, as well as learning about teacher/leader education programs at the University of Pennsylvania as part of our #pennfinn13 partnership. Below is the first post after today’s visit to Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

Visit to Penn GSE

In April we had visitors from University of Pennsylvania. They were trying to figure out what is special in Finnish school system. This week we have an opportunity to visit Philadelphia and meet some old friends and get to know new acquaintances. Goal of our visit is to find new ideas and create collaboration between Universities and schools. A very important issue is to collaborate in a practical student to student peer level.

Mural Arts - Philadelphia

Mural Arts – Philadelphia

Today we paid a visit to University of Pennsylvania. We met enthusiastic professionals that have same kind on ideologies that we do. There was one thing above all that we want to bring back to Finland with us. When you start your job as a teacher in a new area, you should get to know the neighborhood of that school. What kids do after school? Where and how they spend their free time? What is it like to be a kid today in area? How about students as experts making a tour in school neighborhoods with their new teacher? While getting familiar with each other a good idea is to discuss about the expectations vice versa.

Tip of the day: Knowing one’s surroundings, its culture and history, makes you commit to your own neighborhood.  See http://muralarts.org/

Kati Sormunen, Minna Kukkonen and Tiina Korhonen www.innokas.fi/en

For more in Koulumestari Elementary School in Finland check out these links.


#StuVoice Finland Shares the ‘Characteristics of an Effective Teacher’

Fair, Dedicated, and Inspiring.

Nice to meet you! I am Maria Puolakkainen, an outgoing high school student from Helsinki, Finland. I am a dedicated student and my principle academic interests center around politics, economics, and philosophy. I am also passionate about languages; with English and Finnish as my first languages, I am fluent in French and am a beginner in Swedish and Italian. Making a difference in the student community is very important to me; I am the vice president of the Finnish International Baccalaureate Society (FIBS) and a member of the chairing board of the Finnish Upper Secondary School Student Union (SLL). As a passionate singer, dancer, and debater I try my best to balance between academics and extracurriculars.  Any questions? Contact me at maria.puolakkainen@gmail.com

Nice to meet you! I am Maria Puolakkainen, an outgoing high school student from Helsinki, Finland. I am a dedicated student and my principle academic interests center around politics, economics, and philosophy. I am also passionate about languages; with English and Finnish as my first languages, I am fluent in French and am a beginner in Swedish and Italian. Making a difference in the student community is very important to me; I am the vice president of the Finnish International Baccalaureate Society (FIBS) and a member of the chairing board of the Finnish Upper Secondary School Student Union (SLL). As a passionate singer, dancer, and debater I try my best to balance between academics and extracurriculars.
Any questions? Contact me at

I am a seventeen year-old IB high school student in my penultimate year from Helsinki, Finland. Embodying a kind of bicultural identity, I am a product of two different cultural upbringings, Finnish and American. Having spent a few of my years of elementary school in Seattle, Washington, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of both school environments, and what effect they have had on me as a learner.

I feel honoured to have been invited by the PennFinn13 team to share my ideas and insight on education in Finland and the United States. As a result of pure serendipity on my half, I met the group a few weeks a go when they visited my calculus class on a Wednesday morning. I was able to participate in the Edutopia event held in Helsinki and get accquainted with the issues and points of interest of this project. Joe Mazza and the entire team were so warm to me and encouraged me to join the movement by contributing with a few blog posts. I truly value my school environment; to me it is like a safe harbour where I can feel respected, valued, and relaxed, learn, and mingle. Therefore, I am extremely interested in this project and hope to inspire people around the world to form these efficient and comfortable learning environments.

As a dedicated high school student, I demand a great deal from my teachers. I have often discussed the qualities of an effective teacher with my peers, and we have agreed that the importance of equality between teacher and student should be evident in many fields.

The stereotype of a Finnish teacher is built up with a master’s degree in teaching or one’s field, a calm and collected mindset, a relaxed teaching style, and above all, elevated expertise in one’s field. Many of my teachers do fit this mold, however it is unrealistic to imagine that each teacher will reach their degree of excellence with this pattern. In reality, the brilliances of different teachers lay on all different points of the spectrum.

When I sit back and evaluate from who I learn best from and what qualities does this teacher embody, I conclude in a set of features that I believe can be applied to any teacher-student relation for best results.

