Hechinger Report on Finland’s Schools

Here are some of the recommendations made after a visit to Finland to visit their schools:

 

8) Shorten the school day. Deliver lessons through more efficient teaching and scheduling, as Finland does. Simplify curriculum standards to a framework that can fit into a single book, and leave detailed implementation to local districts.

9) Institute universal after-school programs. Include play clubs, homework help, decompression and relaxation time, as well as academic and non-academic enrichment activities. Make them free or low-cost. This will significantly boost parent and family well-being by allowing parents to harmonize their schedules with their children’s.

10) Improve, expand and destigmatize vocational and technical education.   Encourage more students to attend schools in which they can acquire valuable career/trade skills.

11) Launch preventive special-education interventions early and aggressively. Destigmatize and integrate special-education students as much as possible, as is done in Finnish schools.

12) Revamp teacher training toward a medical and military model. Shift to treating the teaching profession as a critical national security function requiring government-funded, graduate-level training in research and collaborative clinical practice, as Finland does.

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What if Finnish Teachers Taught in the USA?

You have all heard that FInland does the best job in the world at getting high scores on tests like PISA without burdening their students or their teachers with extreme workloads. Finland does not have long hours of homework for elementary kids, and they don’t require the daily filing of rigidly formatted, complex lesson plans for teachers. Finnish teachers are selected from the very best of their university classes, and have enormous amount of control over what they do, which they plan with their peers.

So what if some of these Finnish teachers came and worked here in the US?

Now we know, thanks to an article in The Atlantic.

A couple of quotes, from three such teachers. One said,

“If you asked me now, my answer would be that most likely I would not continue in this career.”

Another:

While teaching in Finnish schools, she had plenty of leeway to plan with colleagues, select curricular materials for the principal to consider purchasing, and influence decisions about schedules and responsibilities.

Today, with 16 years of teaching in U.S. public schools under her belt, this ESL teacher feels that she lacks a career in teaching. She described it as a rote job where she follows a curriculum she didn’t develop herself, keeps a principal-dictated schedule, and sits in meetings where details aren’t debated.

And another:

“I teach six classes a day with a one 45-[minute] ‘planning’ period,” she said. “My classes are at three different proficiency levels, and I have four minutes between classes to prepare for the next class. At the same time, I am expected to stand in the hallways to monitor students as [they] transfer from class to class, and to check my email for last-minute updates and changes because of ongoing testing or other events.”

All of those tasks, and several others, wear her down: “I feel rushed, nothing gets done properly; there is very little joy, and no time for reflection or creative thinking (in order to create meaningful activities for students).”

Muja concluded her response with a quote from one of Pasi Sahlberg’s articles for The Washington Post, “What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?”

Sahlberg, an education scholar and the author of Finnish Lessons 2.0, answers the theoretical question in his article’s title, writing in part: “I argue that if there were any gains in student achievement they would be marginal. Why? Education policies in Indiana and many other states in the United States create a context for teaching that limits (Finnish) teachers to use their skills, wisdom and shared knowledge for the good of their students’ learning.”

Can’t import the “Finnish approach” – cultural roots

A ‘guest post’ via Jerry Becker:

” Received from Stefan Turnau, Sunday, January 2, 2011 in response to the posting on “Shanghai Schools’ Approach Pushes Students to Top of Tests” on January 1st, 2011. You might want to take a look at http://www.teachers.tv/videos/the-human-factor where what follows can be found plus a great deal more, due to Nigel Bispham who is a deputy head teacher from Cornwall who visits Finland to discover why the country scored so well on the international OECD PISA assessments.”

I’m afraid the “Finnish approach” can’t be exported wholesale to any other cultural context.
A by no means exhaustive list of aspects that make the Finnish approach work (in my short experience as a Brit who’s lived here in Helsinki for 7 years and has a daughter in primary education at the moment):
1. Finns have a deep and lasting respect for the teaching profession and education in general, people aspire to be teachers!
2. Parents respect the job teachers do and let them do it (they are not well paid but they enjoy high status). The government lets teachers get on with teaching,
3. Parents are reminded several times a year to come into the school anytime to observe lessons or any other part of the school day.
4. Teachers at all levels hold master’s degree qualifications in pedagogy and are left to get on with it without too many restrictions.
5. All facilities are in good repair and teaching aids are plentiful (with little damage from arson and vandalism because kids are generally protective of their schools and use the playground areas after school).
6. Active after school clubs from everything from art to athletics etc.
7. Short and sweet school days (e.g. 8-9 year olds 9 till 1/2pm).
8. Small class sizes (20-25).
9. Many kids have an early sense of self reliance from looking after themselves in the afternoons.
10. Kids here also get to roam free, expend a lot of energy, climb trees and skin their knees.
11. And so on….. 

I think I can sum it up by relating a somewhat minor bugbear I do have with the Finnish Ed System and it is that my daughter’s favourite expression is “Teacher says….xyz!” to put her parents right!

I think if you ask any Finnish school kid who the 10-15 most important people are in their lives, there is a good chance that their teacher will figure in there for many? How about in the UK, top 100?

I think the things that CAN be imported are ideas that allow a refocusing away from testing and performance by giving teachers more autonomy, a focus on quality rather then quantity of teaching, higher level academic teacher training qualifications, improving the status of teaching as a profession.
I’m afraid the “Chinese approach”, very different but equally successful, cannot be imported for the same reason.
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