According to the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey, Finnish teachers are in many ways the best in the world: they are independent and autonomous. On the other hand, this also means that they are left relatively alone to do their work when compared with teachers in other countries. Teachers elsewhere tend to cooperate more, e.g., in terms of sharing teaching materials, joint teaching, communal professional development as well as collegial classroom observation and feedback.
The reform of teacher education, originating in the Ministry of Education and Culture’s teacher education forum, is one of the Finnish Government’s spearhead projects. The University of Helsinki is developing teacher education with €2.1 million in funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture. The focus is on supporting the competence development of teacher students, working teachers and teacher educators while developing the learning environments and pedagogic tools of teacher education.
Finland is one of the world’s top countries in teacher education, and wants to remain that way. This requires constant work to develop teaching. The Government has decided that its spearhead projects, including the development of teacher education, must be strongly based on research, as research is the only sensible basis for long-term development. All of the sub-projects are based on research in one way or another. The projects take advantage of existing research on teacher education and teacher competence, cooperate with national and international researchers, and analyse the feedback and material compiled during the project to discover the effects of the projects’ development measures. At the same time, ways to incorporate the models and practices developed in the sub-projects into the basic and continuing education of teachers will be investigated.
“The intention is that the development projects will promote cooperation and community in teacher education among teacher educators, teacher students, working teachers, schools, municipalities and other interest groups. At the same time, we are creating cooperation models which we hope will become permanent parts of our work together,” explains Professor Auli Toom from the Faculty of Educational Sciences.
Teaching methods are changing. Current teacher students and recent graduates are likely to still be working teachers three decades from now. Education must consider what kinds of competences and skills teachers will need then.
Cooperation supports coping at work and professional development
The media has published a number of stories about teachers who switch professions after burning out in their work. This is a bigger problem outside Finland, as here teachers tend to remain in the profession.
“Burnout becomes a risk when teachers are left alone with their highly responsible work,” says Toom. “This is why we try to systematically guide students to work together and share their knowledge and skills. Close collegial cooperation among teachers and the engaging pedagogical leadership that supports it are important tools for helping teachers develop professionally and avoid burnout.
Research-based development projects provide teachers with excellent opportunities to participate, learn and develop professionally. For example, digital tools offer many ways to support the learning process of students, but to use them, teachers must have research-based knowledge on pedagogical practices and methods. Similarly, carrying out phenomenon-based learning projects (a focus of the 2014 national core curriculum) requires that teachers have support and tools at their disposal for designing, providing and evaluating such teaching. Several training sessions and seminars on these themes have already been organised by the teacher education development project, and as a result of the continuous evaluation of the development work, the models and procedures are being shaped to better suit the needs of schools and teacher education.
According to the Ministry of Education and Culture, and the OECD survey, the continuing education of teachers is a particular challenge. How can we encourage working teachers to further develop their skills? In the development project, education and practice go hand in hand: we must consider the needs of society. The reform of teacher education connects teacher students, teacher educators and teachers in the field. Education reform is a shared project. However, a central task and challenge is to build systematic, research-based continuing education together with universities, schools and stakeholders. The development projects will create cooperation models that will connect different institutions, pedagogical methods and digital learning environments which will offer ample opportunities for cooperation.
“Recognising the value of education, teacher education and teachers is important for the future of Finland,” states Toom.
Further information about the teacher education reform: