Friday, October 19, 2007

Finland, Finland, Finland...

A riddle for you this blustery fall afternoon.

Question: What's blue and white and the world leader in K-12 education instruction?

Answer: Finland!

Yes, the country of 5 million people and a heck of a lot more reindeer is apparently the world's leader in education. Forget Japan. Forget the U.S. According to Andrew Hargreaves, the Thomas Moore Brennan Chair in Education at Boston College, the focus should really be on the small northern European country of Finland.

On Monday, Hargreaves captivated attendees at the AWSP Principals' Conference in Vancouver with his research on this country and its relevance to instructional leadership. As Hargreaves noted in his research and presentation:
In less than half a century, Finland has transformed itself from a rural backwater into a high-tech economic powerhouse, through its educational system.
By the way, that Nokia phone in your hand has a direct role in the country's regeneration. Today, 40 percent of the country's GDP is accounted for by Nokia and its suppliers. What was once a rubber products company (making everything from timber to galoshes to electrical cables for telephony), the company has "flexed, adapted and changed" as markets shifted. As a result, Nokia is now ranked #1 in economic competitiveness, Hargreaves said, and its educational system is a key player in this success.

In Finland, Hargreaves noted, teachers are seen as creators of the next generation. There is a strong mission. As a result, the Finnish youth are number one in the world not by an emphasis on testing but on teaching. High quality teachers, coupled with a culture of cooperation, clear guidelines (with flexibility within those guidelines) and, interestingly, a reverence for the music and science, have made Finland the highest performing country in the world on the PISA (Programme for International Student Achievement). This triennial assessment of 15-year-olds is administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Hargreave's presentation was very compelling and entertaining (he does an excellent Tony Blair impression, too). But what does all of this mean for leadership? Hargreaves boiled it down to three things:
  1. All leaders must have been teachers. In Finland, it's the law. You can't be a principal without having first been a teacher.
  2. All principals still teach, even for just two hours a week.
  3. The job of the principal in Finland is to "pull all of this together -- not pull everything through it." In other words, Hargreaves said, principal are not competing with one another but, rather, boosting each other up for the betterment of all, as they believe they are ethically responsible for each student's success.
Hargreaves gave attendees a wonderful presentation, rich with data, witty anecdotes and substantive knowledge about educational leadership and change.

Did you attend the conference and hear Hargreaves speak? What did you think? Or, perhaps you've read his books/research? What do you think?

(Bonus points to those of you who remember the Monty Python tribute to "the country where [I] want to be...")

No comments: