Last month, I went to Finland with PDK International for ten days of visiting schools and talking to teachers and educational professionals about educational policy and school reform. Back home, my students were studying the Finnish education system. As they read chapters from Finnish Lessons, World Class Education, and Surpassing Shanghai, they had an eye toward our final product. On December 4th, they would brief our school’s Faculty Council about a proposed reform to our school.
While I was gone, my classes got a lot of work done. They studied about Finland and brainstormed over thirty different school-reform ideas. Some of the ideas they came up with included:
- More minimum days during the school year so that teachers had time to collaborate – currently my school does and early-release day twive a month and my student would like that to happen each week.
- A longer break in between classes so that students could take a mental break between thinking about math and history
- Better and updates school materials and technology
- Smaller class sizes
- More class work organized in collaborative groups
- Reinstating the academic counselors who were cut in the last budget crunch
- Improved training for new teachers
- A student lounge where students could rest and socialize during lunch and breaks
When I returned, my classes narrowed our myriad ideas into two proposals that each class would develop into policy briefs and presentations for December 4th. Each class would also break into two teams, one to grapple with each proposal. In the end, my Introduction to Education students had formed four teams for four different school-reform proposals.
In first period, the students decided to work on dedicated classroom budgets for supplies; and increasing the number of minimum days each year. In second period, the two topics were reducing the ratio of students to teachers in our core classes; and improving quality of our teaching staff.
I was excited to embark on the explorations that my students were about to undertake. It was clear to me that each team was already taking their work seriously.
As I write this, the projects are completed. Each team successfully wrote a two to three page policy brief for their proposal. Two of the teams designed PowerPoint presentations to augment their speakers. The other two teams created triptychs that their speakers referenced on the 4th.
Our presentations are over, but the larger project of tranforming our school continues. As we wait to hear back from the faculty council, my classes have moved onto our next project. Next year, when they are juniors, they’ll pick up these projects again and do deeper research into the needs of our school, surveying and intervewing students and teachers about these proposals. Come senior year, my students will switch into action mode and work on making their ideas real.