The current educational buzz surrounds the success in Finland. Jaana Palojarvi, Director for International Relations of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture credits a “culture of trust in education professionals” as being a key component.
In this environment schools are autonomous. Community stakeholders are involved in collaboration. Assessment is school based. There are no school districts.
The government’s responsibility is to insure that schools and teachers have enough resources and technical skill to complete their mission and to insure a balance between diversity and public standard.
In this model, schools and teachers have enough skills and freedom to innovate. The focus is on teaching and learning not testing.
Dr. David Hogan, of Singapore’s National Institute of Education concurs suggesting that any improvement model must be “neither too tight or too loose.” That of course is a challenge but the basic design principles are quite similar.
A systemic improvement plan needs to:
1. Balance strategic top down movement with bottom up flexibility that provides room for innovation,
2. Reconcile relevance and rigor within the context of stakeholder partnerships,
3. Provide a consistent, sustained, task oriented focus on improving instruction,
4. Focus on capacity building, distributed leadership and high quality professional development,
5. Have a tolerance for failure as a matter of principle and
6. Tolerate downstream implementation.
In order to implement whatever model is designed, Dr. Kevin Knight, Director of School Improvement Services for the New Zealand Graduate School of Education insists that teacher preparation is key.
It must begin with defining of the job. It is difficult to focus on outcomes when there are constantly changing and conflicting expectations.
Second, identify what a teacher should be doing. That includes timing of minute skills including management, workflow, collaboration, classroom management, presentation techniques, facilitation of collaboration, structuring inquiry, and developing relationships with students.
Less time needs to be devoted to lesson plans and more to the art and skill of delivering those plans. This is best provided in a non-judgmental system of teachers helping teachers.
Finally, recognize that teacher training is a specialty best practiced and learned in the practical classroom and not in the university laboratory.
According to Andrew Blair, President of the International Confederation of Principals our current crisis of confidence is exacerbated by the fact that schools are given additional responsibilities of dealing with parenting, family dysfunction, basic care, health and student well-being.
Furthermore the process of teaching and learning is eroded by the proliferation of high stakes testing and “perverse incentives” that serve to narrow curriculum.
The general consensus is that “teachers have lost their long term vision and lost touch with their goals.” Mr. Blair reiterates that educators have forgotten how to deal with the “What could be in education because they are mired in the “What is.”