Below is the fifth in a series of posts I'm writing from Finland, as part of a trip with a delegation of U.S. education leaders. For a week, we're immersing ourselves in Finland's top-performing education system. (Read parts one, two, and three, and four for more reflections.)
Jyrki Loima, administrative principal and professor at the university, explained the what, why, and how of the preparation of new recruits in his school. In his one-hour talk, he used the words “judgment” and “trust” a total of 38 times—such qualities are the basis of how teacher candidates are selected (in addition to a 100-item test that measures the ability to analyze research articles). Judgment and trust are also the foundation of how preservice teachers are trained and evaluated in tightly sequenced basic, applied, and advanced training programs.
The Teacher Training School prepares 200 “student teachers” a year, which means that, combined with the 102 full teachers, there are 300 adults in a school building that works with only 1,000 children and teenagers—providing rich opportunities for both students and new recruits to the profession. The student teachers take pedagogical courses at Viikki, and record and analyze videos of lessons. A team of school and university faculty assesses the student teachers.
Perhaps most important, the teaching faculty at Viikki engage in a variety of research projects in collaboration with their university colleagues. Together, they study topics such as the effects of multi-language acquisition and the impact of various approaches to teacher education. And the 200 student teachers learn how to conduct research themselves, preparing to assemble evidence, develop and analyze formative assessments, and collaborate with colleagues. “Teachers have to make lots of decisions, and what they decide to do needs to be based on evidence of what works,” Professor Leena Krokfors told us.
And we heard clearly from Pertti Kansanen, Emeritus Professor of Teacher Education, that “all of our graduates can justify their decisions.”
As we dug deeper at our University of Helsinki debrief, we explored the role that teacher education has on Finland’s extraordinary performance on PISA (Program for International Student Assessment). Here is what we talked about:
- Finland selects teachers carefully, based on motivation, personality, and educability (related to the pedagogical skill they will have to master);
- Research methods are part of every course future teachers take (“We research what we teach, and teach what we research”);
- The university faculty conducts research on the effects of their efforts to prepare new teachers (identifying various learning patterns, resources, and challenges of learning and teaching);
- Prospective teachers have more time to learn more deeply about how to teach their subjects differently; and
- Faculty are developing new tools that allow teacher candidates to use new technologies to manage student learning.
And while the teacher education curriculum may look traditional “on paper,” there is a lot to be said for how it’s executed—and for the plans the university and school faculty have for the future. To prepare teachers for tomorrow’s schools, they’re developing modules that will include:
- Koulou 3.0: social media and “exploitation of blogs and wikis”
- Second Life Viikki: virtual worlds and modeling
- Kodu: game programming project
- Sormet, Molla: projects involving tablet computers
- Antivirus: a sick child’s right to education
- Pietari ICE: collaborative project between Finland and St. Petersburg
And the university is proud of its decision to invest heavily in teacher education and future teachers—made visible by recently publishing three articles in its glossy magazine, HUB, focused on “Designing the Future.” As a city, Helsinki is all about design—and the university’s education school is right in the middle of it.