Finnish Lessons

I spent some time today reading Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons – What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?

Some quotes follow:



  • has developed and owned its own vision of educational and social change connected to inclusiveness and creativity, rather than renting a standardised version
  • relies on high-quality, well-trained teachers, with strong academic qualifications who are drawn to the profession by its compelling social mission and its conditions of autonomy and support
  • has developed teachers’ capacity to be collectively responsible for developing curriculum and diagnostic assessments


The intense individuality of the Finns blended with low hierarchy and traditional willingness to work with others has opened pathways to endless creative potential

p17 should aim at educating young people to realise themselves as holistic individuals, possessing intrinsic motivation for further education


..three phases {of educational change]:

  1. rethinking the theoretical and methodological foundations
  2. improvement through networking and self-regulated change
  3. enhancing efficiency of structures and administration


[Common themes for Prof Development of teachers included]  “Conception of Knowledge”, “Conception of Learning”, “About Possibilities of School Change”. These contained questions like “What is knowledge?”, “How do pupils learn?” Discussions on conceptions of knowledge and learning has clearly affected how teachers talk about learning and teaching. Earlier discourse … was replaced by [that on] critical thinking, problem solving, and learning how to learn.

p 51, referring to why mathematics results in international testing improved dramatically

  1. mathematics teaching is firmly embedded in curriculum design and teacher education in Finnish primary schools
  2. most primary schools in Finland have professionals who understand the nature of teaching and learning- as well as assessing – mathematics
  3. education of maths teachers in Finland is based on subject didactics (pedagogical content knowledge) and close collaboration between the faculty of mathematics and the faculty of education. This guarantees newly trained teachers has a systemic knowledge and understanding of how mathematics is taught and learned


Teachers at all levels of schooling expect that they are given the full range of professional autonomy to practice what they have been educated to do: to plan, teach, diagnose, execute and evaluate.


Finnish teacher education is now ‘academic’, meaning it must be based on and supported by scientific knowledge and be focused on thinking processes and cognitive skills needed to design and conduct educational research…systemic integration of scientific educational knowledge, didactics and practice to enable teachers to enhance their pedagogical thinking, evidence-based decision making and engagement in the professional community of educators.


Particular attention is devoted to building pedagogical thinking skills, enabling teachers to manage instructional processes in accord with contemporary educational knowledge and practice.


Teacher-education curricula are designed so that they constitute a systemic continuum from the foundations of educational thinking , to educational research methodologies, and then on to more advanced fields of educational sciences.

p84 Key principles of teacher education

  1. Teachers need a deep knowledge of the most recent advances of research in the subjects they teach. In addition, they need to be familiar with the research on how something can be taught and learned
  2. Teachers must adopt a research-oriented attitude toward their work. This means learning to take an analytical and open-minded approach to their work, drawing conclusions for the development of education based on different sources of evidence coming from the recent research as well as their own critical and professional observations and experiences
  3. Teacher education in itself should also be an object of study and research


[Teacher prof development] has shifted from fragmented in-service training towards more systemic school improvement that builds better ethical and theoretical grounding for effective teaching


Authorities and most parents understand that teaching, caring and educating children is too complex a process to be measured by quantitative metrics alone.

Pedagogical leadership is one of the key areas of professional school leadership in Finland. Teachers rely on their leader’s vision and the principal understands teachers’ work.


Professionalism as the main characteristic of teaching requires that teachers are able to access and follow ongoing development of their own profession and that they can freely implement new knowledge within their own instructional work.

p102 On the GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement)

Michael Fullan…speaks about ‘drivers of change’, such as education policy or strategy levers, which have the best chances of driving intended change in education systems. “In the rush to move forward”, writes Fullan, “leaders, especially from countries that have not been progressing, tend to choose the wrong drivers”. ‘Wrong drivers’ include accountability (v professionalism), individual teacher quality (v collegiality), technology (v pedagogy) and fragmented strategies (v systems thinking). These ineffective elements of education reform that resonate closely with the aspects of GERM have fundamentally missed the targets and continue to do so..

p105 Referencing the Fourth Way, characterised by Andy Hargreaves

The Fourth Way is a way of inspiration and innovation, of responsibility and sustainability. The Fourth Way does not drive reform relentlessly through teachers, use them as final delivery points for government policies or vacuum up their motivations into a vortex of change that is defined by short-term political agendas and the special interests with which they are often aligned. Rather, it brings together government policy, professional involvement and public engagement around an inspiring social and educational vision of equity, prosperity and creativity in a world of greater inclusiveness, security and humanity.


..if people work or learn in an environment where avoidance of mistakes and fear of failure are dominant, they typically don’t think for themselves.Fear of failure does not engender creativity.


..teachers cannot create and sustain contexts for productive learning unless those conditions exist for them

LOTS to think about in this book. And a fantastic way to begin the new academic year. Courageous leadership is needed …from me, from my school and from my nation.


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Pedagogy, Systems, The discipline, The profession, Things that engage, Thinking, Vision. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Finnish Lessons

  1. Thanks Linda! That is a lot of “meat” to chew. Got hooked and found a video of him talking about the Finnish education. It is interesting to hear how their culture and policies shaped their education, and their teacher selection is just amazing! –

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