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Finland’s Education System: Inspiring and Intriguing

Finland’s education system is constantly in my vocabulary when speaking with other educators. I have read articles, watched movies and entirely fawned over Finland’s glorious, successful education system.

For me, it boils down to the basics. The students are happy and excited to attend school. The teachers are inspired, full of energy, and confident in their system. The students and teachers work collaboratively to achieve the same goals. What more could an educator hope for? Learning combined with ease, enthusiasm, and enjoyment.

Finland’s education system is the envy of educators from across the globe, yet, how does it really work? As an Ontario Certified Teacher, I have learned the Ontario curriculum and guidelines. I have learned how to formally assess students learning and achievement. I have developed skills and learned how to break down learning goals and success criteria in each and every lesson. I wonder how they assess their students? Do they have formal assessments or written documents that go home? Do the children’s knowledge levels vary the way they do within our classrooms here? How do they deal with behavioural issues? My questions could fill pages. I want to know everything. What I do not question is whether they are confident in their system; I just wonder how it all breaks down and looks day-to-day from a teacher’s perspective. How do they plan and prepare for each day? How do they communicate with parents?

My curiosity inspired extensive research on Finland’s education system. One particular day during my research, I came across a conference being held in Finland in January 2017 for 800 educators from around the world.  LIFE 2017 is an exclusive opportunity to visit ordinary Finnish schools and see how teaching is organized, talk with local teachers and students, and listen to the top Finnish pedagogical experts. I saved the link and would go back and visit it from time to time, dreaming of what it would be like to actually see their classrooms first-hand. One day, I was having a conversation with my employer when the topic of conferences came up. She encouraged me to send the link over so we could talk it through. Could I realistically go to Finland in just 2 short months? While we were discussing the possibility, the questions asked from my employers were as follows: Did I have any plans late January? Do I have an up-to-date passport?

My heart stopped.

Could I actually see this magical education system in live action? It’s been a dream of mine for quite some time. I’m already beginning to make a list of questions for teachers. Just to sit in a classroom and observe a lesson would be remarkable.

It wasn’t long before my flights were booked, and I AM GOING TO FINLAND! In just over a month, I will be on my flight out, and for now, my focus is to prepare for my trip.

Stay tuned for updates!

Natural Learning: From Skeptic to Believer

Natural methods of almost anything seem to benefit our minds and bodies better than the manufactured or artificial type.

Throughout the past few months, I have read countless articles and watched multiple videos about alternative education, and specifically natural learning. What that term “alternative education” is defined as differs among educators based on their own belief system. Recently, I have been investigating how natural learning works, and what it means for teachers.

I attended Peter Gray’s discussion about his book, Free to Learn. Natural learning is the idea that children are active leaders in their own learning and are naturally curious. Natural learning environments are open-ended and allow children to play freely without instruction. Being a teacher, the questions that always comes to mind when someone raves about natural learning are the following:

  1. How do children learn to read and write without formal instruction?
  2. How do they advance if there is no written assessment?
  3. How do they receive entry into post-secondary institutions?

Peter Gray’s informative session blew my questions out of the water. As an educator, I want to ensure my students are moving forward constantly and scaffolding their skills appropriately. Peter Gray talked about a school called Sudbury Valley School that has been open since the 60’s in Massachusetts. This school holds no formal lessons, and students are free to spend their time as they wish. There are no classes, no lessons, and no homework. Report cards don’t exist and there is no pressure to hit certain milestones (i.e. reading and writing).

Again my questions were along the lines of:

  1. Did they receive entry into post-secondary institutions?
  2. Could they become citizens who positively contribute to society?
  3. Have they obtained enough skills for successful careers?

Gray conducted a study based on the graduates of Sudbury Valley School. To me, the findings were absolutely incredible. He found that the graduates of Sudbury Valley (which runs from ages 3-17) were not only successful, but happy and contributing members of society. Their careers range from math professors to fashion designers, and everything in between. Gary found that the same percentage of Sudbury Valley graduates attended post-secondary institutions in comparison to traditional schooled graduates. The findings also found that children who attended Sudbury Valley School were more likely to be active in their surroundings (ie. involved in politics, the economy, and local interest groups, etc.).

Mind blown.

Our new alternative school will not be a replica of the Sudbury Valley School, nor will it be dominantly natural learning based. However, hearing about it has given me the confidence to be open-minded in learning more about alternative education. I am confident in veering off the path of formal assessment, homework, and the entire curriculum I have come to live by.

Moving forward, of course I still have questions, but rather than being weary to ask them, I am excited to investigate the answers. Not only am I confident in what I am working on, but I am starting to build a network filled with other individuals who wish to achieve the same goal in the field of education.

Meet the Teacher

Hi, I’m Sara!

I’m a teacher and I am part of a team creating a new alternative education environment.

Before we discuss school, I wanted to talk about how I was as a student. I was always an anxious child in school. I was painfully shy and couldn’t stand being asked questions aloud in class. The hardest years for me were when my teacher picked on me often. My anxiety would take over and I would repeatedly ask to go to the bathroom, or pretend to be sick. One year I pretended to be sick so much that my parents had to meet with the principal to discuss holding me back a grade. I had missed 33 days that year, each one of those days actively pursuing my mom to let me stay home.

That being said, I grew up. I attended high school where I made friends and felt more comfortable. I moved on to post secondary education where I finally excelled both socially and academically. I worked hard to receive an Honours degree as well as entry into the Bachelor of Education program.

I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher; but why? My memories of elementary school are less than ideal, so why did I make it my goal to go back? I wanted change. I wanted to make my students comfortable. I wanted to be warm, welcoming and friendly. I wanted to change the way a classroom was designed, I wanted to change the way teachers talk to their students. I wanted to change the whole concept of learning.

I went through the normal, traditional schooling method and I turned out just fine, right? I received two degrees as well as honours. I adjusted socially, I have friends and I am married. I still can’t help but think…What if we can make it better? What if rather than “getting by” we could get our students excited about learning? What if they enjoyed coming to school so much that they took charge of their own learning? What if children didn’t have to sit still at their desks all day? What if we increased their outdoor and play time and decreased the structure time? What if teachers became facilitators?

What if it works?

Let’s find out.