Posts tagged "finland"

A Piece of the Puzzle: Belonging & Acceptance

There’s a true sense of belonging with regard to young children when they are placed into small groups, rather than large ones. The difference between a classroom that has 30+ children compared to one with only 10 children is astounding. When kids can have enough time speaking to each other, and to their teacher without being interrupted or being short on time is an ideal situation. A true sense of belonging is discussed so little in traditional curriculums and classrooms. Yet, I feel is the missing link as to why some children score low on testing, develop anxieties at a young age, and begin to develop a deep rejection of schooling all together.

If you think back to your positive memories of your educational career, your hobbies and interests, what comes to mind? Do any of your fond memories include a place where you didn’t feel as though you belonged? Belonging and acceptance are at the heart of positive memories. Whether it was your dance team, your soccer coach or your love for your grade school class, I bet there was a feeling of inclusion. Partnered with a sense of belonging, comes the natural friendships and relationships that develop. If children no longer feel like an island in the middle of a classroom, and have peers who they can trust, then they can work positively in partners or a group setting and get more accomplished. From my experience, kids also learn better from their peers than being taught by a teacher. Again, think about a situation where you didn’t understand particular instructions you were given. What do most people do? Often times, they turn to their friend and ask them to explain. Why? Because it is someone that they trust and someone that is on the same level as them in some way. Whether it’s the first baking class you go to, or just the commonality that you are the only ones that are the same age in the room, you connect in a different way then with a teacher or facilitator. I don’t want to be misunderstood, teachers have a critical role in children’s education as well as day-to-day lives. It is also teachers that encourage and foster the relationships between peers that are so important and vital to children’s growth and development.

I often reflect back on my time in Finland where I spent my days in different classrooms. I observed a Grade 4 Language classroom where there were two teachers and 12 children sitting in a circle. The room was quiet, and calm. The kids took turns speaking to the group as a whole and would often make jokes and laugh with each other. I noticed the complete lack of inattentive children. There was a pure focus throughout the room, and few enough children that it would be difficult for a child to disengage from the activity that they were all participating in. There was an overwhelming sense of belonging that each child was part of this small group. It was then I realized what a difference it can make for a child, as well as a teacher to have smaller class sizes, and what the results would look like in reality.

This is where teacher-to-children ratios come into play. If I am the only teacher to support 30 children, it would be highly difficult to encourage and foster a sense of belonging with all students. There would be little time to discuss children’s feeling, and needs on a daily basis. When I have less than 10 children, the relationship is quite different. Each child will have time to tell a story about their weekend, or something special they did with their family or friends. We have time to both discuss the tasks at hand, as well as issues they have at school or at home. By daily addressing the child as a whole, rather than only having time to discuss particular subject areas, each child can develop a strong sense of community and acceptance. There are endless benefits to having fewer children in a classroom, which is why we believe in having low ratios. We understand and put emphasis on the importance of facilitating and assisting each child during every task. At Discovery, we believe in holding a ratio of less than 10 children to one facilitator for these very reasons. Social skills, confidence and mindfulness are equally as important as learning math, literacy and science, and are all pieces of the bigger puzzle.

A Quiet Surprise: The Finnish Education System

I recently attended an education conference in Finland where I had the opportunity to observe five different schools, interact with students, and talk to teachers and principals. Finland has been the envy to other education systems, who fawn over the success of both their students success as well as student happiness. My first day in Finland, I was expecting to witness drastic differences in teaching, learning and the overall setup of a school. However, much to my surprise, I found Finland’s schools to look quite similar to Canadian schools. Walking in and out of classrooms, the lessons looked the same from a distance, but I noticed a lack of defiance on the student behalf. I noticed that with teachers taking their time within their lessons, students did not rush from one subject to another. They quietly took their time and seemed to thoroughly enjoy each and every one of their lessons.

Finland took me by surprise entirely. I was expecting to have to dig deep and drill teachers with specific questions regarding standardized testing, performance results, report cards, and assessment strategies. I wanted to memorize their curriculum and understand what each lesson meant, but rather than questioning anyone, I found it the most beneficial to quietly observe the lessons being taught, watching the teacher’s interactions with students and vice versa. What I found to be vastly different from our Canadian education system was a major cultural difference, which was breathtaking to observe in the Finnish education system. To put my observations simply, I found that Finnish people as a whole trust their teachers, and with trust comes high expectations. Teachers in Finland have willingly risen to the challenge because…

  • Teachers are empowered and highly motivated.
  • Teachers make their own curriculum and work collaboratively with each other.
  • Teacher’s are given options and choice over rigid structure.
  • Teacher’s are encouraged to teach in whatever manner they excel in. For example, if a math teacher also enjoyed music, the teacher would be encouraged to make songs about math to help their students learn.

What happens when teachers are trusted and valued? From top to bottom, it effects the whole education system, and the students are equally as valued. Teachers are appreciated and take pride in their work, which is the overall wellbeing of each and every one of their students. Teachers are offered the time to get to know their students, which leads to…

  • Students opinions are valued, and have a direct impact within their environment. ~ Students are also offered choice and options over rigid structure and enjoy their autonomy.
  • Students are involved in decision making and have a voice
  • Students are encouraged and are intrinsically motivated

Watching a specific lesson in a grade four class, a group of five boys asked to work in the hallway. In this particular hallway, there is table hockey set up. Before I could even consciously predict what would happen, I just assumed they would become distracted from their work and begin to play table hockey. Much to my surprise yet again, the students were too involved in their project to be distracted. I made my way over to the students and very blatantly asked why they wouldn’t want to play in the hallway. They informed me that this particular project was their idea, and they were excited to execute their ideas collaboratively.

Finnish teachers are valued and empowered, leading naturally to the students feeling equally as valued and empowered. It is such a simple and honest idea, that makes a large difference to a child.

Finland, in the quietest voice, you have surprised me.

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!