Thursday, July 19, 2012

Initial Impressions of the Finland Phenomenon

Robert Compton's documentary about the school system in Finland was originally released in late March of 2011. I had not had the chance to see it until yesterday when Dr. Eric Conti, our superintendent, posted the film on the district web site in four parts. (The link is to the first part, just click on Next at the bottom of each page to get to parts 2-4).

The documentary is well worth watching. It demonstrated what is possible in an education system that is based on trust. Embedded in that culture of trust is the respect that is accorded by its citizens to the profession of teacher in Finland. Teaching is a desirable profession and many of the top students in their universities choose to teach. There is little in the way of testing or homework in Finland. The teachers are rarely observed by their administrators. Yet they are ranked as the top education system in the world.. Standards are rigorous but teachers are trusted to do their job and teach and students are trusted to do their job and learn. It was evident in the documentary how relaxed the students were, both in and out of school. But the classroom environment was not one of disarray at all. It was one of mutual respect between teacher and student, collaboration between students and between teachers, and the task of learning was paramount in all that they did. Active engagement of students was the norm and much of their learning was project based and cross curricular, (especially in the elementary and middle school level).

The approach in Finland is in stark contrast to the path our country is currently on. The new Common Core standards have been presented as comprehensive and rigorous. As opposed to the positive feedback loop that Finland has developed with their culture of trust, our series of numerous and lengthy state mandated high stakes tests which supposedly assess what a student has learned and through the magic of growth scores also what their teacher has taught them is clearly a culture of distrust which breeds competition, (Race to the Top?), rather than collaboration.

There is definitely a much better way to go in public education than the path the United States is currently on. The Finland Phenomenon documentary showed one of those much better examples very well.

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