As I previously mentioned, the importance of respect and equality is crucial. Naturally the teacher is a superior authority figure in the classroom, but what I believe is the magic ingredient in this recipe is the humanization of the ’teacher figure’. By this I mean that he/she exhibits passion, dedication, and personal engagement in his/her teaching. If I feel that the teacher is truly passionate and excited about what is being taught, I am directly inspired by that joy of pursuing knowledge. I am certain we can all confirm that inspiration is contagious; listening to someone speak passionately on a topic with great expertise lights a peculiar glow inside us to learn and experience more in that field.

My classmate leads the English lit class as the teacher                                                                                          has left us to converse openly on a given topic.

My classmate leads the English lit class as the teacher
has left us to converse openly on a given topic.

We must meet at halfway. As a student, I feel that the time and work I put into learning something is very valuable. The knowledge that the teacher is equally engaged on his/her work fulfills the first goal that I would like to emphasize. If I know that I am not the only one putting in my 110 percent, I am further inspired to apply myself even more. By demanding a lot from each other, both teacher and student are able to improve.
This translates to my next goal; fairness and equity. I believe that to teach well at this level, one must demand a great deal. Avoiding excessive lenience, or putting too much effort into ’being the student’s best friend’ can be counter-productive, and lead to discouragement in the student. Naturally excessive severity can be equally as discouraging: in this case humanizing the student comes into play. The fact that the teacher recognizes the workload and limits of students is very important. The value of the student’s mental and physical wellbeing must be emphasized, especially in rigorous academic programs. Setting demanding, yet fair deadlines and workloads is essential for maintained motivation and success in school. Students at my school also value clarity; being clear about what is demanded and how that can be achieved helps the student to visualize the work that needs to be done.

In addition, we all need a push; giving clear, honest, and useful feedback on how to develop is vital on the path of improvement. This should be naturally coupled with active encouragement. The degree of encouragement and belief in the students abilities directly correlates with academic performance. The value of encouragement and clear guidance is of utmost importance and I find that a teacher that shows light on the unknown path of success for the student is of my favorite kind. To quote Robert Frost;

Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The importance of compromise between ideal and real is very significant. It is equally quixotic to assume that each student is as motivated, driven, and talented as the next, as it is to imagine that each teacher fulfills my personal educator ideals. Each educator is a personality, a dynamic figure of unique variables, that flourishes in new, fascinating ways, and it is impossible to set identical goals for everyone. Often the element of surprise can be an even stronger initiative for learning. If there is a certain mystery between the nature of the teacher, it can inspire students to work hard in order to reveal more and more about that educational relationship.

In our world there are a range in varying school systems; from non-existant to high-perfoming, each is different and operates under the umbrella of different circumstances; financial, habitual, atmospherical, ideological, and political. I believe that the best we can do for any school system is to foster growth.

At my school, the teachers are always asking us how we can improve the class. By working together as a team and giving the students a voice in how they are treated and how things are handled in class is one of the reasons that the education system in Finland is so successful. Demonstrating genuine interest in what we, the students have to say, definitely has an impact on how interested we are in what the teachers have to teach us.

Inspired by Finland – 5 Goals I’m Setting Now

Our morning wait at the bus stop en route to Finnish schools

The #PennFInn13’s team waits for the morning bus en route to Finnish schools

By Joe Mazza

Last week on my the flight out to Finland, I was lucky enough to sit next to a higher up in the Swedish educational system. The takeaways from that conversation were transitioned into my first post of the #PennFinn13 trip, entitled Six Swedish Lessons, One Flight. Little did I know that seven days later on the way back home, I’d sit next to a non-educator who would be just as thought-provoking, articulate and open to helping me continue unpacking my week in the Finnish schools. I’ll start with a quote that stuck out from this conversation:
“I’m on my way back from an (international) engineering conference in Sweden. In terms of conference takeaways, the trust, support and autonomy given to engineers only three months on the job really caught my attention. Back in North America, competition for jobs affects the level of support you receive within these roles, especially as a new employee.” – Canadian engineer on flight back to the United States
And then it clicked. My week in Finland was not just a break from American education, but from the culture where I was raised in the land of red, white and blue. Knowing full well that Nordic people are individuals like everyone else, and that painting any “culture” with a broad brush is risky, I’ve witnessed enough cultural consistency across various lenses to express in detail my week of conversations with students, parents, educators, leaders, store clerks, taxi and bus drivers, strangers on the streets, restaurant servers, airline personnel and city workers in the northern part of Europe.
The following are a few broad claims with real examples of what I experienced this week in brief stays in Sweden and Norway, as well as in the schools and city of Helsinki, Finland. What I’ve witnessed goes much deeper than just a prestigious education system, and I believe we can learn a lot from Finland’s overall culture to be a better society now matter what country we live in.
Don’t be wasteful.
  • Everywhere we walked in downtown Helsinki there was ice due to the time of year. Icy sidewalks were kept safe with tiny pebbles, not rock salt. They are efficient and everything that you see has a meticulous purpose.

