Beer, Badges, and Belief in a Brighter Future: 3 Lessons From Oppi

When was the last time you attended a teacher conference where hops kept you hopping through an energizing breakout session?

Let me think…

Oh yeah. That would be NEVER!

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Oppi Festival in Helsinki, Finland. This was only the second time that this event had been held and they mareted it as not your ordinary teacher conference. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where we learn about:

  • “New” ways to teach from people who haven’t done it in the last decade, if at all;
  • “Innovative” instructional techniques that ultimately lead to grades that indicate that a student sat in class X for a designated timeframe, whether they needed to or not;
  • “Creative” structures to rethink how we spend our time in order to try and make an industrial-model system work in a knowledge-based world.

Unlike other teacher conferences, Oppi delivered on their promise!


I am an adult and I am tired of being treated like a child when it comes to my professional learning.

From professional development like this, where teachers were made to parrot back the exact words of the presenter, to conferences where we “earn” stickers to verify our attendance; the practice of treating teachers like children is pervasive. We are the largest college-educated profession in this country, yet we are treated as though we are not smart or capable enough to make decisions about our own learning, how to assess student learning, or how to manage our conduct at a professional event.

So when I read that I could; no I was welcome, to bring a beer to my session, I knew that Oppi was different. Suddenly, I was recognized as an adult.

You see, it’s not really about the beer. It’s about trusting me to be a professional who can make good choices for my students, my profession, and myself.


Remember those badges that you earned in scouts? To earn them you had to learn how to do something and then demonstrate that skill in action

What if students and teachers could identify what they want or need to learn, seek out learning opportunities, and then prove that they learned it when they were ready? And what if a digital badge that was encoded with what you learned and the way that you showed proficiency could be used to signify that accomplishment?

I realize that some of you who are reading this already know of this emerging field, but there are many who do not.

Historically, students (and teachers) have been made to sit in a class for a set period of time, regardless of how long it took to master the skills. This time-based system does little to acknowledge and adjust for the fact that everybody learns at different paces and reaches mastery at different times.  Badging is one approach to personalizing learning that allows for individuals to show mastery in a particular area or skill.

I never quite grasped the badging movement until I attended sessions at Oppi. Interestingly enough, there seemed to be a sense of, “Of course this is the future of learning!” about badging and all of the other forward-thinking approaches at Oppi.

A Brighter Future

A Session on Designing Schools

While there were many experiences at Oppi that were significantly different from a US education conference, none was more striking than the pervasive sense of optimism about creating a brighter future for ALL students around the world.

Teachers were there to design the future, and were supported and encouraged to do so.

From learning how joy is connected to learning, to how to create and award badges, to designing a school, teachers at Oppi were empowered to dream big and design the future of education in classrooms, schools, and countries around the world. There was a feeling that teachers were trusted professionals who could and should play a leading role in the future of education. And there was no sense of “Us” vs. “Them.” Everyone saw himself or herself as in this process together.

In the end, I found that drinking beer and creating badges helped me believe in the possibilities for a brighter future for ALL of “our” kids!

  • monicaholz

    Tell me more!

    I’m interested to hear about how this badge concept works.  I’ve never heard of it before and as I understand that Finland has a handle on the best educational practices, I’m sure this is a worth learning about.  Please elaborate!

    I appreciate how you mentioned that it’s never about “us vs. them.”  I think we all have to be careful not to fall into the trap of competing in education.  It definitely doesn’t create a spirit of collaboration which seems to be one of Finland’s greatest strengths along with drinking beer.


    • LoriNazareno

      A Bit More on Badges

      Monica and Anne,

      I will admit that I was a bit skeptical and sarcastic as first when presented with the badging concept. After all, I WAS a Girl Scout and thought I had left that part of my life a long time ago.

      But upon reflection, I have come to embrace the concept of badging as a way to personalize learning for both students and teachers. Think back to class that you took that either went too fast or too slowly, but still lasted a year regardless of when you actually understood the content. And, I am certain that you can think of a PD session where you already knew everything that was being shared and coulr probably lead the session yourself. 

      Now think about having a way to show that you have mastered a certain skill or content when YOU were ready. That is the idea behind badging. The link that I shared in my post was one way that badges are being developed so that they have all of the information about what you learned, how you demonstrated that learning, what the standards were that were addressed and more, encoded in them. When they are created this way, then they become portable and highly valued as a way to demosntrate your skills and abilities.

      For students, many teachers are now developing their own badges that they can award to students when they demonstrate certain skills and abilities. One free program to do this is Class Badges. And here is a terrific blog that has additional information about how one teacher uses badges and it ahs some advice for getting started.

      In the end, we are going to need to develop a new system that addresses each child’s individual needs. This is what is key in Finland. Their system is set up to adapt to each individual child’s needs, not some set standard that is to be applied to all. In a system like this student progress through their educational experience at a pace that is specific to them and is aligned to their interests and abilities. Badging is one way that we can start to move in that direction. We can no longer affort to make kids sit in a year-long class when they have mastered everything in 4 months or need to take 14 months.

      Okay, I will get off of my soapbox now. 

      Please let me know if you have other questions.   Lori

  • AnneJolly

    I agree with Monica!

    I agree with Monica, Lori . . . tell us more about these badges.  I went to the site you mentioned, and I still don’t quite get it.  I’d like to know how teachers could make them and how teachers could use them.  


  • SaraArnold



    This sounds amazing. There are so many learning opportunities that I would love to attend.  Please keep us informed if they have this in 2015.  I would be interested in attending.



    • LoriNazareno

      Oppi 2015

      HI Sara,

      I have connected with the Oppi folks via Twitter. They plan to have dates and, hopefully location, for next year determined by the end of the summer. When I find out more details, I will be sure to post that information here.