Less is more. Teach less, learn more.

"Teach Less. Learn More."

“This creativity aspect is very important because in Finland we believe that risk-taking, creativity and innovation are very, very important for a society like ours. And particularly working in this global and globalized world it is more important than what you actually know and remember, it is more what you are and what you are capable of doing.” ~ Pasi Sahlberg

Watch this video!

Key Drivers of Educational Performance in Finland — Listen in as Pasi Sahlberg describes how Finland created the highest-ranking education system in the world. (22 min., 21 sec.)

In both Asia and North America, schools are driven by statistics and measurements that guide many of the decisions made about how to improve and excel. Meanwhile Finland continues to beat to it’s own drum, to think and to act differently… and to outperform data-driven countries. What I found most compelling about this talk was the data-driven evidence that suggests that educational reforms we are seeking globally are counter-productive. What scares me most about this is that it seems so many people I’m connected to online intuitively know this already, and yet standardization, test-taking and a ‘more time in the classroom’ focus seems to prevail in most of the ‘reform’ that is happening now.

In my last post I said, “more and more, I’m thinking that the changes we want… and need… involve truly questioning everything we do structurally and why we do it?”

More questions come to mind when I hear this talk and see the graphs Sahlberg shares:

"Less is More. Teach less, Learn More by Pasi Sahlberg"

In ‘Thinking about Change‘ I recently said,

“We have to stop counting a teacher’s ‘instructional minutes’ and start giving them ‘learning minutes’. We have to stop talking about ‘teaming’ and starting giving teachers time to be a team.

What if a teacher had 1/3 of the day to plan, collaborate and yes even prep for their classes? What if at least one course every year had to be co-taught with another teacher in the room? How would these structural changes open doors for some cultural changes in school?

1. Time- Pro-D, preparation, planning & play
2. Co-teaching & collaboration opportunities
3. Models & Mentorship

When I think about changes in schools, I want to believe that we can implement structural changes that encourage our teachers to be better, by design of those changes, not in spite of them. I want to believe that we can’t complain about a broken model and then try to fit a new plan into the same model.”

Less is more: Teach less, learn more.

This applies to students and instructional time too! (The US fits somewhere between France and the Netherlands.)

"Time Spent In Classrooms by Pasi Sahlberg"

The best graph that Sahlberg shared reminded me a lot about what Andy Hargreaves preaches in ‘The Fourth Way’, “Responsibility before Accountability”. This was what I came up with after a presentation with Hargreaves:

Andy Hargreaves 'The 4th Way' - Pyramid by David Truss

Here is the graph shared by Sahlberg:

"Marketization-vs-Professionalism by Pasi Sahlberg"

The Finnish Way is to prioritize “Professionalism” over “Marketization”. I love the use of the term ‘Marketization’ as textbooks and testing are ‘big business’ and I question how much of the ‘Global Educational Reform Movement’ is influenced and driven by profit?

Less is more: Teach less, learn more. This approach can not be fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

“Risk-taking, creativity and innovation” are not fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

Professionalism is not fostered in a model of ‘Marketization’.

In a ‘market’ model there are always winners and losers. In education, every student needs to be provided with the opportunity for individualized success.

Who benefits from a sub-standard but highly standardized educational system? Reform suggests the restructuring, not redecoration, of an antiquated model. What model to you want for your students? What model do you want for your children? What model do you want for the future innovators and leaders of our world?

(Cross-posted on Pair-a-Dimes.)

14 comments for “Less is more. Teach less, learn more.

  1. Vince Gagne
    January 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    My school is currently involved in a School Support Initiative sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Education. The basics of the project involve giving the school money for release time for teachers to work on initiatives that staff feel will help improve student success. Your post is quite appropriate and timely. One of the biggest complaints from my staff, who are awesome, is that they don’t want to be out of class as much as they currently are. Keeping them focussed on the ‘bigger picture’ of improvement in the long run has been my biggest challenge. Job embedded learning for them is key to any long term success. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. January 4, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Thanks for the comment Vince,

    I worked for a district in BC that uses a “Learning Teams” model where the team would commit to several “professional development” afternoons… half of them pulled out of their classes and half of them after school. These had an ‘action research’ format with a trained facilitator for each group. Some great learning happens in those teams. One of my frustrations has been that there is always a cumulative presentation at the end of the year for all the learning teams and a ‘poster board presentation’ was the output format. Years of team learning has been presented and filled away instead of digitally archived.

    Release time is a critical starting point to get things rolling, but I wonder how we can embed this into a teacher’s daily or at least weekly schedule? How do we embed ‘collaborative minutes’ into a teacher schedule? How do we create schedules that don’t just offer collaboration and teaming time, (such as common prep times), but rather schedule it as part of a teacher’s day?

    In my ‘Thinking about Change’ post that I quoted above, I also said this,
    “Squeezing the 3 points above into a regular teaching day/week, as it is right now, seems a bit ridiculous. Our model is based highly on instructional time, not on collaboration and mentorship. As professionals, we spend a disproportionate amount of time performing our ‘art’, without feedback and without opportunities to learn from other professionals. It doesn’t make sense.”

    I think there needs to be a recognition that we aren’t in the ‘teaching business’, rather we are in the ‘learning business’, and if we aren’t constructing a teaching model that supports teachers in their learning then we need to redesign what a teacher’s day looks like!