    Kids and adults are responsible to put liquid and solid wastes in their proper place now matter at school or in public places.

    Kids and adults are responsible to put liquid and solid wastes in their proper place now matter at school or in public places.

  • After eating lunch (whether in elementary school, the teacher education center at the University or the one McDonald’s we found) kids and adults are responsible for cleaning up after themselves, organizing trash into areas of silverware, tray, garbage and liquid disposal before exiting the eating area. By the way, on the menu board by the registers are pictures of small drinks and 4 piece McNuggets, with no encouragement or advertisement to “super size” your meal.
  • The physical space, whether in a downtown coffee shop or in an elementary or secondary school is flexible in nature, designed for a variety of people and teaching and learning styles. Each space has a purpose for teaching, learning and leading. More than anything, this jumped out to me across all settings we visited.
Develop trust in one another – from child to senior.
  • The first evidence of trust…We booked our trip to see various Finnish schools back in October without paying anything up front. Believe me, we tried to pay but they just told us we’d settle up after the experience. This was a complete foreign concept to us, but we respected their wishes. Those we booked the itinerary with had no prior relationship with our team members, nor the University. Invoices are sent out following the activities. The accommodations where we stayed was also not interested in sending us a bill ahead of the trip.
  • Students have a classroom that stretches to all areas of the school. They have the trust to be actively engaged in their work, and to produce evidence of their learning. Students & staff benefit when we can find ways to step outside our classroom walls to maximize every square foot of our buildings.
  • Teachers are trusted as the most valuable commodity in education. This I learned from the words and actions of Finnish students, teachers and parents (see previous Voice of Finnish Parent post). Below is a picture of a quiet teacher workroom at SYK designed to allow teachers to work, research and think deeply on meeting the needs of students. Other rooms designed for teachers included coffee rooms, computer labs and comfortable and collaborative staff lounges. You won’t see a teacher lunchroom, as teachers ate in the same eating spaces as students – further developing trust amongst everyone in the learning community.
At SYK, this teacher workroom is the quiet space designed for teachers. It lives next to the staff lounge and staff computer workroom.

At SYK, this teacher workroom is the quiet space designed for teachers. It lives next to the staff lounge and staff computer workroom.

  • Cab drivers wait for you to come back while you go into a structure. If I was in Philadelphia, the untrusting tone begins when I pull out a credit card (which takes more time to process) versus the cash the cabbie was hoping for.
  • The Minerva Plaza (pictured below) was requested and approved less than 24 hours in advance for use on a global panel conversation sponsored by Edutopia that included students, parents, teachers and leaders from the United States and Finland. If the same request for such a cutting edge educational arena would have been made in the United States, it would have been met with red tape, a serious of approvals, meetings and delays. Those at the University trusted us to make good use of the space, and it turned into a great opportunity for those who attended virtually and physically.
Minerva Plaza inside the University of Helsinki's Teacher Education Department

