Interview with Aki Puustinen, Finnish Educator and Principal

It is a great honour for me to host an interview with Aki Puustinen, Finnish educator and principal at Muurame Upper Secondary School in Muurame, Finland.

Aki is also CEO of Team Company, a company he runs with fellow Finnish educator Timo Ilomaki.

You can read Aki’s blog at http://apuustin-leadership.blogspot.com/ .

Kiitos for this great and informative interview, Aki!

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Number Fifteen – Be A Guide – The 30 Goals Challenge

After a great online conference, RSCON3, time to get back to the 30 Goals Challenge!

Guide them and they will find their way! (Image taken by Carol Goodey, @cgoodey, from http://www.flickr.com/eltpics)

Being a guide in your classroom and your school is very important. It should be part of a teacher’s make-up and being to be a guide towards the students and towards other teachers in their school.

A Guide to the Students

  • A lot of the top educational systems in the world are exactly at the top because they allow students and show them the way to researching on their own. No ready answers from educators, no pressure – the teachers present the subject matter and let the kids explore and find the answers on their own. And that is why we are there for them. To facilitate their learning – not in giving them ready-made answers, but showing them their potentials, that on their own and through searching and looking and researching they can find the answer and their way to knowledge. Each student in their own way. In my classes, the best lessons come when I am listening to the kids speak to one another and debate and explain – I am only there and intervene to give them encouragement and praise and lead them perhaps to something else, when I see that they want more to learn.

A Guide to Teachers

  • There is nothing better than a school full of teachers who have a great relationship among them, communicate and always know they will be there for each other. A bit difficult to happen throughout the whole school, but at least it can happen for a number of teachers in a specific school – and then, who knows? The others might join them as well!
  • Let your teachers know you are always there for them, be it for school-related things or personal things, if you can help them of course. There is nothing better for them to know they can depend on you and come to you without hesitation, whatever your role in the school.
  • Guide them to new things: social networks like Twitter, Facebook and now Google+ and so on and let them know how they have helped you with your professional development. Let them know about conferences and workshops – I let them know I am going and sometimes they join, because they feel better when they are with someone else. Once we are there, they open up and meet other educators as well (and see what good stuff they are missing when they do not come!).

Be a guide for both students and other teachers – someone else has guided you and is guiding you too – everyone is a link to a great chain!

Number Fourteen – Build An Ideal Classroom Culture – The 30 Goals Challenge

An ideal classroom culture is achieved when everyone enjoys being there! (Picture from http://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics, taken by Adam Simpson, @yearinthelifeof)

The fourteenth goal is, in my opinion, a very strong foundation for the rest of the goals to materialise. An ideal classroom culture has been successfully created when:

– Students feel comfortable in their classroom and view it as a place where they love to learn.

– Educators and students co-operate and see each other as members of a great learning team.

– Parents and caregivers are welcome to come in and visit at times, in order to enjoy the great learning atmosphere.

– There is mutual respect and everyone is valued.

– Students do not leave immediately when the lesson is over, but enjoy staying at school and working on their school material or helping each other. (Sometimes they even stay after school to help the teacher tidy up the classroom, which is very nice and reflects the atmosphere of helping and co-operation!)

– Educators feel comfortable in their classrooms, love what is happening there, that they even go there on weekends or stay longer after school (as long as they don’t overdo it!).

Number Thirteen – Help Them Reflect On Their Failures – The 30 Goals Challenge

Maths... (Image taken from atc.co.uk)

Maths was one of those subjects that I was not particularly fond of, but didn’t dislike either. Perhaps I favoured Geometry much more and Algebra less. I was pretty good at it. Or so I thought.

I was a freshman in high school and had a new maths teacher who was constantly challenging us with interesting stuff and I liked that. Until we had our first major test and…I did not do well at all. I was a bit disappointed when I got my paper back but thought that next time I should try a bit harder and check where my weaknesses were. What totally shot me down was my teacher’s comment after class. “Well”, he said, “you saw your test result. We are not all mathematical geniuses and you are well…more of a language person and I don’t think you’ll ever be good at maths, like some other kids. That’s life.”

With this short comment, this person completely shot down my interest in the subject and more importantly, my self-esteem. He did not even sit with me for one minute to explain where I had not done well, what could have been the cause and so on. His comment just translated for me that no matter how hard I tried, I was going to achieve nothing.

