Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Fulbright Finland: Friends I Made Along the Way! March 17, 2019


I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had to travel to Finland to learn about the education system and culture.  I soaked up as much as possible during my ten days. 

Now that I am back home, reading my notes and reflecting on my trip, I notice a gaping hole in my documentation.  I've left out the impressive Americans who I met on March 7, as strangers, and said goodbye to on March 16 as friends.  We will forever be bonded with shared memories, and Finnish Nightmares, and serve as resources to each other.  I am currently reading a book that Michele Miller (Colorado) recommended, Radical Candor, planning to use Jason Clinkscale's (Michigan) "5 whys" technique, and laughing incessantly about Doug Wehner's (St. Louis, Missouri) reindeer rug impulse buy that he's trying to unload for 30 Euro's, including free sleigh! 

I look forward to being part of a network of support across the USA.  I have a map of the US in my office, similar to the one below, that I look at often.  Now when I look at it, I connect my new friends to their states in my mind. 

Clark Tenney in Arizona, Michelle Miller and Judi Dauman in Colorado, Melissa Jacobs in Houston, Texas, Sharada Deaton in Nashville Tennessee, Doug Wehner in St. Louis, Missouri, Jason Clinkscale and Chris Huff in Michigan, and Mary Anne Butler in Connecticut.  

AND....our bonus cohort partner, Betsy Devlin-Foltz in Washington, DC, from the US Department of State!  She is the brains behind Fulbright!   

 First Night in Finland 

One of the many times we squeezed 11 of us in an elevator at the Hilton in Helsinki. 
 Graduation Ceremony - Fulbright Grant Awards

 "American Nightmares"....waiting for our check for over an hour.  : )  

 Reindeer Rug Impulse Buy
 Laughing - (Reindeer Rugs are funny!) 

 Judi and Doug led the way with free Oat Milk and cookie samples.  YUM!

Principal Shadowing - Johnny Kotro - Kilpinen Comprehensive School - 3-14-19

Jyvaskyla, Finland 
Principal Shadowing - Johnny Kotro 
Kilpinen Comprehensive School - Grades 1-9
(I took notes as best as I could.  I expect there to be some errors in my notes below, please do not quote me on specific information.) 

I was able to shadow a 1st-9th grade Principal, Johnny Kotro, for four hours with my peer from Colorado, Michelle Miller. This was the highlight of my school visits in Finland.  Johnny was welcoming and answered all of our questions.  He showed us around the school and repeatedly invited us for coffee breaks.  The school had a positive energy to it and the staff and students appeared happy and focused.  They all dress casually. 
Kilpinen Comprehensive School has 620 students.  120 students in grades 1-6 and 150 students in each grade, 7-9.

 In order to keep the school building clean, shoes are not worn inside.  Most staff had school shoes to wear inside, most students were in their socks.

The older students had their cell phones out in the hallways and sometimes in the classrooms.  There did not appear to be any rules restricting cell phones. 

There are 42-49 teachers, 11 special needs assistants, and 2 one-on-one aides.

They renovate schools every 30 years.

Students live within 3.5K from their school in primary grades and within 5K of their school in grades 7 and up.

Classroom teachers work with students about 24 hours per week.  There is planning before and after each class, totaling 36 hours per week.  In addition there are 3 hours for general planning and meetings as assigned by the principal.  They have conferences twice a year.  There is a staff meeting once a month.

The teacher's room is an active workspace!  There is also a smaller room for those who wish to work in a quiet space.  There is a massage chair tucked into a small room for teaches to sign up for slots. 

Teachers start at 2,900 Euros per month.  They get a 4% raise at year 5, 8, 10, 15, 20.
If they have a challenging class they can be given more money, but it is very small.

Teachers favorite subject to teach is PE/Health.  It is hard to find Foreign Language teachers.

In a school of 500 students, 5-10 need discipline attention.  They offer support to students when they are not behaving or working appropriately,  instead of consequences.  The harshest consequence given is detention.  Johnny Kotro hasn't used it much, just 2 hours in his career.

Special Education: 
There are only mild SpEdneeds in general education setting.
Healthcare is free for all and provides speech, OT, PT, etc.  This can be given at schools, but is not often done so.  The SpEd teachers speak with the service provides occasionally. 

