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.