Things my Colleagues would Love

Instructionally, I do not think my colleagues would feel all that out of place in a Finnish school.  However, there are many ideas it would be great to see in American schools:

  • Teachers need only be at school when teaching or participating in any collaborative groups they have joined.  This means teachers can show up later or leave earlier--or stay all day, as they did when teaching the Phenomenon Based module.  Secondary teachers must amass 18 "lessons" for a full time position but these can be condensed in some modules and spread out in others.  The flexibility is freeing.  Sanna indicated that she did not thing she could survive the teacher schedule she observed in Indiana.  She thought the weekly early morning faculty meeting was ridiculous.  At the Comprehensive school, teachers are there all day.
  • Students are taught early to take responsibility for themselves both in functioning in the world and as students.  One of our instructors, an immigrant from India, was counseled by the teacher to stop nagging his son about getting his homework done.  She felt he needed to learn independently that getting the work done was his responsibility. The father was told to let him be and he would eventually get the idea that he needed to take care of his own business.
  • When we asked about how they handled disruptions at the secondary school they stared at us blank faced.  Of course they knew what a fight was but that wasn't a problem.  Nobody had heard of sexting.  ("How do you know they are doing that?" they asked.)  Students had cellphones but the only oblique reference to that came from a principal at another high school in an aside: "If the student is on the cellphone they are soon going to realize they aren't doing well in the class."
  • Students got themselves to school.  There were a raft of bikes in the secondary school parking lot--even though it was consistently 20 degrees everyday we were there.  There were a few cars as well but it is not clear who those belonged to--but perhaps they were the faculty and the adults in the nursing class.  The Comprehensive school students, ages 7 - 14, walked.  Everybody dressed for the weather.  Everybody went outside a minimum of once a day.  This trust in the students pays off.  No one monitors their movements at the school.  Passing was orderly. The cafeterias functioned perfectly well without monitoring. Personal articles were left all over the place undisturbed.
  • Lunches are free for everyone at the school.  The food is nutritious.  There are no sodas or sweets, though pastries and coffee could be purchased at the secondary school.  
  • There are numerous breaks throughout the day, especially at the Comprehensive school.  This follows a philosophy called "spaced learning"--an attempt to let the brain rest and reflect before moving on to another lesson.  (Classes are called lessons.)
  • There is a communal coat rack everywhere you go--inside the administrative office at the Comprehensive school, inside the main entrance at the secondary school, on the ground floor at the University.  These are just hooks with some cubbies.  You hang your coat (or store your skis or motorcycle helmet) and it is there when you come back.
  • The teachers build the curriculum.  When we asked the two teachers at the secondary school what the principal did they had to look at each other and think about it:  they weren't sure. They did finally say he hired teachers and created the schedule--after they told him what they needed.  The Phenomenon Based teaching seemed to have been initiated by Sanna, who then gathered a team to work on it.  The teachers involved were still tinkering with it.
  • When the new secondary school was built they asked the teachers how they wanted to furnish their rooms.  And then they bought the teachers what they requested.
  • Teachers do not buy any school supplies for the students.  They are provided by the school.
  • The faculty lounge is a dream at the secondary school but was empty when we toured it.  Teachers have a shared workspace similar to those in our high schools but they are cross curricular.  Sanna shook her head at our habit of sequestering each curricular area off.  Unimaginable.