Friday 11 Aug, 2017

Empowering Teachers Leads to Better Outcomes: STOY Takeaways

From the Midwest to Finland, to Italy, and back. Traveling as part of an EF and CCSSO joint scholarship, five US State Teachers of the Year (STOY) took off for Europe last month in hopes of learning new and innovative ways to create global citizens. Education Week editor, Madeline Will, spoke with two of the teachers—Jitka Nelson and Amber Vlasnik about their takeaways from the trip.

First stop Finland, where the group spent 3 days at the University of Helsinki and the Finnish National Board of Education. Finland’s education system is internationally renowned as an educational model, but the teachers found that in practice their model is not that different from the US. So what’s the secret to Finnish success? Empowering teachers. Teacher education programs are extremely selective, with roughly a 10 percent acceptance rate. As a result, Finnish teachers are held in high regard and given the autonomy to act as an expert and decide what is best for their classrooms.

Nelson and Vlasnik also noticed a difference in the Finnish student base.

“It seems to be a cultural expectation of students to do well in school,” Nelson said. “The two things I kept hearing from the Finnish people were the responsibilities of a citizen … to one, take care of your body, and two, take care of your learning. Education is a lifelong event, and it does not only happen in school, and it does not end when schooling ends.” 1

Finland has recently pivoted to a new skills-based curriculum where teachers create lesson plans focused on developing seven defined skills. This shifts from a content based curriculum, similar to that in the US.

“There are seven skills the curriculum is based on, including cultural competence, multiliteracy, entrepreneurship, and “thinking and learning to learn.” Instead of being expected to cover certain content, teachers are expected to weave those skills into their lessons. It’s not “content versus skills, but content with skills,” 1

The 5 STOYs left Finland full of ideas to take back to their classroom. Next, they traveled to Italy for EF’s Global Leadership Summit tackling “The Future of Food.” The Summit is designed to develop real world skills within students through project based learning and an immersive travel experience. The teachers met up with high school students and teachers from across the US, Canada, and Europe for a weekend of Professional Learning.

At the conference, teachers shuffled through a variety of workshops designed to broaden their global perspective and give insight to forward thinking academic trends. They learned how food can serve as a valuable engagement resource for project based learning, explored the power of design thinking, and networked with globally minded peers. Teachers had a chance to converse with keynote speakers, Anthony Bourdain, Stephen Ritz, and Raj Patel, and get their take on what skills make a global citizen.

You can read more about the STOY’s experiences abroad in the full Education Week article here.




1Madeline Will, Some Top U.S. Educators Went to Finland. Their Big Takeaway: Empower Teachers (Education Week, 2017)

Photo Credit: Kelly Elder