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A Foundation of Trust...

I've been doing a lot of reading on the success of K-12 education in Finland. It's an amazing story of how the Finnish people collectively decided that a strong education for all students was the key to building a strong economy. It is important to note that until their 9th year, students take no standardized tests, they spend a significant time with unstructured play, and they spend way fewer hours in the classroom and on homework. So how did they do it?

Making sure there is equity for all students is their number one priority. Geography, race, immigration status, socioeconomic status, etc. make no difference on the quality of the preK-9 education they receive. A significant percentage of Finnish children receive special services at some point in their schooling because the Finnish system assumes all students are "special" and need different levels of help at one time or another.

While equity plays a significant role for their success, the whole system would crumble without trust; specifically trust in their teachers. Teaching is a prestigious occupation in Finland. Only about 10% of the students that apply to teacher education programs are accepted. Those students are a diverse representation of Finland. Teacher candidate pairs spend a significant chunk of time in classrooms attached to the universities, learning from mentor teachers and each other. Collaboration is modeled so it becomes second nature.

The federal government of Finland has created a set of over-arching goals for students, but it is left up to districts and specifically teachers, to create a specific curriculum tailored to the needs of their students. No decision about curriculum is made without teachers because they are regarded as the experts in education. Teachers are expected to collect and analyze data from their students and collaborate with their colleagues. Collaboration time is built into the day, when the students go to unstructured play (about 15 minutes each hour), teachers collaborate. If necessary, they research and pivot to a new strategy. Bottom line is that the teachers are trusted by parents, administration and the public to best teach the students. Why is trust so important? Think about what happens when there is trust.

Within a year of taking over the physics program at my last school, I proposed adding AP Physics as an elective. At the time, it required sign off from the entire department. Without hesitation, the department supported the request because they all trusted that I was proposing it to help students. In the many years that followed, we made significant changes to sequencing because we trusted each other to always put the students first. The result has been a significant increase in students taking and passing science classes.

In only applied to this program because I had complete trust in two colleagues taking over the physics and AP Physics classes. I know my trust in my friend Annette meant a lot to her as she was nervous about taking over AP Physics 1. She is thriving because she is amazing and she knows I trust her.

I ask my students every year to trust me on their physics journey. For many students, they walk into class scared because it's "Physics". For many students, it will be the first time they have been challenged, so it won't come easy. I make my classroom a safe place, where it's OK to fail. None of that can happen if the students do not trust that I will be there to help them when they struggle. Building trust with students is THE most important thing a teacher can do to allow students to grow wings and fly.

So it should not be surprising that TRUST is the foundation for our education system. We need to put our trust in teachers!

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