In recent years, Finland’s students have been at the top or near the top on a range of international indicators. Furthermore, Finland’s commitment to social equity has led to low levels of variance in student results from school to school.
However, this has not always been the case. In the early 1990s, Finnish students achieved mediocre results on international tests such as PISA and TIMMS. Yet, they turned this around.
Notably, they didn’t do this through introducing high-stakes testing, introducing charter schools, or enforcing superficial compliance with central mandates. Rather, they did it through placing teachers at the very heart of school reform.
With this in mind, here are five lessons from Finland that we can all learn from.
6 Lessons from Finland
The future prosperity, well-being and happiness of your students, will be affected by how well they do in your classroom. Research shows that students who do well at school are likely to earn more than those who do not do so well. They are also likely to live longer1, to be happier2 and to be healthier3 throughout their lives.
It really is possible to make substantial improvements in students’ academic achievement despite external factors that may hinder your students’ success. We all know it is easier to teach bright, diligent kids who have a great home life. However, teachers can make a real difference in spite of the hardships their students may face.
Your core responsibility as a teacher is to ensure that each of your student’s progress as far as they can while in your care. Research4 shows that even mediocre teachers typically help their students to improve a bit, but exceptional teachers have far more impact than their less productive colleagues.
Evidence-based practice grounded in hard research is what makes teaching a profession. You need to base your practices on evidence, not personal philosophies or untested theories. Start by implementing strategies that have the largest chance of success. Yet, even this is not enough – you need to adjust what you are doing any time it is not having the desired impact.
Armed with your professional knowledge, you need to be free to exercise your professional judgment about how to best proceed in any situation. School improvement should not be mandated from above. Rather, teachers should be trusted and supported to make decisions in the best interests of their students.
You don’t have to do it alone. While you may be responsible for certain classes and subjects, students are more successful when you collaborate with others. When you are presented with a challenge, share it and listen to your colleagues’ ideas before deciding how to proceed.
These six lessons from Finland can help any teacher, in any country.
Further Reading On Lessons From Finland
- Sorlie, P. D., Backlund, E., & Keller, J. B. (1995). US Mortality by economic,demographic,and social characteristics: The national longitudinal mortality study. American Journal of Public Health, 85, 949-956. [↩]
- Helliwell, J. F. (2002). How’s life? Combining individual and national variables to explain subjective well-being. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; Blanchflower, D. G., & Oswald, A. J. (2000). Well-being over time in Britain and the USA. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; Miech, R. A., Caspi, A., Moffit, T. E., Entner Wright, B. R., & Silva, P. A. (1999). Low Socioeconomic Status and Mental Disorders: A Longitudinal Study of Selection and Causation during Young Adulthood. American Journal of Sociology, 104(4), 1096-1131 [↩]
- Wilson, S. E. (2001). The puzzling impact of schooling on health in later life: A comparative analysis of common chronic illnesses. Retrieved from Brigham Young University: https://fhss.byu.edu/polsci/Assets/Wilson__Schooling%20and%20Disease.pdf; Hu, T. W., Lin, Z., & Keeler, T. E. (1998). Teenage smoking, attempts to quit, and school performance. American Journal of Public Health, 88(6), 940-943; Winkleby, M. A., Jatulis, D. E., Frank, E., & Fortmann, S. P. (1992). Socioeconomic status and health: How education, income, and occupation contribute to risk factors for cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Public Health, 86(6), 816-820. [↩]
- Barber, M. & Mourshed, M. (2007).How the world’s best performing school systems come out on top. McKinsey & Company. [↩]