Our team

Members of our team
Kirsi Tirri

Dr. Kirsi Tirri is a full Professor of Education at the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the University of Helsinki and a visiting Professor at St. John's University, New York, USA. Professor Tirri has been the President of ECHA (European Council for High Ability) for the years 2008-2012 and the President of the SIG International Studies at AERA (American Educational Research Association) for the years 2010-2013. She served as a President of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters for the years 2016-2017. She was Research Director at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies for the years 2017-2019.

Her research interests include school pedagogy, moral and religious education, gifted education, teacher education and cross-cultural studies. She has published 13 monographs and numerous journal articles related to these fields. She serves in 13 Editorial Boards of educational journals. She has supervised 27 doctoral dissertations in education and theology and mentored many postdoctoral students who are now professors and researchers in education. She has led the Finnish team in many national and international research projects.

Contact information:

Email: kirsi.tirri@helsinki.fi

Elina Kuusisto

Dr. Elina Kuusisto  is a Docent of Education at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, the University of Helsinki, Finland. Her academic writings deal with: moral and religious education, more specifically:

  • moral sensitivities such as ethical sensitivity, intercultural sensitivity, interreligious sensitivity
  • purposeful teaching and life purposes
  • talent development and growth mindset 


Research Gate

Contact information:

Email:  Elina.kuusisto@helsinki.fi

Tel:+358 2941 29865, +358 504487031

Khalil Gholami

Dr. Khalil Gholami currently is an Associate Professor at the Department of Education, University of Kurdistan, and a Docent at the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Helsinki. He conducts research on teaching and teacher education and currently he is working on teachers professional identity and agency. His ongoing article is about "construction and deconstruction of student teacher's identity". In addition, he is a pedagogical expert in higher education; his recent project on land use planning of higher education institutions in the province of Kurdistan aims at developing a road map for higher education in this province.

Source of funding: sabbatical grant, University of Kurdistan


Research Gate

Contact information:

Email: khalil.gholami@gmail.com, khalil.gholami@helsinki.fi

Tel: +358 401949659

Inkeri Rissanen

Academy Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University 

Fields of expertise: Multicultural education, religions and worldviews in education, teachers' intercultural competencies, growth mindset pedagogy

Research topics: Malleability beliefs and diversity beliefs as part of teachers' intercultural competencies, teachers' mindsets and growth mindset pedagogy, Muslim inclusion in schools, Islamic religious education

Contact information: inkeri.rissanen@tuni.fiinkeri.rissanen@helsinki.fi, +358505734884

Sonja Laine

Post-doctoral researcher PhD, MA (Ed.)

Research themes:

Gifted education, conceptions of giftedness

Differentiated teaching

Teachers’ and students’ mindset about learning 


Research Gate

Contact information: sonja.laine@helsinki.fi

Yan Wang


Topic of the thesis : Comparative studies on the Finnish and Chinese science curriculum 

Description of thesis: The doctoral thesis is an article-based one to investigate how aims for scientific literacy and 21st century competencies are implemented in National Primary Science Curricula in Finland and China. Further empirical research would be done based on the analysis results of the intended curriculum.

Funding: Funding from China Scholarship Council for doctoral studies


Contact information: yan.wang@helsinki.fi


Nasibeh Hedayati


Topic of  Thesis: Morality in Iranian schools 

Description of thesis: As an article based thesis this study investigates Iranian students’ life purposes and purpose profiles. Further moral dilemmas in Iranian schools from teachers’ and students’ point of view are studied using both qualitative and quantitative research methods.




Contact Informaiton:

Email: nasibeh.hedayati@helsinki.fi 

Tel: +358 294129811,  +358 503180309

Niina Manninen


Topic of Thesis: Social services students’ life purposes – a case study from Finland

Description of thesis: This exploratory mixed methods case study aims to find out what kind of self- and other-focused life purposes Finnish social services students identify themselves with and how service during their studies affects their life purposes and helps them to develop their professional interactional competence.

Contact information: niina.manninen@helsinki.fi

Junfeng Zhang


Doctoral dissertation: Mindset in learning-A cross-cultural study in China and Finland

Abstract: This dissertation examines mindsets in learning among Chinese and Finnish students and teachers. It comprises four sub-studies. The theoretical study (Study Ⅰ) explores the role of mindset in learning among students and teachers by means of synthesising and compiling previous relevant literature. The three empirical studies II, III and IV, which are based on data collected from teachers and students, focus on how mindsets affect patterns of academic behaviour. Study Ⅱ investigates the ways in which the mindsets of students predict their academic achievement by influencing the factors to which success is attributed. Study Ⅲ examines the giving of peer feedback among adolescents at school, and how the feedback affects students’ mindsets and their academic motivation to learn. Study Ⅳ explores the relations between teachers’ mindsets
and their pedagogical strategies. All three empirical studies adopt a comparatively cross-national
perspective, namely comparing Chinese and Finnish participants.

