Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker

4. Mastery

  • Teach the Essentials: Activities like extended projects can allow many essentials to be given short shrift. Finish teachers focus on the essentials in the curriculum, but they still manage to include student-centered practices. Presentations from classroom visitors can be interesting, but they are not essential.
  • Mine the Textbook: Commercial texts with scripted lessons are common in the US and can demotivate teachers. In Finland, they have such material as well and teachers are likely to make wise use of it. This doesn’t mean using it as the only source of activities. Any of these products will likely have some good lessons and some that are bland and not developmentally appropriate. The trick is to mine the commercial material for the good stuff and use your own creativity when necessary.
  • Leverage the Tech: Tim was surprised to find that Finnish schools have less access to technology and tech integration specialists than many American schools. There was no push by administrators to integrate technology, but teachers did use it when they felt it enhanced learning. One tool they all seem to use is the document camera. Studies do show that students who use technology moderately do better than those who use is seldom and those who use it a lot.
  • Bring in the Music: In Finland, it’s common for students to have the same number of math and music lessons. Research has found that musical training can alter the nervous system to create a better learner. Meanwhile, in the US, many schools have cut back on the arts and some students have no music instruction. Tim suggests that no matter what you teach that you can look for ways to incorporate music. It would be easy to analyze song lyrics as part of an ELA class. Music notation is very math-oriented. Songs can be used to help remember import facts or concepts.
  • Coach More: All people learn more by doing than by sitting and listening. Therefore it should be the teacher’s goal to have the students spend most of their time doing. This puts ownership of the learning process squarely on the shoulders of the learners. As students work independently or in groups, the teacher circulates and gives constructive feedback as a coach would do during practice or a game. It is important to know what would be evidence of success. To this end, it is key to give students exemplars of a variety of qualities.
  • Prove the Learning: The idea here is to make the students “prove” their learning by answering open-ended questions. Questions often have real-world context featuring topics like evolution, losing a job, politics, war, ethics in sports, junk food, sex, and drugs. Tim gives examples from his tests. Even though Finland is known for not giving standardized tests, Finnish teachers do give summative tests and engage in lots of formative testing.
  • Discuss the Grades: In Finland, teachers generally meet with students to tell them their grade and to have students reflect on their learning. One teacher asked the students to suggest what they think are grades they deserve. In most cases, the students come up with the same grade the teacher had in mind. The grade conferences are something that Tim has ever seen in the US. (Doug: When I taught leadership for teachers seeking administrative degrees I required that all students grade themselves and defend their grade. It was rare that I disagreed.)

5. Mindset

  • Seek Flow: The mental state of flow involves being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost. This can enhance your skills and performance as you experience positive emotions. You also set a good example for your students in the process. Be concerned about doing your best work rather than being superior. This has lead to more collaboration and less competition in Finland, which tends to be the opposite of what we see in the US.
  • Have a Thicker Skin: The idea is to realize that you will face situations with students, parents, and colleagues where you will be directly challenged. When it happens remind yourself that you are a professional and act accordingly. Tim has a journal where he records his anxieties and the reality associated with each. This also helps him plan how to deal with each situation. Sometimes the feedback will cause you to change. Other times you will not accommodate.
  • Collaborate Over Coffee: In Finland, there is a structure that fosters rich collaboration. Finnish teachers see collaboration as a necessity. This requires that one develops a mindset that they are truly a better teacher when they work in concert with others. Leaders in the US need to foster this mindset and do what they can to facilitate collaboration.
  • Welcome the Experts: It’s common in Finland for teachers to visit each other’s classrooms. A visiting teacher can usually bring in some expertise that the classroom teacher lacks. They will also swap classes on occasion for the same purpose. Once you are comfortable bring in other teachers’ rooms you can extend invites to experts from the community or around the world via communications technology.
  • Vacate on Vacation: Finnish teachers are more likely to take full advantage of their time off to step away from work and relax and recharge with their family. Studies show that people who take full vacation time outperform those who don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend some time reflecting on your work while on vacation, but take time to get away from it. If you can, turn off email and social media.
  • Don’t Forget Joy: People who prioritize happiness and joy perform better. In Finland, the curriculum features joy as a learning concept. Their happiness curriculum features mindfulness, interpersonal relationships, and self-awareness. Even on difficult days, you should still look for joy in your work. This will help keep you going and committed. Thanks, Tim for these valuable tips.

Timothy D. Walker

  • Tim is an American teacher living in Finland. He has written extensively about his experiences for Education Week Teacher, Educational Leadership, and on his blog, Taught by Finland. He is also a contributing writer on education issues for The Atlantic. Follow him on Twitter @timdwalk and email him at tim@taughtbyfinland.com.
Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter Share this page via Google Plus
DrDougGreen.com     If you like the summary, buy the book
Pages: 1 2 3

Leave a Reply