Interview with Esa Kukkasniemi (@Esa_Kukkasniemi), Finnish Educator

This new post is an interview with an excellent educator from Finland, Esa Kukkasniemi, who is a principal at at Vuorenmäen Oppimiskeskus, Kirkkonummi Primary School.  I am very fortunate to have connected with Esa on Twitter and have learned a lot about Finnish education, which is a worldwide model as far as the quality of education is concerned. He and other great educators (among them the enthusiastic teachers  Timo Ilomäki and Rochey who started the chat) have their own chat on Twitter, where teachers from all over the world can post questions on Finnish education every Thursday. You can follow their discussions and find other Finnish educators as well under the hashtag #finnedchat.

Esa has also started teaching me a little bit of Finnish!

Kiitos for this interview, Esa!

1. How did you decide to become an educator?
Both my mother and my father were interior designers in Finland. I was also supposed to be one someday. I even applied for the arts school two times but didn’t get in. At the same time, I also had this idea of becoming an educator. I realized that I actually wanted to work with the people and not with the papers. Then I got into the University of Helsinki, in the Department of Teacher Education. I soon realized that this is what I want to do. I’ve always been interested in everything. It was nice to be able to study a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I always say that primary school teachers know a little about everything but nothing really about anything…
2. What is the most exciting part of your work as a principal?
I’ve been working as a principal for 6 years now. It has been really interesting time in my life. You have to learn new things every single day. Not a day is similar to another. That’s what I enjoy. I used to work for seven years in commercial radios from 1996 to 2004. All of a sudden I found myself talking the same things day after day. Then I quit my job and went back to school. I haven’t regretted that decision. Life’s been good.
I enjoy creating and innovating new approaches for teaching. As a principal I have the opportunity to discuss things with people, learn from others and then put it all together in a new form in my own school. I admire teachers a lot. I respect their professional and personal skills. I see myself as a coach or as a playmaker who tries to make the teachers find their strengths and make them shine!
3. There is a lot of discussion in educational circles about the Finnish educational model. What do you think are the most important points that have led to this success?
Many people from all over the world come to Finland, make notes and find different answers for that question. For sure, there are many reasons for the success of the Finnish educational system. What I think is that much of it lays in the Finnish educational culture: teachers are respected professionals, who all have university level education. All the people in Finland get a free education for 9 years and after that it still doesn’t cost almost at all, even in the universities. One really important issue is that we have quite small economic differences in the income of the people if you compare us to most of the countries in the world. So, the welfare is good. We have strong scientific evidence that where the economical differences between people grow too big, the learning goes down.
We don’t test the teachers at all and we don’t test the pupils much either. We have strong belief in the professionals. We don’t put them to compete with each other. Not even the schools compete. The media sometimes try to make rankings but they are always shot down.
But the most important question for us is not, how did we come here but rather where should we go now? What is our vision after this success? It’s always easier to be a step behind and learn from the best but now we should be the ones who show the way.
4. Do you think that social media and technology can be successfully integrated in education? Does your school use any of these media?
Social media and social networks are part of the world now and school can’t stay out of the development. So, now we have to integrate these tools to our learning.
The social media give a teacher huge possibilities to put the pupils work together, collect the information together and create new knowledge. Then after the process the teacher can still follow the tracks and see the process from the beginning to the end. I have also tried students’ self-evaluation on the net. I gave a group of students 13 points and asked them to share the points. They had to have the discussion of the rules in the learning network and then come to a conclusion. It was amazing how well they could share the points that couldn’t be shared even.
For a teacher, social media give possibilities of creating your own PLN (personal learning network). For me Twitter has been a great tool for that for the last few years. In fact it’s because of Twitter that I’m interviewed on this blog now 😉
5. In your opinion, is it important for educators to further their professional development through social media like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and wikis? Which ones do you use and do you feel you have benefitted from them?
I definitely benefit from social media every day. I don’t use Facebook. I don’t find it very interesting at the moment. I rather use Twitter and blogs for my professional development. Social media also gives me a playground to connect with different educators from all over the Globe.
I used to write a blog for 3 years but now I’m kind of in the middle of schools. I have just been chosen to be a principal of a new school in Finland but I still have to make the evaluation for the other school. So, I decided to have a break of blogging. I’m sure I’ll start blogging soon again.
6. Thank you very much Esa. Is there something you would like to close with?
I thank you, Vicky, for letting me talk on your blog. I just want to encourage educators to trust in what they do. If you respect your pupils and if you really care for their development and their life, you can’t really go wrong. Learning is a life-long journey, discover it all the way!
Thank you so much Esa!
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18 thoughts on “Interview with Esa Kukkasniemi (@Esa_Kukkasniemi), Finnish Educator

  1. Super Interview! Actually, anything you do in life, if done with respect and healthy passion brings only Excellent Results! Thank you for the info, Eugenia

  2. Great interview, Vicky! Insightful replies. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about education in Finland from a passionate educator.
    Hugs from Argentina,
    Marisa

    1. Thanks so much Marisa!

      It was so great talking to Esa on Twitter and sharing ideas, that I thought this would be great in the form of an interview – I am very happy he accepted!