Minerva Plaza inside the University of Helsinki’s Teacher Education Department

Develop deep relationships, have self discipline
  • Transportation is relatively quiet. People talk, but it’s not a party, Nordic people are active listeners, and look you in the eye when you speak without distraction. I didn’t meet anyone this week who spoke without purpose, reflection and pause.
  • In preparing to visit a country where we had never been, there are a great deal of questions that come up in the month’s leading up. School and University staff responded to at least twenty emails, Skyped multiple times and tweeted resources and ideas. They truly cared about us in terms of maximizing the depth of our visit and helping us understand the culture behind the education system and the country.
  • Two of Finland’s finest connected educators, Aki Puustinen and Timo Ilomäki, drove three hours to be a part of our one hour global panel. I have been connecting and learning from these educators for almost two years. Leaders like Tiina Korhonen, Pasi Sahlberg, Jukka Tanska and Olli Määttä are constantly seeking more from both themselves and others around the world, now matter what timezone these resources come from. Find them on Twitter at #finnedchat, #pennfinn13 and #edreform. For a full listing of Finnish connected educators we’ve begun gathering, follow this link.
Think, talk, model innovation by default
  • Creativity and imagination is nurtured at an early age with the preservation of play and free-time. This flies in the face of taking away recess and the Arts in American schools. If you look at the breakdown of what’s valued during the school day in Finland, you can see these components deeply embedded throughout.

Comprehensive School Breakdown of Daily Subjects – University of Helsinki Teacher Education Department

  • It’s evident that these safe environments for students AND staff in schools are created to foster risk taking and abstract thinking.
  • When we saw students in classrooms, they were the ones in the front of the room presenting and taking control of their learning. The teacher often sat to the side of the classroom prompting higher level thinking.
Teacher is off to side as the facilitator of learning. Student leads the class.

Teacher is off to side as the facilitator of learning. Student leads the class.

  • Transparency is evident everywhere in the Finnish schools we visited. The amount of glass I was immersed in allowed me to sit in one setting and understand what the spaces around me, and how it all connected to teaching, learning and leading. Pre-service teachers are part of a supportive cohort to harness the experience and expertise in the room.
It’s not about the accolades or being the #1.
  • For holding such a distinction, there is no celebrating going on in Finland. One of the many reasons our team chose to travel to Finland on our own dime to investigate the educational system was because of the recent PISA scores that placed Finland ahead of the rest of the world. Native Finn and educational leader Pasi Sahlberg has been touring the world sharing the recipe on how students, teachers, parents, leaders and Finnish society make it all happen. He, along with the educators I had the privilege to get to know, understood that the economy, the country’s demographics and other challenges were ahead, and the investment in learning more from the rest of the world was very apparent in their thinking, reflecting and continued interest in working deeper through our conversations.
  • We might not be able to change our own educational systems as quickly as we want to, but the online conversations around education can certainly be shaped. I follow some real rock stars on Twitter that I have learned a great deal from since I joined in 2010 . I interact with most, but I’m noticing that some are using the tool more to broadcast their new book, an article about their school or organization or just to let you know where they are presenting in the world versus building relationships with others in their PLN. This piece worries me the more educators take to Twitter as a means of support and professional development. The underlying core values of using social media for educators are that it be collaborative, transparent, support ongoing relationships and serve as an online 24/7 mentorship to grasp perspectives from all areas of the edusphere. I’m going to relook at the ways I use Twitter, and I hope my global colleagues do the same. With 1000s of educators joining our PLNs each each day, it’s never been more important to keep the “online society” or social media “culture” strong and what’s best for kids, not adults.

In summary

As I sip some strong coffee brought home from Finland, I’m inspired to want more from my own society and educational system.

Connected students, educators, leaders and parents around the world have both opportunity and responsibility to learn and share from each other using today’s social media tools. Finland is a country of only 5 million people. The ability to be completely transparent from directly inside classroom walls multiple timezones away shows us how easy it is to be more collaborative as a global educational society. This is my hope for the American Education System – that we rely equally on the human expertise around not only OUR country, but of that of OUR connected world when we are making decisions that impact how WE teach, how WE learn and how WE lead.

For more captioned pictures organized into our respective Finnish visits, follow our Facebook page. More takeaways will be forthcoming on this blog as the nine of us continue to transition back into our own organizations. Stay tuned.

The Voice of the Finnish Parent

2nd Grade Mom, FINLAND

2nd Grade Mom, FINLAND

By Joe Mazza

“I deeply trust the schools here in Finland.” 2nd Grade Parent, Koulumestari Elementary

One of the areas I’ve noticed written about the least in Finland’s education system is how schools engage families. As someone who is constantly looking through this lens, I was anxious to get to Helsinki to look for answers from students, teachers, leaders AND actual parents sending their children to school.
The videos embedded below (apologize for video quality) is a two-part interview with a 2nd grade parent at an elementary school we visited this week. It’s important to note, that like reflections on all of our team’s posts, our visit to Finnish schools was very exploratory in nature. Our takeaways come strictly from what we saw, heard and experienced walking around the schools for a week in Finland.
Part 1/2
Part 2/2