Of course after I graduated and became a teacher, some of my students had this same teacher who did it to some of them as well. It made me wonder: this person was working in schools, with kids who had dreams, thinking he was teaching (well he may have given them his knowledge daily in class), but was he missing the point or what: kids are going to fail for some reason or another. Perhaps they do not study as much. Perhaps it was a bad day – they might be students whose stress takes over them and who can perform well in those circumstances? Maybe they have a learning disability which hinders them from performing as well as they would like to and with some help could do wonders.

We can help kids reflect on their failures - by motivating them constantly, they will try to do better next time and always learn! (Image from commercialappeal.com)

What students need is constant encouragement and motivation. Does a failure define them as personalities or the rest of their lives? We should see it as an opportunity to teach them much more than the subject itself.

I have written about this before in a post on Goal Number Two. There you can read about one of my students I had in Greece who is really brave and faced his failure by trying even harder, even though he was disappointed at first.

I am positive and confident there are a lot of educators who constantly encourage their students and help them overcome failures. Congratulations to all of you and keep up the excellent work!

Number Twelve – Engage Parents – The 30 Goals Challenge

Engage the parents! (Image taken from http://leader.fhsu.edu/)

On to the twelfth goal of the 30 Goals Challenge.

When teaching young learners or teenagers, it is essential that the parents or caregivers be engaged in their kids’ learning process. This way they can see how their children are doing and what they are doing with the teacher.

I am sure you remember, either from yourself or from movies, when you arrive home after school and the first question mom asks is “What did you do in school today?” Well, moms (or dads or caregivers) can now become so engaged in their children’s education – they are even able to know what happens daily in school.

* There are more opportunities now for open days or open lessons. There are no longer teacher-parent meetings once a year – I hear from other educators that their schools actively involve the parents, by allowing them to sit in on more lessons, or even take part in organising parties, events and book fairs. This way, the parents feel closer to the school and a sense of a small community is born.

* School and class blogs and wikis. It is great to see more and more blogs and wikis popping up every day one the internet. Some classes choose to share projects written by the children, or the teachers update the parents what is being studied in class. That can give parents the motivation to extend children’s learning outside the classroom – if for instance they are studying dinosaurs, the parents can buy or borrow books on this subject, organise a trip to a museum (if the school has not already done it) or make crafts with the kids at home and make their own dinosaur.

* Lots of parents ask to help out in various activities. Educators should be very happy when this happens, as the parents feel closer to their children’s class – that is where their willingness comes from and is a very good sign. It can also save educators time and the kids are also happy to see their parents at school, helping out! Parents can read books to their children’s class, or describe a particular experience, anything at all.

I would be very interested in hearing how parents are engaged in countries around the world. Feel free to add any new ideas to the comments – and thank you in advance!

  • You can also read Shelly Terrell’s post and watch her video on Goal Number 12.

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!

Number Seven – Play and Have Fun! – The 30 Goals Challenge

Let’s play!

Kids just love playing, wherever they are. Why not use it to facilitate their learning?

There are loads of educational toys and games on the market, but even simple things can help them learn. There are some educators who are hesitant to incorporate play into their daily lessons, as they may think it is not really learning or may be wary of the parents’ or caregivers’ reactions – playing? In class? We pay you to teach them, not play with them!

Play and have loads of fun! (Image taken from http://www.leportschools.com)

Well, for starters you can inform the parents and caregivers of what you are doing and invite them into one of your classes so they can see how much the children are learning, without even knowing sometimes. I have tried that out and have had positive responses. (Try to include and inform the parents of everything you do in class.)

In addition, play can help unlock some of the children who may be a bit shy. Help them join in, or take on a persona behind which they can become braver and open up: have them play with puppets or dress up with different kinds of clothes and put on an improvised show. You will see how much more they will be talking, as they feel it is not them who is directly speaking, but the character! I tried it once with a super-shy little boy, who would sit there, take part in the games and fun but never speak, either to me or the other children. He would simply smile and that is the only way I knew he liked the lessons, but I wanted to hear him and see how much he had absorbed. Now he is one of the bravest in class and even comes to our lessons with new ideas we can try out!

Even adult students like a bit of fun every now and then. They like learning through card games, or role-playing (where they can bring out their humorous selves as well!). That is a bit of playing too!

Indoors, outdoors, with cards, toys, games, without anything – just using your bodies – play and have fun!