Time to check out Finland

I just had to pass on this quote from CTQ colleague and fellow Bank Street alum Todd Sutler, who recently visited schools in Finland as the kickoff to the Odyssey Initiative Project.

He shared the following information from the trip:

Teachers train for FIVE years before they become teachers…. Teachers are almost never observed in an evaluation style format. I pushed on the topic of evaluation and asked a number of questions. I wanted to get at the heart of the well known sentiment that Finnish teachers are respected professionals. It was clear that the teachers and principals were used to these questions from visitors. Instead of trying to find out what teachers are doing wrong, principals count on teachers to reflect and turn to them and their peers when they need support. I saw that on display at my first visit, as a new first grade teacher was quite open about how hard her first year was going and how much she asked for advice and guidance from her more experienced colleagues.

Finally, when I continued to push on the idea of how does leadership support teachers when they need it, the answer consistently referred to the “social welfare group” (I think it doesn’t translate so technically in Finnish). This team includes the teacher, nurse, learning specialist, psychologist, principal, and any other specialist who works with the kids. If there are struggles in the classroom, the teacher calls for a team meeting to talk about the specific needs of a child. The support is not discussed or framed from the point of view of what the teacher needs, but what the child needs. At the end of the year, there is a discussion about individual and group goals for the following year.

First of all, FIVE years of training?! How’s that for commitment? Talk about raising the bar…

Second, the respected place experienced teachers have in the profession is really important and something we need to create here.

Third, principals and policymakers trust teachers’ intentions, skill levels, and will to grow professionally. And evidently there is capacity among the staff to support teachers when they ask for it. Both pieces of this are essential.

Fourth, it sounds like teachers support each other in a more structured way than is usual in American schools. Most teachers I know make efforts to support one another, but often school and district structures don’t encourage this. In fact, our country seems to be moving in a direction that creates competition among individual teachers as well as between schools and districts through VAMs and other competitions like Race to the Top. These all discourage collaborative practices among educators. Thus, we are passing up about a million opportunities a day to better serve students.

I need to read more about Finland. I’m starting with this great new post about the Finnish school system in comparison to our own from CTQ teacher leader Mary Tedrow at her blog Walking to school called High anxiety schooling vs. its polar opposite.

Sounds like an amazing education system that is getting great results with students and teachers.

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