      The Finnish educational system has a lot to admire. So I will definitely be having other super Finns here too!

      Hugs, Vicky

  3. Thank you so much for the feedback! And thanks to Vicky for a great opportunity to share visions internationally.

    My school is still a construction site, but will be finished soon. We’ll start in new great premises in June. Looking forward to that. You’ll soon find my school in the internet too. You’ll also find me on Twitter. I’ll definitely start blogging again soon, so keep in touch!

    Esa

    1. Thank you for your excellent work and kind words, Esa.

      I am sure a lot of people will be checking out your school on the internet and following you on Twitter! And let us know when you start your blog – definitely one on my blogroll!

      Many thanks,
      Vicky

  4. “teachers are respected professionals, who all have university level education” – ξέρεις πόσες φορές το ‘χω πει αυτό σε γονείς και συναδέλφους; Εγώ το λέω, εγώ τ’ ακούω, μου φαίνεται… (Vicky’s translation to Marilia’s comment: Do you know how many times I have said that to parents and colleagues? I think no one pays attention to it here, though…)

    “I definitely benefit from social media every day. I don’t use Facebook. I don’t find it very interesting at the moment. I rather use Twitter and blogs for my professional development. Social media also gives me a playground to connect with different educators from all over the Globe.”
    -Τον εκτίμησα περισσότερο! 🙂 (Marilia says: Now I appreciate Esa even more!)

    Και κρατώ το κλείσιμο της συνέντευξης, με μια βαθιά ανάσα για τη συνέχεια. (Marilia says: And keeping in mind the last part of the interview, taking a deep breath so as to go on.)

    Ευχαριστούμε και τους δυο σας!
    Φιλιά από Ηράκλειο
    (Many thanks to both of you!
    Regards from Heraklion, Crete, Greece)

    1. Hi Marilia!

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Glad you liked it. I was very lucky to have Esa interviewed for the blog and learned many interesting things about Finnish education.

      Hang in there, Marilia and keep on doing the super things you do with your kids!

      (I hope you don’t mind me translating your comment, for Esa to read!)

      Filakia,
      Vicky

  5. Dear Marilia,

    Thank you so much for your support. This is what I meant by “connecting with different educators from all over the Globe.” From Heraklion, uh? That’s really nice. We used to have a partner school from Thessaloniki, Greece a few years ago with the school I used to work at before. Keep up the good work and lat’s stay connected! You’ll find me on Twitter 😉

    Esa

  6. Βίκυ, μπορείς, φυσικά, να μεταφράζεις γιατί τα Αγγλικά μου δεν είναι για να τα εμπιστεύομαι… 🙂 Εντάξει, μπορείς να τους κρύψεις ότι μου ‘κανες μάθημα κάποτε! χιχιχιχι! Διαβάζω και καταλαβαίνω, αλλά δε θέλω να μιλάω και αυτό, μάλλον, είναι πρόβλημα για το συγκεκριμένο μπλογκ. Δυστυχώς δε χρησιμοποιώ το twitter. Μόνο blogs έχω (3…) και θαρρώ είναι αρκετά για την ώρα. (Το ενδεχόμενο συμμετοχής σε συνέδριο με εισήγηση για το skype μάλλον υπάρχει στ’ αλήθεια. Αν σκεφτείς κάτι, θα χαρώ να το δουλέψουμε μαζί!)

    Καλή συνέχεια σε ό,τι κάνετε! 🙂

    1. Eimai sigouri oti mia xara einai ta Agglika sou, alla se katalavainw giati ki egw kanw to idio me ta Germanika – ha ha! Eimaste poly perifanes gia sena kai me o,ti kaneis. Sigkinithika poly me tin e-sinentefksi me to Niko Pilavio kai to evala sto twitter! (Mporeis na valeis Tweet button sto blog sou an den einai kopos, na kanw tweet ola ta posts sou?) Kai mou aresoun toso ta blogs sou…

      Eimai mesa gia sinergasia – pes to kai egine! Tha xarw poly.

      Kai pali euxaristw poly gia ta sxolia pou afineis, eisai foveri!

      Filakia,
      Vicky

  7. Reading about the Finnish School system through your article was a wonderful experience. I honestly didn’t know there was place where education even at the university level was free. It seems like a fairytale. I was also impressed by the idea of trusting our teachers and students to learn instead of relying on tests to prove learning has occurred. It seems like a way to let people grow into what they really want giving them a sense of security that would allow them to choose any path they want without being pressure. Pressure can make or break a person. I also love that Esa uses twitter and other social media and speaks of how we need to keep up with the times.

  8. Thanks Stani! You’ll have to come here and experience the wonderland where dreams really do come true 😉 Universities are free.

    You also talked about the pressure. It’s common in every school system around the world. I just published a new blog post on school rankings on the #Finnedchat – All about Finnish Education -blog. Check it out:

    http://finnedchat.blogspot.com/2011/06/rankings.html

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