Preparation for the Journey
An interesting message came to my email from the Finnish Principals’ organization. It announced that it was possible for Finnish school leaders to apply for Fulbright Finland travel grants to the U.S. I got excited! One of my dreams has been to get involved on a study trip to the U.S. I noticed that I only had one day to apply. Hurry!
I was delighted to receive an invitation to the interview. The interview was held at the Fulbright Finland Foundation office in Helsinki. There were four people in the interview committee, and three of them were Americans. The interview was exciting but very pleasant.
When the answer came that I was accepted as a Grantee to the three-person group, it brought me great joy, but also a sense of inner well-being, perhaps a little covered in pride. I tried, I succeeded!
The next step was the orientation day, where we met with the two other grantees and the Fulbright Finland Foundation team members. It was easy to notice that this whole group will rock!
We orientated to the future and planned a shared presentation for the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership in Maryland, USA. The subject would be Fulbright Dialogue: 21st Century Leadership in Finnish Schools.
In our discussions, we wondered what would be a good angle for this title. What would be interesting to Americans and, on the other hand, reflect the uniqueness of Finnish school leadership? Then we found it, the title will be “Leading by Trust.” That’s a good one!
Trust is a cornerstone in Finnish education.
This may be a fairly unknown topic that is not terribly known anywhere, but we all know that trust is a cornerstone in Finnish education. Now we have to dig into what Leading by Trust means in practice. How we got there and why it is such a wonderful thing.
It wasn’t easy, not at all. Anyway, together we did it. A Fulbright Finland Foundation team member improved the layout of the presentation and then it was ready. I’m proud of it! All done, airline tickets ordered, attitude enthusiastic, three Musketeers are ready to travel!
(Pasi Rangell, Principal, Seminaari School)
Exploring the U.S. school system
Our pre-conference program on Thursday November 7th began with a school visit to the Columbia Heights Educational Campus in a neighborhood of DC, where we were met by our gracious host from the State Department, Betsy (Elizabeth Devlin-Foltz). Bell Multicultural High School as well as adjoining Lincoln Multicultural Middle School, are part of the DC public school network and form the Columbia Heights Educational Campus. Interestingly, the Schools were founded by Principal Maria Tukeva, whose grandparents were Finnish.
Having made it through the airport-like security check, we were greeted by Fulbright alum Joe (Joseph Talarico) and his high school AP English class with coffee, bagels and of course, cream cheese! Whilst enjoying our American breakfast, we also got a taste of the students’ creativity as they shared with us their own poetry. Great talent! The students took us on a tour of the school and later we were invited by some middle school students to observe different lessons. Finally, as the cherry on the cake, we had a meeting with the principal, Ms. Tukeva. We learnt many interesting facts about the schools from an educational leadership perspective. Ms. Tukeva kindly and patiently answered the long list of questions which we had.
After our meeting and distributing several bars of Finnish chocolate as thank you’s, we headed to our next destination to the offices of IREX, a U.S. partner organization of the Fulbright Finland Foundation. Our comparison of the Finnish and U.S. school systems continued in form of a round table discussion and again through this discussion, we learnt many useful and interesting points about e.g., professional learning of principals in the U.S., how the teaching of talented students was arranged at different schools and the structure of the entire education system. On our way back to the conference center we had much to reflect on and we all partook in an excited conversation the entire journey on the metro. What a beginning to our conference!
(Anne-Marie Rapo, Principal, Espoo International School)
Presenting, Learning and Networking at the ASCD Educational Leadership Conference
As part of our program, we were privileged to attend the ASCD Educational Leadership Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on 8 – 10 November. The ASCD is an organization that empowers educators to achieve excellence in learning, teaching and leading. It organizes yearly conferences, which provide professional learning for teachers, principals and administration.
At the conference, Educational Leadership was approached through 30 different topics, which were presented during the conference. The topics concerned for example principal effectiveness, school and district management, instructional strategies as well as personal and professional development.
ASCD 2019 Conference on Educational Leadership brought education leaders at every level, in every role, looking to transform intentions into targeted strategies for high-performing schools that achieve more for students, staff, districts, and communities. - ASCD
The conference started on Thursday with a welcome reception, where educators met each other in a relaxed atmosphere. On Friday morning there was a general session “Fostering resilient learners.” All 2 000 conference attendees were present in that session and we just admired the presenter’s ability to speak in an enthusiastic way. It is something we Finns could learn from!
Each day after the general session there were 14 parallel events to choose from. What a difficulty of choice! But the ASCD had thought of everything: they provided us with a great events app, which helped us choose the event we were interested in. We tagged the event, followed the map and just walked into the room – if the event wasn´t already full. During the breaks we visited the ASCD bookstore and bought some books. If you were lucky, you could get the author sign your book.
Our role in this program was to be ambassadors of Finland and Fulbright – we felt that we managed in that role well.
Sunday was the highlight of the whole conference for us. We had a presentation called “21st Century Leadership in Finnish Schools: Leading by Trust.” We exposed what leading by trust means in Finnish education system and gave many examples of what trust means at a school level. Lots of questions were asked and many business cards were exchanged. Our role in this program was to be ambassadors of Finland and Fulbright – we felt that we managed in that role well.
(Tarja Mykrä, Director of Development, Mercuria Business College)