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The Finnish Difference

In his weekly email message to our principals, the deputy superintendent for our overly-large school district opened with this quote from Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons and keynote speaker at last week’s Leadership Conference.

The true Finnish difference is that teachers in Finland may exercise their professional knowledge and judgment both widely and freely in their schools. They control curriculum, student assessment, school improvement and community involvement.

I found it an interesting choice since…

Teachers here can’t control the curriculum. It is extremely prescribed, heavily scripted and, in most cases, laser focused on the state standardized tests.

In many schools teachers don’t have much to say about assessment due to the growing clamor for data and a push to use the online testing system on which we’ve spent a lot of time and money to create “common assessments”.

Some might be involved in school improvement but goals for those plans often come from district administration and offer schools very little flexibility.

As for community involvement, that varies widely depending on many factors, most of which are not something over which teachers are allowed much influence.

All of this is not to say that our schools couldn’t change to move closer to Sahlberg’s Finnish difference.

It will only require a seismic shift in the beliefs and attitudes of administrators, principals, support staff, students, parents – not to mention the entire American society, especially many politicians and other educational “experts” – to one that trusts the “professional knowledge and judgement” of teachers. 


  1. Mike Thayer

    I think this is one of the most amusing (in a gallows-humor kind of way) things about mentioning Finland in most educational dialogues. It gets brought up frequently, but there’s no understanding among many who use it as a model of what’s truly required to implement it.

    If only these experts had a resource. Say, daily access to a group of individuals who were dedicated to the ideals of education and whose knowledge of schools, students, pedagogy, and content were deep. How wonderful that would be.

  2. Kristin

    Why on earth would said superintendent have shared that quote? To reflect on where the district will never be or to falsely promise shifts that will never be actualized?

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