An 8th grade SpEd teacher I spoke with teachers 24 lessons per week, 13 students are in her case load, and they meet 2 times a year to review learning plans.  She feels that teaching is a good profession, but is underpaid.  This is especially true as work demands increase.  

Three Levels of Support: 
1.  In classroom, general
2.  More intensified support in subjects - extra support
3.  Have objective in every subject.  Chang/modify objectives.  Add school psychologist, do pedagogical analysis, parents are involved.

Parents can't say no to pedagogical evaluation.  They may not agree, but can't make the decision.  They have a talk.  Parents are involved in meetings.

The 3 level system of support used in Finland is similar to the RTI Three Tiered System of Support we use in NJ.  
In this school of 620 student,
There are 23 SpEd students in level 3
There are 84 students in level 2

Guidance counselors and educators developed and refined 3 step system.

They do have some students with ADHD and mild autism.  It appears that any non-mild needs are met at specialized schools that one American inclusion teacher I met said were "lovely," with a slight look of concern since they did not seem to follow the least restrictive environment criteria we follow in the US. 

They use a "3 nearest adult technique."  This includes a teacher/group-leader, guidance counselor, and SpEd teacher.

School day:
1st-3rd grade is dismissed at 1:00 PM.
1st-2nd grade may apply for the after school program, parents pay 80 Euros per month.  There are activities until 5:00PM.
3rd and 4th grade go home, no after school program.
Older students, 4th and up,  are at school until 4:00 PM.

Johnny Kotro has a son in third grade.  He goes home after school, unsupervised.  This is the norm.   His daughter in first grade did not want to attend the after school program and prefers to be with her brother.  There is a neighbor who is at home, nearby. 

All the schools and buildings I visited had proper cafeterias with healthy foods and resusable plates, cutler, glasses, and trays.  They chairs also attach to the tables to allow for easy cleaning of floors and tabletops.

Students have 3-4 hours of math per week.

The law says primary grades must have 60 minute classes, 45 minutes teaching and 15 minute outdoor recess.

They are transitioning from traditional classroom environments with desk in rows to more open spaces with flexible seating.  They also offer some small group instruction spaces.

Johnny Kotro noted that they give:  Autonomy, Capability, and Community.  I asked him what he was most proud of and he quickly shared that Finnish people are too humble to say what they are proud of.  Later he shared that they like that their is such a narrow gap in achievement between the highest and lowest performing students.

He has had 3 parent complaints in his 6 years as principal.

He shared the values of the school:
- Respectful interactions
-Learning Together
- Safety

Principals meet with teachers for one hour each school year to discuss professional development plans.  He has started to offer to observe them as part of this hour block if they like.  They are otherwise not observed.

Student schedules change every 6-10 weeks for grades 7-9.  Primary grade schedule change slightly.

The Finnish culture is very different than US culture.  The culture is rooted in trust and equity.  They are very concise. There is no word for please, it is unnecessary.  The Fulbright Finns I met switch to English when they want to be chatty, since Finnish doesn't lend itself for that.  As part of they culture of mutual respect and equity, they all go by their first names.  Only the president goes by a title.

Art was displayed in all the schools I visited, including this one.

In summary I have learned:  
Many aspects of Finnish education are closely connected to the culture of Finland.

There is...
-Trust at the core of the culture
-a lot of autonomy in Finnish education,
-cooperation, not competition is common
-well being at the core
-recess is a priority and movement a growing value
-teacher independence is valued
-teachers, administrators, and the school system are valued.
-self-evaluating is common
-adults care about having happy children
-helping students who are struggling academically and with behavior is the focus, vs. punishing. They build support around them and use spaces to offer more support in a relaxed environment. 
-they have concerns around globalization (immigration)...they want to do a better job than Sweden has done.
-Education policy is changing/values:
       -physical classroom environments, moving from desks and rows to freedom
       -taking ownership of own learning
-There is a relaxed atmosphere in schools among children, teachers, administrators
-They let children make errors and learn from them.
-They are very in tune with how students are doing emotionally
-They respect privacy and personal space, including when walking and on buses.
From the book, Finnish Nightmares:

Chris Huff made this continuum of transfer-ability.  I think it will be valuable for all of us!