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!