“’Bad teacher?’ We don’t know this word.”

I am on an education tour in Russia, Finland, and Sweden and will write a few posts along the way.  Today was my first day in Finland.

I spent the morning with Linna Eeva-Kaisa, a Senior Advisor in the Finnish National Board of Education.   As she was talking about teacher professional development, I asked if they hear the terms “bad teacher” vs. “good teacher” in Finland.  She got a horrified look on her face.  “We don’t know this term,” she said.  “That would be humiliating for teachers!  We don’t evaluate teachers, we respect teachers.  Of course we have teachers who haven’t yet gained command of their subject matter or method and we support them.” 

Eeva-Kaisa emphasized that trust is at the center of education in Finland.  “Trust is embedded in the system.  It’s a chain of trust that filters down at every level.”  She said that a group of Israeli educators visiting Finland asked her “how do you teach trust?”  You don’t teach it, she explained, you share in it – in Finnish schools everyone can trust that they will be respected. 

A few elements of this trust that struck me (and that contrast with much of what happens in schools in the U.S.):

*Continuity – they call it evolution: no dramatic changes, but careful, consensus-based improvement.  Eeva-Kaisa asked, “when you have change, who benefits? Who benefits? It’s only those who have the power, not people in general.”  And nothing in the education system changes with changes in government.

*Assessments are teacher-developed for their own classes and the assessment data is used in classroom instruction.  ”We abolished inspections: people don’t work well when they feel someone’s always looking over their shoulder.”

*People in Finland want to be teachers because it is an independent job; you have autonomy and respect.

To hear a government minister speaking in truly educational terms about education is stirring.  A key part of these educational terms is the notion of humility.  More on that in the next post.

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