You Know What They Say About Assumptions

As our trip comes to an end, Kelly and I have been left to reflect on the assumptions we held prior to our visit to Finland. It’s not an exhaustive list, but here’s what we now know for sure:
We used to think that everyone in Finland was blonde with blue eyes, but then we saw Somali refugees walking to English, Kurds in Math, Arabs at lunch, and Romas hanging in the halls. While it’s not the norm in Finland, it was clear that the face of Finland is changing.

We used to think that Finns didn’t test their students, but then we saw kids obsessing over the matriculation exams, cramming for national math assessments, and studying for unit exams that are typically given twice a semester with formative assessments sprinkled throughout. While they aren’t the high-stakes tests in the US, the students certainly felt something was at stake and looked forward to how they were measuring up.

We used to think that Santa was from the North Pole, but then we heard he actually lives in Finland. Sh**, we’ve been sending letters to the wrong address all this time.

We used to think that Finland’s class sizes must be small, but then we saw classes in a variety of sizes. One class we visited had 40 students!

We used to think that the Finns were rolling in technology (Nokia, right?!), but then we saw that most schools had 3:1 technology, the chalkboard is alive and well, and most projectors didn’t have screens let along a Smartboard.

We used to think that children played outside in a lush, Nordic fairyland for recess and rode reindeers to school, but then we saw this:

We used to think (thanks to the media) that Finland was getting rid of “subjects” and teaching by topic instead, but then we saw that they are just becoming more integrated and collaborative with planning so that learning is not done in the isolation of one content area. Finland revises their curriculum every four years and this “new curriculum” is just another iteration.

We used to think that Finnish teachers might be arrogant (after all, they have a lot to brag about and a touchdown celebration wouldn’t be totally out of line), but what we saw were educators who were just as eager to learn from us as we were to learn from them. We heard a principal thank us profusely and another one ask us to come back and help them coach their teachers.

We used to think that Finns pumped more money into education than we did, but what we saw was just a different allocation of funding. We saw buildings that were in need of some serious repairs, no school busses, and one choice for school lunch (city-wide). These cost savings resulted in more educators in the classroom to offer students support.

Your turn: What assumptions might you have about Finnish schools?