    • Vince Gagne
      January 5, 2011 at 2:57 am

      I agree David!

      Restructuring is needed for our day. Unfortunately, as in your team project, part of our project mandate is to set goals and then report back to the Ministry after every term. We free to decide what our solutions are and how to spend our money and time, but have strict goals that we must have approved by them. It is frustrating that we as a staff decide what our goal should be but have had to rewrite them four different times to meet the Ministry expectations.

      If they would just give us the money and time, let us work with our staff and report back on the goals that we set. We know our kids and what goals are realistic for them and for our community. We have a Ministry appointed coach, who is a retired principal, to work with me directly. This is a wonderful approach. Even after 13 years as a principal, I still enjoy being able to bounce ideas off someone. Even Gretzky needed coaches!

      • January 5, 2011 at 3:03 am

        “Responsibility before Accountability” – If we were only trusted for our professionalism, then we would see greater Professionalism! You’ve got a group of enthusiastic educators around you and you are re-writing goals… hoop-jumping…

        I think the role of a coach or a facilitator are key in these approaches, that’s where the responsibility gets embedded into the model. Great to hear that you have a good one!

  3. January 11, 2011 at 12:53 am

    Thanks Dave,

    This is a great post.

    On the day you were writing this, I was hosting the parents of our exchange student from Finland for a tour of our school. She is spending her junior year in the US and it has been a wonderful experience for our students and, I hope, for her. I also have the opportunity to teach our visitor in my 11th grade English class. I should say that our school is an independent school.

    I will admit that I was a little fearful of hosting E’s parents. I knew the international results you mention above that showed the excellence of Finland’s education system. My fears were unfounded though. E’s parents were impressed by the open atmosphere at our school and the ways in which our curriculum encourages students to think creatively. Whew!

    I have been impressed by the way E has embraced learning in English. When we begin something she finds difficult she charges in and assumes the best rather than hanging back and waiting for someone to tell her what to do. Her attitude is so great for her classmates to see and learn from! How much of this is due to E’s Finnish education and how much is due to the same entrepreneurial spirit that led her to study abroad as a teen? I can’t tell, but I’m delighted to have her here!

    • January 14, 2011 at 1:22 am

      Sorry for the delay in responding. I had actually crafted a response that was open in a tab when Firefox crashed on me. With about 45 tabs to re-open, I inadvertently unchecked this one, trying to weed out things I would naturally go back to, thus losing the comment… Anyway, it has served me well as in giving this time, and upon reflection, I’d like to take a different approach to my response.

      You ask a great question! “How much of this is due to E’s Finnish education and how much is due to the same entrepreneurial spirit that led her to study abroad as a teen?” The reality is that much of what we see today with both student and parent cross-cultural examples are skewed in that the population tends to be middle to upper-class only… or the other extreme in inner-city schools.

      I just read a great article about ‘Chinese Mothers’ and their influence on their kids… meanwhile what I see here in China is that most mothers don’t even raise their kids! Grandparents raise the kids and both mom and dad work 12+ hour days to pay for the small 2 bedroom apartment that three generations live in. Different than the perception we often get in North American schools, though I have seen families where Grandparents move with their kids and both parents stay in the homeland to work and pay for it.

      Still, every opportunity to learn from people from other countries is wonderful! I’m in a school with 170 students from 24 different countries. We use the BC, Canada curriculum and one of the things that parents appreciate is “the ways in which our curriculum encourages students to think creatively.” (Well said, by the way.)

      I think we have some great programs and some great teachers doing great things in Canada and the US… I just think that we need more collaboration, mentorship and learning opportunities for teachers during a school day. What Finland does well is that it is far more consistent in its’ attempt to give every child a good education, rather than it happening by grace of a good teacher or a good school. I think creating a culture of teacher learning in our schools will go a long way in creating consistency.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with E, the more we learn from each other… the better!

      • January 16, 2011 at 9:38 pm

        Your observation:
        The reality is that much of what we see today with both student and parent cross-cultural examples are skewed in that the population tends to be middle to upper-class only… or the other extreme in inner-city schools.

        Couldn’t be more accurate or frightening. I read Time Magazine’s article “Where the Jobs Are” in line at the grocery store today and this part jumped out at me:

        One of the less attractive features of this job recovery is that it will be cruelly uneven. . . .

        America is facing a bifurcated employment future. At the top end is a highly educated, technically competent workforce attuned to the demands of the global marketplace. At the other end is a willing but underskilled group that is seeing its prospects undermined by workers in countries like China in low-end manufacturing and by a skills mismatch in emerging industries.

        Read more: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2040964-3,00.html#ixzz1BEhSe04N

        Given what you’ve said about what you’ve observed in China, it’s hard to want that experience “back” for American workers.

        Willing but underskilled is such a challenge to our educational system. We must be wary of teaching kids that the academic grindstone is the way to ensure life-long success.

        The scenario you describe, “I just think that we need more collaboration, mentorship and learning opportunities for teachers during a school day. . .I think creating a culture of teacher learning in our schools will go a long way in creating consistency.”

        Is exactly what we need to break that academic grindstone. To break it for students, we’ll have to free the teachers first. I think I feel a blog post of my own coming on. . .


  4. May 11, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil if you’d like to check for comments.



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