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Abstract

Over the course of the 2016-17 academic year, faculty from several colleges of education gathered to read and discuss the ground breaking work of educational reform in Finland as described in Finnish lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? (Sahlberg, 2015). Our group was somewhat aware of the story of the “Finnish Dream” but hoped to learn the details concerning this small, Nordic nation’s surprising academic success. The prominent educator, international consultant, and author, Pasi Sahlberg, narrates how Finland’s modest yet united, steady effort toward educational improvement was ultimately regarded as successful, not only in her having met or exceeded national education goals, but in her PISA scores which topped the list of “developed” nations. Subsequently, Finland’s stature amongst the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations dramatically rose. It is a compelling story. Sahlberg’s careful rendering of how Finland’s great experiment unfolded makes for interesting reading, especially given the challenges that American teacher educators face today. It led, understandably, to our book study group’s tendency to reflect upon our own goals for teacher education.

The book sheds light on how we (with our own range of disciplines, programs, and scholarly interests) might reconsider teacher education in the USA. Our group was well prepared to make reflections and comparisons with expertise in an assorted number of fields represented: language and literacy, early childhood education, educational leadership, instructional technology, educational policy, teacher action research,and teacher preparation. Working together in collaborative study we set about to formulate critical questions, take copious notes, and inquire further about the “Finnish Dream”.

To complete our book study, the group’s organizers facilitated a spirited teleconference meeting with the author, wherein we shared observations concerning the similarities and differences between our respective cultures. Coming from critical policy analysis, I wondered about the cultural differences that appear to make Finland a society particularly supportive of teachers. Do teachers indeed collaborate more? Given the problems of standardized testing associated with the United States, and Finland’s choice to abscond from this method of assessment I asked: how then does Finland approach testing? Others were keenly interested in the rights, play, and general happiness of children. Still others were interested in language and literacy teaching; how is it done in Finland and to what effect? Everyone was fascinated by the supposition that the working conditions for teachers were better in Finland than elsewhere. We could only imagine what it was about the politics of Finland that allowed for such a wide ranging and seemingly successful experiment. Pasi provided much insight. Our group left the meeting with Pasi determined to explore Finland’s educational system and eager to learn more.

We anticipated a stimulating, educational journey, and we weren’t disappointed! This tour provided the backdrop for the following inquiry question: Given the apparent success of Finnish educational reform, how might we as American teacher educators make meaning of our own practice? Using review and narrative, the following essay is an attempt to provide an answer, not definitively, but meaningfully. Inspired by Sahlberg’s passionate rendering of the “dream” “miracle” and “paradox” of Finnish educational reform, my intent is to go slightly beyond a traditional book review, placing into conversation some tour experiences encountered along the way. Other readings and reports compliment Finnish Lessons 2.0. For example, Learning Context, is, according to leading teacher education professionals, a critical domain and concern for USA teacher education(see AACTE, 2018). It appears to be so in Finland too. The discussions in our book study, observations made during our group’s Finnish educational tour, and supplementary readings, all provide formative information to better understand the learning context of Finland.

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