From the Finnish View: Review Part 2

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Teachers and Leadership

In part 1 of the review, I ended with a quote on how Finnish teachers perceive their careers as professional with obligations and responsibility. This does not mean teachers or the general population of say – the United States would claim the opposite for American teachers. Actually, I imagine many people arguing otherwise. For which I am glad. However, teachers are often lauded or demonized in rapid succession by media, parents, governments, and politicians for being great or failing miserably.

But I’ll get into to that in another post. Right now we are looking at how Finland’s teachers act as leaders. Here’s what the article had to say:

No Buzzword

In Finland ‘Teacher Leadership’ in not a common buzzword. It’s probably not going to saturate the media or academic articles as the new ‘cure-all’ to the ongoing and new problems in education. Sahlberg reasons this is due to Finns attributing leadership to the profession because it is the nature of professions.


 Teamwork is a key part of the Finnish teaching profession. Greenhorn and veteran alike must work as team players so all students and staff learn and grow.Teachers implement and evaluate what and how they teach, but that cannot be done alone. Curriculum working groups help teachers address concerns, develop solutions and activities, and discuss individual student support.

*as a side note: There is little ‘power teaching’ in Finland. Student-Teacher relationships are relaxed and informal. There is little to no stopwatch drilling of core knowledge (I’m looking at you Japan). Teamwork helps teachers to find ways for student-engaged learning to take place.

Work Load

But let us get down to some cold hard facts. The teacher workload is lighter in Finland compared to the USA and Japan (especially Japan). In Finland:

Elementary school teachers teach 4-5 45 min classes per day

Junior High School teachers teach 5-6 45 min classes per day

-and both of these have 15 min breaks between classes every day!

(points to Japan for giving teachers 10-15 minutes breaks between classes – but points deducted for making teachers regularly stay well past 6 pm with few days off even during holidays)

Teacher Education

 One thing that makes Finland’s education system famous is how they select and train new teachers. Finland has created a system where teacher training programs pick from the top 1o percent of high school graduates. Every year only 700 spots are open for primary school teacher education programs. Students earn a rigorous graduate degree (5 years) that is on par with doctors, lawyers, architects, and engineers. It is an academic graduate degree based on research .

Teacher education has equal department status with regular reviews and evaluations, and all university are equipped with clinical training schools (like university hospitals). Finnish teachers-in-training spend more time gaining in-depth knowledge of child development, pedagogical content, creating curriculum, assessment, school improvement, and leadership. To top it off when teachers graduate they have the autonomy to use what they have practiced and studied.

Sahlberg notes that a North Carolina study found that teacher credential had little effect on student achievement. He is quick to counter with the fundamental difference in teacher education (all of the above). Finland has no alternative routes into the teaching profession (i.e. online programs, Teach for America (USA), Teach First (UK), etc.). So there is a higher and unified quality control. Sahlberg says it simply,

It is difficult to become a teacher [in Finland] without a high level of general knowledge, good social skills, and a clear moral purpose.

Teacher credentialing isn’t all there is to student achievement but when it is done with a unified and controlled purpose through a system that recruits the best talent and whose goal is to challenge, engage, and prepare not only teachers but researchers who are instilled with a sense of leadership and responsibility to their students and profession it is impossible to dismiss its effect on the entire education system.

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