The Nottinghamshire Torch SCITT has forged a strong partnership with the Jyvaskyla Teacher Training School in Finland, one which has been in place for more than a decade now.
The impact of this friendship is far reaching and has influenced our own practice as teachers and leaders, can be felt in our cohorts of SCITT trainees, and has seen us make adjustments to our curriculum, systems and processes. These changes have taken place over time and after many visits, observations and through deep discussions with our Finnish colleagues. As our former trainees continue to develop their thinking and move into school leadership, we see the continued impact of how such experiences have shaped their vision; we see vision that never stands still. It is a privilege to be part of this.
We have been hugely inspired by visiting Finland. That does not mean we consider it to be a perfect model or one that we can or should somehow just try to pick up and emulate. A note to take here is that the Finnish teachers also know that they learn so much from us, which has been well articulated through return visits and resource sharing between our organisations. We are also fully aware that much of what can be observed stretches beyond what education systems can hope to achieve alone and there is a bigger picture to take into consideration. We are different culturally, with differing perspectives and values, our histories and governments all mean direct comparisons can be unhelpful.
Now, more than ever, we have over the past 12 months discovered that anything is possible in education and teachers and educationalists can adapt, improve and should always look to future possibilities. Questions and reflections include:
- What have we learnt from the forced changes our education system is currently navigating?
- Are we any closer to accepting that a teacher-only assessment system is possible – like the Finnish have?
- Will the role of Ofsted be revised in anyway? There is no such body in Finland.
- Will Finland be considering more need for higher stakes accountability to really know the impact?
Visiting different educational settings such as Finland does open minds to what could be possible and deepens our thinking and questioning; it is not about who is right or wrong. The questions, more than the answers, are what is important and we want to develop our trainees into reflective practitioners: that is why we go.
We are very proud to be able to offer trainees the opportunity to experience this during our ITT programme. In trainee evaluations, following the international perspective, they report (in all cases) that experiencing an alternative international education system has seen positive adjustments in their practice – most cited increased confidence in spending longer working on one topic in greater depth, not rushing content, and an improved understanding of the value of skilful questioning. In addition, our trainees also report that they plan to actively seek opportunities to expand on developing wider and more diverse education perspectives
further into their early careers and beyond.
As mentioned, our partnership with Finland has also harnessed changes within organisation practices and processes. Most notably, the shift in judgement-led observations to diagnostic lesson discussion (which we are writing an article about). Through ongoing joint research and collaboration, we have been able to combine the diverse perspectives of a high-performing educational system to develop more impactful and innovative ways to develop trainee progress and teacher education. The benefits of this cross-cultural work has also seen Finnish senior educational leaders reflect on developing differing approaches to behaviour management and assessment for learning, following exchange visits to the UK, after engaging in observations and discussion.
We hope to continue developing our research that we started last year for the TEPE conference working with Pirjo Pollari (teacher of English and partnership lead at Jyvaskyla Teacher Training School), with research on:
- How collaboration and exchanges between differing education systems has changed trainees’ pedagogical ideas, insights and educational rationale.
- What effect these have had on our teacher training programme.
- What Finnish teacher training programmes can learn from collaborative partnerships with the UK.
- How we have adapted our ITE mentors through diagnostic lesson discussion – with influences from Finnish teacher development practice.
We plan to produce further articles and will continue to share our research and collaboration – we hope you will be interested in following this journey. Despite it spanning over a decade, we sense that it has only just begun, and further international collaborations are on the horizon. We never stop learning and one absolute component we will always promote within our early career teachers is, as the authors Pasi Sahlberg and Timothy Walker would say, ‘In teachers we trust’ (we are excited to read their soon-to-be-published book, March 2021).
To read a longer version of this article, visit our website homepage news where we share the impact of these visits to Finland in more depth.
Treena Philpotts is Director, and Shelly Geeson is Deputy Director (Primary), of Nottinghamshire Torch SCITT and Teacher Training, Nova Education Trust