Finnish schools: Not an island

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“Of course you can observe a lesson.”, the Finnish teacher said, “I have a lovely class, and we have a student teaching them at the moment, that would be interesting for you. I think he is teaching Maths now, let’s go and have a look.”

We sat at the back and watched the lesson. The student confidently explained to the class of seven year olds how to approach a three digit column subtraction, demonstrating what to do on the board. He asked them questions, with a long wait time to make sure they had all engaged with them before answering. At one point the class teacher joined in and, unfazed, he took her lead and team taught with her.  He then set the class off working through problems individually, and then moved around the class coaching them with problems.

Once he was sure they were on track he came to talk to me and the three other adults who had dropped in to observe his lesson unannounced. I asked him about his studies, and he told me he was studying for a degree, not in teaching, but in leisure and sports management. This was a part of his course.

In Finland myself and my students saw a whole range of people in schools, contributing to the education of the children in their community. Students, sports coaches, parents and many others were all getting involved in schools. Likewise, the school was providing them with facilities, not just opportunities for teaching but also the use of well equipped sports halls.

I know that many UK schools do involve similar groups in the experiences they provide, and some see it in exactly the same way as this. However, there was something different about the mindset that drove this in Finland than I have seen in many UK schools and experienced myself as a teacher. I got a sense that schools were seen as less of an island, and as a space that constantly interacted with the community. These interactions were not conceptualised as one off projects, or opportunities to make school learning authentic, but just a normal and obvious part of the way schools work.

I’m not aiming to sell some rose-tinted vision of what education is like in Finland, over on my live blog I have tried to report what I actually saw with little comment and I have more reflections to write. However, this was one strong attitude that I felt was qualitatively different to how we often see things in the UK. The community supports the school, and the school supports the community.

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