5 Things that have me thinking…

  • Trust: “We have it pretty easy,” said the parent.  Trust is embedded throughout. It is ubiquitous. Student, teachers, parents, leaders, policy. You do what you need to support what’s best for kids without all the red tape. The teachers spend a great deal of time with the students, even eating lunch with them each day. The parent went on to say, “When my husband and I trust the teachers, my children trust the teachers”.  Schools are safe. Many schools are KiVa Schools, but generally students were very well-behaved, and bullying of any form was not tolerated. I came away feeling like I was leaving a warm and caring family’s house.

  • Home-School Communications: Varied and not one size fits all. WILMA and other varied communications are offered to families to support face to face relationships. WILMA is much like many student information systems (SIS) back in the US. Parents can log in, see performance, attendance, behavior, etc.

  • Parent-Teacher Relationship: What kind of people they are. What do they think about education, pedagogy, our children. They are very qualified. Proud and know their profession very well. I can always contact them, and email them.

  • Overall Goals: It’s so important that parents and teachers get together regularly and build relationships with each other. We learned of things found in the US like parent nights, parent-teacher conferences, volunteer opportunities. The mom we interviewed shared her hopes for her child’s future: 1) Finds his way of living. 2) Finds his career and what he likes. She hopes he goes to the University and graduates. 3) The most important thing is that he trusts himself and knows what is best for him.

  • Homework: The elementary classes we observed received homework almost everyday mainly in the form of writing and math. However, there were no more than 15 minutes expected of homework. The 8th grade calculus class we observed ended with two words, “no homework.”  In another school, an upper secondary class spent 10 minutes of the 75 answering student questions on homework problems, so we know that it is given. This further illustrates the fact that there are a range of approaches with much of what goes on in schools here in Finland, but little homework seems to be the default.

In the end, one of the coolest things about this inquiry trip is that as more native Finns followed the #pennfinn13 hashtag, they chimed in with their own thoughts, thus expanding the depth of our visit’s perspective.  One of the Finnish teachers tweeting us from another region of the country shared how she used a Facebook page and blogs to provide a snapshot of the week ahead for the learners, then post captured learning moments/accomplishments later. We’re so thankful that Finnish teacher Hanna Graeffe shared her Facebook page for us here. You can follow Hanna at @hannagrrr on Twitter. Through this medium, we also learned that aside from being a rock star Finnish teacher, she is also a successful singer.

Below are the tweeted takeaways relating to family engagement from Hannah and the rest of the Twitterverse during our visits to Finnish schools.

[View the story “Finnish Family Engagement – Tweeted Takeaways” on Storify]

Supporting Pre-Service Teachers – A New Model

By Joe Mazza

Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the Normal Lyceum of Helsinki, a 7-9 school in downtown Helsinki Finland. This school is unique, as it is owned by the University of Helsinki and serves as a teacher training school.

When a student teacher, referred to in Finland as a trainee, is working toward completion of practicum, they are placed with a teacher trainer from a University. The University of Helsinki is one of eight practice schools in the country of Finland, and has a partnership with the Normal Lyceum of Helsinki.

We arrived to the school at 8:45AM, and we were provided an overview of the facility by school officials. Then were sent off in three groups to attend 75-minute lessons in math, chemistry and English. Sure I was interested in what was happening in the teacher-student interactions as the lesson proceeded, but it was the back of the room that really got me thinking of some new possibilities.

Three trainees and teacher trainer watch on

Three trainees and teacher trainer watch on

#PennFinn13 colleagues Jen and Mike also sat in student desks to observe the lesson. When we turned around in our seats, there in the back of the room sat three student teachers and the teacher trainer/University professor. Each took notes on the lesson using a simple observation document. They watched on as the trainee proceeded with her lesson and engaged the students.

During various segments of the lesson, students worked independently at their desks and in groups. At these times, the adults in the back of the room got up and joined different areas of the room to offer support and guidance, providing a 5:20 ratio of adult to student within the classroom.

Multiple adults work around the room to support student needs

Multiple adults including trainees and teacher trainer work around the room to support student needs

At the end of the lesson, the trainee receives feedback from her three peers, plus her professor/teacher trainer. How does this level of support compare to that of a student teacher working with only one mentor teacher for a period of weeks?