Research Gate

Contact information: junfeng.zhang@helsinki.fi, zhouxixijay@126.com

Mikko Niemelä

Doctoral student

Topic of the thesis: Knowledge Integration in Education and Science

Description of the thesis: Core questions of the study are: a) what is integration in education, b) why integration is done, c) what kind of benefits and challenges are expected, d) how it is executed currently in Finnish schools, and d) how integration in schools is parallel and connected to practices of interdisciplinary science.

Funding: Finnish Cultural Foundation (Lauri Järvi Fund)



Contact information: mikko.a.niemela@helsinki.fi


Leonardo Cedillo

Doctoral student

Topic of the thesis: Learning gratitude in school environment

Description of thesis: My doctoral thesis aims to exploring gratitude’s meaning and the ways it is promoted by teachers in first grade students in Finland. This is realized through the following research questions: what is the meaning of gratitude in school setting in Finland? What are the different psychological components of gratitude in school environment? What are the educational methods used by teachers to assist students understanding gratitude?


Contact information: leonardo.cedilloberber@helsinki.fi 

Heidi Paju

Doctoral student

Topic of the thesis: Political formation of vocational education: A comparative study of Finnish and Estonian vocational education systems

Description of thesis: The emphasis of the research lies on a comparative study of Estonian and Finnish Vocational Education Training systems. The research adopts two methodological approaches: historical comparative approach, and critical policy analysis

Funding: Seed funding from Journal of Vocational Education and Training

Contact information:  heidi.paju@helsinki.fi





Anne-Mari Kuusimäki

Doctoral student

Topic of the thesis: Improved teacher-parent interaction- positive digital communication as a tool

Description of thesis: The aim of this thesis is to build a positive interaction model between teachers and parents based on positive psychology and character strengths- teaching. The main focus is in improving all positive communication between teachers and parents and the tool highlighted in this study is the daily used digital platform.


Contact information: anne-mari.kuusimaki@helsinki.fi

Ita Puusepp

Doctoral student

Topic of thesis: Changing mindsets about learning among elementary school students

Description of thesis: This article-based doctoral dissertation focuses on researching mindsets related to learning and  aims to connect psychological, educational, and neuroscientific data in order to construct and test a mindset intervention program that will improve students’ learning outcomes during elementary school.

Funding: Finnish cultural foundation 



Contact information: ita.puusepp@helsinki.fi 

Cristiana Levinthal

Doctoral student

Topic of thesis: Parental engagement to support children’s learning in Finland and Portugal

Description of thesis: This article-based thesis aims to characterize teachers’ and parents’ practices and perspectives on parental engagement in learning, from a cross-cultural standpoint, in Finland and Portugal. This research also explores associations between parental engagement and a growth mindset of teachers and parents.

Contact information:

E-mail: cristiana.levinthal@helsinki.fi

Rina Ronkainen

Doctoral student (Tallinn University)

Topic of thesis: Growth mindset appearing in a didactic relationship

Description of thesis: This qualitative case study examines first grade teacher's growth mindset in teaching. The data includes theme interview, observation and stimulated recall interviews. The final results describes how teacher's growth mindset appears in planning and reflection of teaching and how growth mindset actualize in teaching. 

Contact information: rina.ronkainen@helsinki.fi

Kati Jääskö-Santala

Doctoral student

Topic of thesis: Teachers´ implicit theories of learning and their implications for pedagogical thinking and practice

Description of thesis: This article-based doctoral dissertation will focus on researching teachers' implicit theories of learning and their implications for pedagogical thinking and practice. This research will give an overview of Finnish class teachers' and special education teachers' mindsets about intelligence and perceptions of neuroplasticity, how a growth mindset and understanding of brain plasticity is actualized in teachers' pedagogical thinking and practice, and special education teachers' evaluations of a mindset intervention program for students with special needs.

Contact information: kati.jaasko-santala@helsinki.fi

Yingying He

Doctoral student

Topic of Thesis: Teachers’ purposes in voluntary teaching: the case of China

Description of thesis: By adopting a purposive and motivational approach, this project seeks to comprehend the personal and professional identity reformulation of Chinese pre-service volunteer teachers. This study will answer 1) Why do Chinese pre-service teachers volunteer and how do their teaching motivations different from those who do not volunteer? 2) What are the life purposes of Chinese volunteer teachers, and how does volunteering influence their life purposes and career choices? 3) How do Chinese pre-service teachers reformulate their personal and professional identity during their volunteer teaching? By integrating motivation and life purposes into a model of volunteer identity, this dissertation will present a thorough profile of the life purposes of Chinese pre-service teachers and give meaning to their volunteering and identity reformulation.

Contact information: yingying.he@helsinki.fi

Matthew Billington

Doctoral student

Topic of thesis: Mindsets about foreign language learning among university language teachers and students 

Description of thesis: This article-based, mixed-method dissertation assesses the growth or fixed mindsets of second/foreign teachers and learners at Finnish Universities. Moreover, it investigates 1) the association between students’ fixed or growth mindsets about their language-learning ability and their experience of foreign language classroom anxiety, 2) the relationship between language teachers’ fixed or growth mindsets about language-learning and their feedback style, and 3) the connection between language teachers’ mindsets and their knowledge of neuroplasticity. 

Contact information: matthew.billington@helsinki.fi