Sunday, April 5, 2015

Finland School Experiment

      Some of our charter schools are failing with the schools they have taken over in Tennessee.  Instead of closing the school and allowing the ASD to reopen it with another charter could we try something new?  What would happen if we took one of these schools and created a lab school based on the methods of Finland has developed?  Since the 1960s Finland has revolutionized their schooling to become the best in the world.  When queried about their success one of the Finnish Administrators said, tongue in cheek, that they "look at what America is doing and do the opposite." What might this experimental school look like?

      Lets take one of the schools that is not performing and test the Finnish theory of education.  Staff the school with teachers who have a minimum of masters degree in fields related to education. All teachers in Finland must have a masters in order to teach. I know six teachers with Masters Degrees who have been dismissed in the past two years.  We can pull from the talent that has been lost.   Hire administration capable of servant leadership and write a compact for the school that balances power.  The principal's relationship to teachers should be like a coach striving to encourage teachers instead of seeking to weed them out. The title for this position may be something that helps communicate the levelling of the power construct in this school.

       Immediately hold staff development which builds connections and trust, not seated training but team building exercises.  The Finns hire professionals and then trust them to do their jobs.  Trust is the bedrock upon which Finnish education is built.  In order to build on trust first trust will need to be established.  We can assume the teachers in this school want to self improve. For people who reach Masters Level in this current climate, the desire for self improvement is a fairly safe assumption.  

      Treat every person in the school as if they are valuable and worthy of respect.  All of them are helping to make learning possible including the custodian, office workers, and cafeteria staff. Use positive intervention strategies for student behavior. Plan the schedule so that students have class for 45 minutes to an hour and then a 15 minute break.  The faculty should decide how to transition the students to less direct oversight during breaks.  During these breaks students should be able to go to the bathroom, library, water fountain, hang out in the hall and chat with friends or best of all play.  Managing freedom is a skill set people learn through practice.  These 15 minute breaks are seen as a civil right in Finland and brain breaks are proven best practices.

      The schools I have read about in Finland have a positive, laid back culture.  Language used is positive and affirming. Everyone in the school should agree to use positive language and to avoid labels.  When teachers or students call one anther ugly names even in secret it effects the climate of the school. Communication should be about ideas and concepts instead of people.

       Instead of a monthly faculty meeting there should be a half day professional development for teachers to pool their expertise to work on pedegogical problems.  Envision it as similar to a Reading Recovery meeting.  One or two teachers share lessons they taped and other teachers watch and write notes. Prior to the lesson the teacher comments on the issues she is having so the other teachers can pay careful attention to those areas to make suggestions. After the tape is complete the teachers share something positive they noticed and something they suggest to help the teacher handle the hard to teach student(s) or subjects.  Teachers are not rated or berated during these reviews.  Everyone cooperates to improve one another.  The other two hours can be spent on other topics, students or ideas to help the school function well.  The faculty can decide how to best use this time.

      There should be classes and clubs on social skills/manners and mindfulness to help students lives run smoothly plus a wide range of other clubs for children to join.  A broad curriculum which includes informal, high interest learning is valuable. It also matches the reality of information flood we have today as opposed to the information drought which matched the old school house model. Information is readily available through a smart phone,  We need to teach children how to find and use this vast store of knowledge and to discover their unique areas of giftedness.  We cannot afford to waste a single brain,

        Club's may occur midday to allow a brain break but this would be determined by faculty.  Faculty leadership in school and high interests clubs are part of the Finnish system.  Finland is considering an initiative to put these clubs in the middle of the day.

        In order to match the ages this school should serve an age range from 7 to 11 or from 2nd to 6th grade. The arts, technology, and makers learning should be accessible as well as core courses of reading, writing, and mathematics.  Finland has no school uniforms so the faculty would need to decide how to transition students to this level of freedom when many of them have been wearing uniforms for so long.  Uniforms are worn in fast food restaurants and prisons but not in schools in Finland.

       Everything in this school needs to be geared for the success of students.  Soap should be available for students to wash their hands and the building should be clean and well maintained. No junk food or high fructose corn syrup should be available in the cafeteria.  Filtered water should be accessible for them to drink.  Lessons and breaks are geared for the developmental stage of the child.  If additional services are needed to help student struggling with poverty, mental health issues or learning issues these should be available. 

       Allow the test to run for three years without annual testing or annual teacher reviews. Ten percent of in class work can be maintained for the teachers,administration or others to assess the progress of a student. At the end of the term test the students to measure growth.  If these modifications are enough to produce results above the old scores run it for another 3 years.  When that is successful expand the program to other former charter schools.

What would you add to this plan?  Would you like to see it implemented?  Please leave a note in the comments below and please subscribe to follow

This book shares some first hand perspectives of students who move to join the top secondary schools in the world:

All teachers must have a master's degree before they start teaching.
Compulsory schooling starts at seven with voluntary play-based kindergarten for younger children.
No national testing, inspections or school league tables. The government looks at an 8 to 10 per cent sample of pupils' work to check on performance.
Pupils transfer to either an academic or a vocational school at the age of 16 after nine years of compulsory schooling.
No university fees for home or EU students. Pilot of fees for overseas students from outside the EU.

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