There have been many, many visitors to Finnish schools in the past few years from all over the world. I imagine some people are curious like I am and I imagine that some people are desperate to find the panacea to fix their systems back home. Some schools around the country cater to international visitors resulting in students and teachers being aloof to a gaggle of educators watching them. And most schools might not have specific programming, staff members, and fees associated with international visitors, but offer a warm, encouraging welcome when asked.
Monday's visit was to a school in Espoo that sees quite a bit of international foot traffic. In fact, I joined a group of 50 or so teachers from Tartu, Estonia who were entirely lovely and enthusiastic. The day was structured and precise, cuing us into what this school does well. It was an inspiring view, kindling that feeling of wonder/envy/ excitement that I can only express as, "I want to teach here!" It's a feeling I've felt in a couple of schools here, for different reasons. In this case, I can't lie, I'm attracted to the gorgeous school facilities. The building is gorgeous and designed with the values and ambitions of the school in mind. I know that the walls of a building are not the heart of a school, that amazing things can happen in the most unextraordinary of places and underwhelming learning can occur in palatial settings. Coupling a solid educational experience with creative teachers, visionary school leaders, and a wonderful environment - and money, I really can't leave that out of the equation; I want to, but I can't - well, you've got a very special place.
The National Curriculum will be evident in any school you visit or attend in Finland. Each of the municipalities might add to the curriculum to enhance and localize the educational experiences for children. Then the schools interpret the national curriculum and municipal enhancements through their school-based lens that might be a specific focus, theme, or set of values. The teacher then has an incredible amount of autonomy of how to teach the curriculum. I'm gleaning that, in most schools, teachers have very few mandates; i.e. teachers aren't going to be told to take on a particular project or forced to collaborate with other teachers. Collaboration can be encouraged and it can flourish among mutually engaged persons.
This school hires for teachers who can and will work collaboratively and for teachers who embrace a transparent, fluid way of teaching and learning. The school employs windows and open doors to illustrate that learning does not only belong in the classroom and is not only delivered by a teacher. Take a look...
But, I need to tell you this...on most days, as a teacher in the US, in NM, in Albuquerque, at the sweet little school I've taught at the past 7.5 years, I am inspired. I see the essence of what I saw in this state-of-the-art school -- skilled, creative teachers; flexibility and innovation; dedication to engaging children; moving children into the world and the world into the classroom; and community. I saw these traits in schools I visited and through teachers I met in Bogotá and Cartegena, Colombia.
You don't need a beautiful building (although, it certainly wouldn't hurt) to have beautiful learning. I think I loved visiting this school -- and visiting most schools, really - because I see the places I love and the places where I teach mirrored in the classrooms and halls and playgrounds in these dear, sweet schools in Finland.