What one District 204 leader learned on summer vacation in Finland
Education What one District 204 leader learned on summer vacation in Finland Updated 8/17/2018 3:03 PM hello
During the summer break from leading 28,000 students in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, Superintendent Karen Sullivan got a taste of the school system in a country known for its strong educational outcomes: Finland.
Sullivan traveled for nearly a week to the northern European nation through the international education tour company Education First. The trip was not sponsored or funded by the district, but the district did allow Sullivan the time for her travels.
She returned with an impression that Finnish education varies from schooling in the suburb s because of cultural factors, teacher qualifications, parental expectations and trust. She plans to share her knowledge during an institute day for staff members in District 204, which serves students from parts of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield.
The Daily Herald sat down with Sullivan on the eve of the new school year to talk about the lessons she learned. Here is an edited version of the conversation.
Q. Why is the education system in Finland so highly regarded?
A. In 2001, when countries first gave the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test, Finland came out No. 1 and shocked everyone. The test is an international survey to evaluate education systems worldwide. Since then, Finland has had this flow of people from all over the world coming to see what they are doing that's so different.
Q. What is so different about education in Finland?
A. Finland has abo ut 5.5 million people. That's less than the Chicago region. Helsinki, where I visited, is its largest city and it has 600,000 people.
So Finland has a national curriculum that is decided by teachers. Politicians stay out of education there. There are big differences in teacher training. You have to have a master's degree before you can teach. New teachers have to learn under a master teacher for a year. It's a highly sought field, a very respected and valued profession.
Between 10 percent and 11 percent of the students who apply get into the field. They closed a number of teacher training programs and put them all at research universities. It's pretty rigorous.
Finland doesn't have the diversity that we do. They don't have the amount of poverty that we have. They have very little difference between their schools, and they fund all their schools equitably; it's not based on property taxes or where you live, it's a national funding amount and everyone gets it.
There's no accountability system in Finland. There is no standardized testing until kids leave high school. They see "accountability" as more rooted in fear. They believe in "responsibility," which they say is more rooted in trust. There's a very high level of trust for teachers.
Q. How can educators here apply what works in Finland?
A. The trust in teachers that parents and administrators have in Finland is something that at a building level and a district level, we can work on. Parents in Finland are not as involved in the school system as they are here in the U.S. They totally trust what's happening.
Culturally, they're also more into independence and autonomy for their students from a very young age. Many of the strategies we can implement are about really authentic learning, putting the joy in learning -- that' ;s when kids learn best. It's about taking breaks; they take frequent breaks, and we know from research to do that. Quality over quantity; they're in school much less time, but their students do better. Some of these are pieces of learning science that we know, but we don't always implement.
Q. What other aspects of Finnish culture did you experience?
A. We had one educator who stayed with us the whole time. The teacher took us to his house for lunch one day, all 32 of us. He smoked salmon in his backyard and fed us lunch. His house certainly looked like exactly what you would picture: Ikea.
Q. You also attended an educational leadership summit in Berlin, Germany. What was that like?
A. This year's theme was the impact of technology on society. We had a student from Neuqua Valley High School, Nilesh Mukherji, who made a video and won a contest to go to the global leadership summit. I didn't know he w as going to be there, but I got a chance to meet him.
The summit was all around the concept of design thinking. Students worked in teams across cultures to choose a problem and work together on a solution. Now I want follow up with Nilesh to see what he thought of the experience.Related Coverage Related Article
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