This post can also be found on IEN Founding Editor, Thomas Hatch‘s new blog focused on school improvement, educational change and innovation.
This past week Elizabeth Green, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Chalkbeat, shared a number of tweets from a recent visit to schools and day care centers in Finland. She made telling observations, noting students’ use of slippers and the raised tables in daycares that make it easier for teachers to “get on students’ level”, that hint at the Finnish attention to detail and design. She also pointed to key aspects of the Finnish education system that connected to some of the experiences that I had when spending a month in Finland with my family 2 years ago. At that time, two of my daughters spent the end of the school year in Finnish classrooms, and my wife, Karen Hammerness, and I got to talk with a number of policymakers, educators, and researchers. As Green indicates in tweets showing a graphic of the new Finnish Core Curriculum and noting that schools were given considerable time to prepare for implementation, the Finnish approach to developing a coherent national curriculum is totally different from the development of the Common Core in the US. While Green points to teachers who generally support the new Finnish Core Curriculum, the roll-out has included controversy over the extent to which the new curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary work. Interestingly, Green also found that some teachers also dislike an emphasis on learning to code, an emphasis which seems to be embraced in many quarters in the US. Nonetheless, Green cited a new teacher gushing about her lesson plan as one of the best moments of a visit to a school as well as a teacher who commented that even with a “core” curriculum she still felt considerable autonomy. We found that same kind of enthusiasm and sense of autonomy among teachers again and again, perhaps reflecting the extensive preparation and support that new teachers in Finland receive. At the same time, during my visit, it seemed that autonomy also depends on a level of interdependence and collective commitment that often goes unmentioned. Green’s comment that she “Never considered proximity to Russia, geographic and cultural, when considering Finnish educational success” struck a chord with me as well. The pressure and urgency that might have contributed to a commitment to centralize and transform the Finnish education system in the 1970’s (as Pasi Sahlberg describes in Finnish Lessons) came through to me when a Finnish educator told me that she grew up near the border in Finland knowing that Soviet tanks could be in her front yard in twenty minutes…
— Thomas Hatch
At Finnish daycares, educators raised tables so they could get on students’ level without straining their backs. #pisatourist pic.twitter.com/k5B2RNpHB3
— Elizabeth Green (@elizwgreen) September 24, 2016