Choice, Voice, and Support

Today we met with the Education Department for the city of Turku.  
During our conversations, I heard interesting phrases like “the curriculum is the law that all teachers obey” and “our top students apply to become teachers”.  So if curriculum is law, and teachers are admired lean, mean pedagogical machines, what does that make students?  Answer?  Incredibly lucky.
Students are given choices, voices, and support.  Every student is given special education, meaning that every student has a specialized plan to help them reach their goals.  Each school must have special education teachers for students with special needs, a psychologist, and a social worker.  When gaps are identified, they are honed in on and worked on until it closes.  The head of Basic Education in Turku, Outi Rinne, explained that Finnish students do well on the PISA not because their top students are the smartest but because their weakest students get the support they need, and as a result, the country as a whole does better than other countries. 

Students are encouraged to have a voice in society by participating in the city and national student parliament in which the city and government set aside money for this student run parliament to use as they see fit for changes they want to make (e.g., curriculum, playground, technology, school lunch, etc.)

Students are given choices in their future very early on as well.  After 9th grade (Basic Education) students will discuss with their families and teachers what path they want to follow.  They can choose vocational school or upper secondary (which, once successfully completed, will allow a student to apply to college).  Both choices are seen as important and beneficial for society and “all students are guaranteed a space in continuing education" for this reason.   When asked about drop-out rates, only 6 out of 1,500 students do not go on to vocational education or upper secondary and most of these were because of medical problems with the student.
Today we had lunch at the Turku Vocational Restaurant called Taito. This restaurant is run by students and gives kids experience and skills as managers, waitresses, hostesses, bussers and chefs.  They also get to practice their English (for us) and social skills.  This restaurant is beautiful, the food was great, and it is open to the public.

If students choose upper secondary school, they choose after 10th grade what they want to study, and which matriculation tests they want to take.  These tests essentially prep them for potential college majors.  Students at this point are free to investigate and take classes that interest them and that play to their strengths. 
How can we fit more choice, voice, and support into our schools? (Since we are already lean mean pedagogical machines.)



I want to know if you have

I want to know if you have heard or can talk and ask about family structure, divorce rate and society values in Finland. The education system depends on the perception of society and I feel that if we understood the root of it, we would definitely have a very positive mindshift.

Family structure

In some of the schools we visited the staff talked freely about the high number of students in their school that came from single parent families or families where drug and alcohol abuse is an issue. However, as a staff and society they felt strongly that is was their duty to support and educate the student so that they can have a good and productive life and not be a "drain on society". The lengths that they go to in order to ensure social, emotional and educational success is second to none from what I have seen. It has left me wondering how Eagle County can shift in this way.

differentiation and the right suppoRts

It sounds like Finland invests in ensuring students get supports as soon as a need is identified. I'm Wondering what about how they are able to do this is the same/different than how our teachers spend hours trying to differentiate. If Finland has larger class sizes at the lower school, how are they able to do this?

Hi, Jill! I didn't see a lot

Hi, Jill! I didn't see a lot of differentiation in the tasks. I saw more one-on-one support for kids to complete the same task. Some kids needed language support, others needed something else, but they all appeared to complete the same task at the same level. While class sizes were bigger in some instances, the student to teacher ratio was smaller as more adults were in the same room.

Would love to know...

...If each school has a PTA/PTO's, why or why not, and what is parent involvement in the educational system like over there. Also, have they welcome refugees and what is the protocol/system in place to have those students/families become part of their society? Thank you and enjoy the rest of the trip!!

Parent involvement

Hi Monica, Parent involvement is not prevalent as the schools are funded fully by the government. Raising extra money seemed to be an American thing. The parents we spoke with were pretty hands off with their child's education as they trust the teachers completely. They also have as a society an expectation for the students to be independent and make good choices both in school and outside of it. It. For instance at six most kids walk themselves to school and at 8 most walk home and stay by themselves for a few hours until their parents get home from work. They are starting to see a growing number of refugees in their schools, and although this is new n the last 5 years, they are doing a great job of supporting them and getting them up to speed academically and socially.

Teacher collaboration

What is the emphasis on data-driven teacher collaboration? Many schools in our district are moving toward PLC models where teacher collaboration is a must and they work together to investigate student achievement and instructional effectiveness. School leaders see the benefit, and when matched peers are working together, they do too--however some feel it's too prescriptive and lacks autonomy. Is this PLC concept and American thing?


Hi Sarah, Continuing education in Finland is free, so may teachers do their learning in a class environment outside of school and not during the school day as a PLC. The concept however is not completely foreign to them, and something they may try in the future as their new curriculum (starting next year) asks that students do more collaboration and project or theme based learning.

VAried Languages?

I would be interested in knowing their students' native languages and which languages are taught in their schools.

For what I've read in their

For what I've read in their blog, it sounds like Finnish and Swedish are taught by law...

Native Languages

It is mandatory in Finland that all kids study Finnish and Swedish. starting in 3rd grade they are required to study English as well until they are 19 years old. Along with that if their "mother tongue" is something different (Arabic, Roma, Russian...)they will bring in a teacher to continue to teach the student that language and culture as well.

Wow. That is really

Wow. That is really impressive....

Would love to learn more

Would love to learn more about parent involvement in the differentiated plans for students. As well as parent involvement in general.

Hi, Sara! They use a system

Hi, Sara! They use a system called WILMA that is an online system for emails and communication between teachers and parents. Teachers talked a lot about putting information in WILMA every day for parents to see and how the information can be positive or negative. The parents we spoke to said they used WILMA to keep track of how their students are doing (it also houses grades) and to keep an eye out for behavior. Other than that, students seemed to have more input on school (lunches, lessons, recess, etc.) than parents did.