Who do you work for?

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by kian esquire


I have been reading about Finland. I know, who hasn’t? I have had some conversations with my principal about Finland, had some conversations with people on Twitter about Finland. There’s lots to get behind when you read about their reform, and a lot of what they have done/are doing is inspiring. But a funny thing happened every time I read an article or a blog post, or talked with someone either online or face to face about Finland. I always felt a real negativity about it happening here.

Why? I am a pretty positive person, and I am always excited about the idea of being part of change in our school system. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about school movement within our division. We were talking about how long we would each be in the school we are currently working in. I told him that I didn’t expect to be at this school very long, regardless of the fact I think it is the best school I have ever worked in. He was quite surprised, and I told him that I was sure an opportunity would present itself where a school might benefit from my help, and I would jump at the chance at a new challenge. He was puzzled, and his opinion on changing schools stuck with me, because I think it is fairly prevalent. To many, the idea of changing schools goes against many things they hold dear – comfort, security, loyalty and routine. To many, they work for their school, but to me, I work for my school division. If my school division needs me somewhere else, doing something different, I’m in.

This got me thinking about school reform where I live. So many projects are taken on by a school, many more are taken on by a division, and finally we see reform at the provincial level. Where I see the difference between what we do and what happened in Finland was that they addressed education reform by looking at what would be best for the COUNTRY.

We don’t do this. We always seem to be competing. Competing province against province (From what I hear, state against state too South of the border) to have the best system. Division against division to be the leaders in some area, or to have the highest testing marks (BLEH!). Even school against school to be the “Best school in the division”. Yes, I am aware of how the governance of education works. Provinces handle education, school divisions report to provinces, schools report to school divisions. I am aware of this hierarchical system, but it is this system that I think stands in the way of us really making the type of change we are all ready for.

Pasi Sahlberg, an international education researcher and former member of Finland’s Ministry of Education, said this recently in his blog

Believe it or not, schooling in many countries is becoming like a market commodity. This trend is based on the assumption that competition and information are the primary drivers of improvement. The logic is very simple; competition is the driving force behind efficiency and economic growth, therefore competition between schools and students must be the best way of improving student performance, the corporate school reformers think.”

So my question to you is, who do you work for? Do you work for your school? Your division? Your province/state? Your country? I think you all know that we work for kids. We want what is best for kids, kids everywhere. If we are going to improve the system, I think it is important we keep that in mind. There is no need for competition when it comes to learning, everyone can win. If we are going to make change, the power will come from a collective push to do what is right for our students. Achievement tests, reports from the Fraser Institute (BLEH again!), school division rankings all serve to take away this power from us. How we ever let competition into this arena I don’t know, but its time for it to go.


4 thoughts on “Who do you work for?

  1. Very interesting post Jesse. I am also envious of what Finland has achieved. They seem very interested in educating their society to think, wonder and create. Here in Alberta we certainly say that we want to create thinkers but reform is moving slower. During my time at the American International School in Saudi Arabia I was exposed to the system that we are currently trying to establish here. Connecting students with their peers, with their community, with private business, with large corporations, and with the world is easier than ever… and I believe these connections are key to seeing a more rapid change in teaching pedagogy.

  2. I think you have hit on something here, this insularity of the individual school community. Also, in our area there is a declining # of kids, so we are in competition with the separate school district for students.

    Finland’s education took a long time to get to its status today, and change was required at many levels. There’s plenty of evidence to tell us what works and what doesn’t; this kind of competition and choice doesn’t. Inclusive, secular public education with highly skilled, highly educated teachers who have autonomy and respect, who work in teams to do whatever it takes…. that works. Pitter-patter, we need to get at ‘er.

  3. Let’s not forget that Alberta’s education system is not far behind Finland according to PISA results. There are many innovative initiatives here in our great province and many of them are due to the AISI funding that we receive.
    I don’t think that we can compare our system to that of Finland…there are so many differences between the two countries.
    To answer your question, I work for a better future…both in my own community, and globally.
    Thanks for the post…really got me thinking.

  4. Thanks for getting me thinking again about cooperation vs. competition Jesse.

    The most influential thoughts I have in this area come from Stephen Covey’s 7 habits. He talks about having an abundance mentality. Rather than competing for resources that are limited, we need to believe that in cooperation we can actually create more resources and possibilities. Learning is a great example of that. I get and share ideas freely among my digital and local learning networks, and we all need to share more.

    I recent conversation with one of my staff members highlighted this for me. She talked about needing to go find more money and resources to meet our desires to provide a new learning environment for our kids in our school. I replied that we need to make the changes, whatever they are, with the resources we currently have if we want to make it feasible for all schools. As a Principal my school can only improve if my neighboring schools, districts, province, and country improve.

    And let’s not forget about improving the lives of all children across the world. I may not be able to travel to Africa or India to teach kids or transform those schools, but I hope our schools can inspire the next generation to make change happen. Us “20th century learners” created a big mart of the global mess, hopefully “21st century learners” can fix it.

    Who do we serve? I can’t come up with a better answer than Derek’s comment: “I work for a better future…both in my own community, and globally.”

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