For one, this trainee has the feedback of four adults at the end of her lesson, as opposed to only his or her supervisor or mentor teacher. The feedback form (pictured below), asks three questions. (Thanks to Olli Maata for tweeting me the translation mid lesson!)

Feedback Form

1) What did the trainee succeed with? (Mention at least three things)

Peer Observation Form

Peer Observation Form

2) What would you have done differently?

3) Other feedback or thoughts on this lesson.

Once the students have left the room, the teacher trainer meets with the trainee to process the beginning middle and end of the lesson, and offer ideas for growth. The three peer feedback forms are submitted directly to the trainee and are used to fuel dialogue about teaching and learning. The conversation continues until the lesson is thoroughly processed according to the teacher trainer.

[End of class period]

Now, if we were fortunate enough to have a school-University partnership in place back at my school, I’d look to change the look of one piece in place here. The teacher trainer should encourage the other three teachers to remain in the room through the post lesson conversation. Given a supportive culture set up by the teacher trainer, there is a good amount of collaborative and transparent opportunities to share ideas, while offering support and affirmation of the lesson to the pre-service teacher.

Much like many of today’s medical professionals, the teacher trainer has the opportunity to formulate a team of teacher trainees to learn together much like Bailey leads her “interns” on Grey’s Anatomy. They have conversations about their craft, covering concepts and working through challenges in a supportive and safe little cohort.

Image credit: abc.go.com/shows/greys-anatomy

Image credit: abc.go.com/shows/greys-anatomy

New teacher preparation is absolutely vital to the future of education in any country. We must constantly be in search of innovative ways to provide as much support to these students as possible. I’m certainly interested in exploring this model further, and feel it might offer a deeper level of ongoing support to pre-service teachers.

For more information on what it takes to become a certified teacher in Finland, check out this link. Many thanks to Normal Lyceum of Helsinki and the University of Helsinki for exposing us to your teacher trainer program.

Six Swedish Lessons – One Flight

By: Joe Mazza

As our flight left Newark for Stockholm, Sweden, I introduced myself to the woman sitting next to me on the nine-hour flight. She saw I was reading Finnish Lessons, and asked me if I was an educator. After articulating my role in working for kids and the purpose of our visit to Finland, I asked her what she did.

She replied, “I oversee schools in Sweden.”

The learning on this trip was about to get a head start from an unlikely source.

My knowledge of Sweden is limited other than some reading on ideas they’ve shared with Finland over the years. Some of these ideas included a health care system, the welfare state model and basic educational offerings before adopting its own approach to education.

The next six hours of in-flight conversation covered topics including teacher and leadership preparation models/needs, mentoring, family engagement, standardized testing, poverty, early intervention, equity in K-college education access and differences in the educational systems in Finland and Sweden.

We discussed the importance of adopting shared core values in education versus “programs” and one-size-fits-all approaches. Reflecting back, six “Swedish Lessons” stood out from our conversation and are detailed below:

  1. Honesty and trust are always trending. The people of Sweden care about others, and when you form a relationship with someone, it is authentic by default. People genuinely care about others and will do whatever it takes to help them achieve their goals. However, if you lie or hide things from others, you lose all credibility in your circles. The Swedes have built their schools upon these core values, and they find various ways of highlighting the importance of these life competencies inside the classroom each day.
  2. Ongoing mentoring supports for students, teachers and leaders. The supports in place at schools for kids, teachers and leaders remind me more of a hospital setting. All students have access to extra help in the areas they need it in and outside school hours. Teachers have a variety of educational coaches, mentors and administrators observing and providing ongoing feedback to them. Principals have mentors in and outside of the field. The outside edu mentors are an interesting concept to me, as the biases in education a mentor brings can be extracted leaving the important people to people efforts in the limelight. The support along every step of the way was impressive, and if I was a new teacher in Sweden, I’d feel like I was part of a comprehensive support system across multiple lenses.
  3. Personal connections with kids can have lasting impacts. As she was reflecting upon the high poverty levels in the Houston area, she shared a story with me about providing a sense of belonging for at-risk youth earlier in her career when she was a teacher. She took a risk and opened her home and family to a student who just needed someone to make him feel valued in this world. With added support, this student turned his life around and became a dentist. Oftentimes it takes an extra few minutes, a thoughtful gesture, smile or relevant compliment to help kids understand how valuable they are to those around them.
  4. Mistakes are accepted and expected for adults & kids alike. We talked about when we were new administrators, and how many mistakes we made as rookie principals. When we’re new in a role, we want to work hard, do a great job and help others believe we were the right hire. The succession plan we may have envisioned prior to the first day on the job oftentimes becomes difficult when staff want you to make changes early. Three areas of succession focus came up including the 1) importance of valuing the culture you walk into; 2) observing student instructional time with all of your senses; and 3) building real relationships with all stakeholders. New and veteran educators may make mistakes, but if your passion is relationship-based, others have the tendency to feed off you. In time, a safe place where everyone (students and staff) can make mistakes is born.
  5. Early intervention starts at age 1 – Parents have the option to pay around $150 (USD) a month for up to 50 hours a week of pre-school offerings. There is a curriculum based on early childhood skills. Kids officially start required school at the age of seven, which dates back to the age where it was acceptable to walk from the farm to the school.
  6. Family Engagement – Parents are able to be at the school on any day. They can stay as long as they like, and even have lunch with the child (school pays).  She described  a grandmother checking in on her grandchildren while knitting in the back of the classroom.  In talking about preparation of teachers and leaders in the area of family and community engagement, we agreed that much more coursework and real relationship-based experiences are necessary.  Over the years, the Swedish school system has adjusted to the fact that parents are working full time. There are after-school social groups and other academic tutoring offerings for all children at no charge. The school is at the center of the universe, and the community fully supports the schools

In summary, it was great meeting someone of such a high global leadership position who was as passionate as a beginning teacher about education and building relationships with kids. With a new global educator/leader in my PLN, I’m looking forward to connecting further on the work happening in Sweden.

Now, onto Helsinki, where I’ll be looking to see how Sweden and Finland are both alike and different in their approach to teaching, learning and leading.

3 Pre-Trip Questions on Finnish Education

By Martha Richmond

Why would someone from an independent school want to observe the Finnish School system where there are no independent schools and education is free? As someone responsible for students with learning disabilities and for closing the achievement gap, and as a school instructional leader, working toward eliminating standardized tests such as AP’s and assessing department based learning outcomes, I am eager to learn more about three aspects of Finnish education:

1) Its special education program and its policies of “positive discrimination” funds to pay for services such as special resource teachers.

2) The Finnish commitment to education as a tool for social and economic equality and finally,

3) The Finnish philosophy and practice of student assessment.

Many are surprised to hear that my school admits students with learning disabilities and we offer academic adjustments and develop educational PLANS for these students. However, unlike the Finnish inclusion model, colleagues refer students with learning problems to our program as a way of not having to take responsibility for the success of weaker students. Similarly, unlike the Finnish system where special education teachers are paid more, our tutors’ salaries and benefits are discrepant from the rest of their Lawrenceville colleagues.

Therefore, question 1 is: What can I learn from the Finnish model to help me think of ways make both our program and our students’ success included in the professional identity of my colleagues? In addition to my school wrestling with its “special education” students, we are also wrestling with issues of social inequalities. During my 19 year tenure, the school’s student body has changed proportionally from 75% White to 52% White. This statistic makes our school more racially diverse than most public schools. Likewise, our generous endowment provides a disproportional amount of scholarships, making the school more economically diverse than most public schools. Ideally, this diversity should offer all Lawrenceville students the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background.

However, an achievement gap exists. A question I have is: How can what I learn about the Finnish system help refine my lens in terms of ways education might serve as an economic leveler as opposed to being an institution that reinforces social economic status and opportunity?

Knowing that Finland does not use standardized testing, I am curious to learn more about how Finnish teachers build and connect assessments to their curriculums. We have begun to steer away from standardized AP courses and tests and focus on what the school’s overarching and departmental learning outcomes are by grade level for each student. These changes mean time must be dedicated to developing assessments and training teachers how to develop assessments. In a school constantly challenged by pace of life, scheduling time for faculty to collaborate and develop assessments remains a challenge.

Thus, a final question I have is: How might the Finnish assessment system inform Lawrenceville’s move toward eliminating standardized tests and its move toward incorporating assessment development into the faculty workload?