Teach Like Finland, Part 2

While authoring my forthcoming book, I have read many professional books. This is the second in a series of professional book reviews–possible titles for your summer reading. The reviews are in no particular order.

Timothy D. Walker, author of Teach Like Finland, identified six strategies Finnish educators use to approach their work: seek flow, have a thicker skin, collaborate over coffee, welcome the experts, vacate on vacation, and don’t forget the joy. I wrote about the first three last week.

Welcome the Experts
Walker was not comfortable at first with welcoming colleagues or other experts into his classroom. After he visited other classrooms where he saw this modeled, he became a convert. Walker writes: “I found that the more I welcomed experts into my classroom, the more I began to view myself as a resource manager who could design great learning experiences for my class by tapping into talents outside my own” (183).

School librarians have a long tradition of inviting guests into the library. We regularly invite authors, illustrators, scientists, politicians, and local experts of all kinds to share via the library program. (And it’s important to remember that all educators may not be as comfortable with this practice.) The very best of these presentations are directly aligned with classroom curricula and are coplanned and cofacilitated with classroom teachers and specialists.

Two of the most successful expert presentations during my time at Sabino High School were visits by Arizona Daily Star editorial cartoonist David Fitzsimmons and our then Arizona State Representative Marian McClure. In both cases, I worked with the social studies classroom teachers to prepare students for their visits and to follow up afterward. Editorial cartoons became the topic for “questioning” reading comprehension strategy lessons. (See lesson 5-2 in Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact.) In addition to civics information, the connection with Representative McClure provided advocacy for school librarianship at the state legislature.

While school librarians are adept at bringing in outside experts, they may not be as experienced with using the human resources in the library and on campus. School staff and faculty have abundant expertise and talents to share. As school librarians build relationships in the school community, it is incumbent upon them to uncover the lights that are hiding under barrels in their own buildings—lights that could make a difference for students’ enthusiasm for curriculum-based learning as well as their pursuit of independent learning.

In a recent Knowledge Quest blog post titled “Library as Incubator,” Mark Dzula wrote about how he supported the school library paraprofessional aide in sharing her language and culture expertise with students during a weekly lunchtime drop-in Arabic program. Mark wrote: “She was motivated to share her love of the language to help expand students’ worldview and to overcome any social stigma that the students may have encountered in association with Arabic.” A dozen students attended and were very inspired in various ways to pursue more information about Arabic language and culture. With support from the World Language Department, one student is taking an independent study in Arabic with the library assistant next year.

Vacate on Vacation
According to Walker, Finnish teachers “literally” vacating during the summer. Shocking! This practice is in sharp contrast with the summer practices of most U.S. educators. In the summer, most teach summer school, work another job outside of education, or prepare for the next school year. (Some even time their pregnancies so they can give birth in the summer in order to return to the classroom in the fall.) Walker, who feels the “vacate on vacation” strategy is too extreme, says he prefers a hybrid approach. In the summer, he dedicates a “healthy chunk of time for disconnecting and a healthy chunk of time for professional development” (186).

The pace of life for most U.S. educators is intense during the academic year. Relaxing during the summer (and regularly throughout the school year) seems to be the healthiest choice. Making time in the summer for extended periods of reflection can be an excellent use of one’s “free” time. Interspersing professional books with other types of reading (adult novels, YA literature, and school curriculum-oriented reading) is one strategy some school librarians use to find balance. Extending conference attendance to include touring new parts of the country or visiting with friends and relatives is another way to combine professional learning with personal interests.

Some would suggest that regular technology holidays could also improve one’s ability to relax. In his book, Walker offers a summary of a study conducted by the Harvard Business School. The study involved two groups of consulting firm workers. One group worked 50+ hours per week. didn’t take vacation time and was always connected via their electronic devices. The other worked 40 hours per week, took vacations, and coordinated unconnected time with their coworkers so they could be disconnected without worry or guilt. The team that took time off reported higher job satisfaction, better work-life balance, increased learning, improved communication with their team, and were more efficient and productive in their work (187).

By “vacating” the always “on” culture for selected days, weekends, or even months might also prioritize engaging in enriching face-to-face interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. One thought-provoking book to consider on this subject is Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age by Sherry Turkle. She proclaims: “It’s time to put technology in its place and reclaim conversation. That journey begins with a better understanding of what conversation accomplishes and how technology can get in the way” (25).

Don’t Forget the Joy
This adage could be the overarching theme for Teach Like Finland. According to Walker, in 2016, Finnish comprehensive schools implemented the newest core curriculum, “where joy is being practiced as a learning concept” (189). When I read this, my U.S. educator mind sadly went directly to these questions: Is joy measurable? How will it be tested? (Ugh!)

There is a palpable feeling of excitement in a joyful learning environment. I once served as the school librarian in a truly “joyful” preK-5 school. Our school was led by a joyful principal whose most often heard phrase was “what a wonder!” With a positive school climate and a commitment to a culture of collaboration, faculty, staff, and families made our school a joyful place to be—every day of the academic year (and in summer programs, too).

Joy begins inside of each individual and from there can spread out to all members of our learning communities. Walker notes that prioritizing joy may not be easy for many U.S. educators but regardless of where he teaches, Timothy Walker commits to remembering and prioritizing joy. The last line in his book: “How about you?”

Note: This photograph of our seven-month-old puppy Pearl playing with her friend Vicka captures (for me) the pure spirit of joy. (Pearl is the poodle.) Every morning when we awake, she reminds us there is a truly joyful way to greet each day.

Works Cited

Dzula, Mark. “Library as Incubator.” Knowledge Quest Blog. 18 May 2017. http://knowledgequest.aasl.org/library-as-incubator/ Accessed 26 May 2017.

Moreillon, Judi. Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in the Digital Age. New York: Penguin, 2015.

Walker, Timothy D. Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

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