Thursday, November 29, 2012

What Did Andreas Schleicher Say?

I asked Andreas if he thought it would be beneficial for an American teacher to travel to Finland to study how Finnish teachers teach scientific problem solving.  Could there be a better place to go?  The Finns consistently have some of the highest scores in the world for their 15-year old students. I would like to go and learn how the Finns are achieving this. Did Andreas Schleicher think it would be a valuable experience?

He said, Go to Finland! The American system is very "top-down" and it would be very beneficial to have a American teacher's perspective of the Finnish system.  (I'm paraphrasing here.)

I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.  Now I had to find a way to get to Finland.  The Finnish seem to be so successful in most everything they do, including what they do in education. What educational and cultural lessons can we learn from them? What bridges can we build between cultures?  How can we make improvements in how we do things in the U.S.? What can we share with them?  These questions (and answers) are why the Fulbright program is so perfect for this endeavor.

Here are the scientific problem solving results for 15-year old students on the 2009 international Program for International Assessment (PISA) .  (Full PISA results HERE.) It's easy to see why research in Finnish schools could be beneficial to our educational system.

My conversation with Andreas Scheichler occurred 16 months ago.  The prep work to go to Finland has taken a long time.  Too long.  But this is what it's taken to arrange things so I can travel to Finland for six months.

I leave for Finland five weeks from today.

My latest dilemma is finding a place to live in Joensuu because so few apartments are available to rent. Most are unfurnished.  Hopefully the problem of finding a place to live will be resolved very soon. My mentor at the University of Eastern Finland has found me a potential place to live and he hoped to sign a rental agreement today.  It's 3:45 PM PST/1:45 AM (tomorrow) Finland time and I haven't heard anything yet.  I hope he was successful.

Here is where I hope to live in Joensuu:

Now picture it covered in snow.  Still beautiful, yes?  I hope this will be my walk to work at the university, 3.5 km. away.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inspiration from "The World's Schoolmaster"

This is where it all began, in a rented apartment in Paris.  My mother and I had just returned from visiting a museum - the Musee Rodin, I think - and we were relaxing in the afternoon before heading out to dinner.  Through the open window came American jazz as it was being played by the street musicians below.  It was lovely;  a time for reading, for relaxing on the couch, and having a glass of something refreshing to drink.

I opened my iPad and looked for something to read.  I ended up looking at the Atlantic Monthly web site and this is what I found:

There was an article about Andreas Schleicher, the "World's Schoolmaster," and I learned that he is a man listened to and highly regarded by heads of government. He consults with them on education and other issues of global importance.  I had been trying for almost twenty years to have a "voice" in improving education from the bottom up - especially science education - from a teacher's perspective, along with many teacher friends - but most people gave our opinions lip service.  (After all, everyone has been to school; why ask teachers what would help?) When I read about Andreas Schleicher I knew I had to talk with him.  I needed to reach out to him and see if he'd be willing to listen.

Ridiculous, I know, but I have the opinion that if one doesn't ask, the answer is already "No." So I ask.  And hope.  And then I'm surprised when something actually works.

I read that Andreas lived and worked in Paris and I decided I would take the metro to the OECD(Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) to try and talk with him. My mother was leaving France in the morning and I didn't have to be at the Opera House to meet friends until 3:00.  That gave me all morning to try to see him.

I was in for a surprise.

After doing some research on Andreas I realized that we may just have a mutual friend - a friend I had met during my time working with PBS - and that he had led an international education workshop that included Andreas.  I contacted my friend via email and asked him if he would consider making an email introduction for me.  Within 90 minutes I had a response from Andreas and he told me he would talk with me but that he wasn't in Paris - he was in Italy.  He gave me his mobile number and asked me to contact him the next day at 1:30 PM.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Here's a map of Joensuu, Finland.  Joensuu is about 40 miles from Russia - as the crow flies.

And if you want to see an actual Russian crow sliding down a snowy rooftop on a self-made "snowboard," check this out:


Friday, November 16, 2012

The Challenges of Moving

Details, details, details! So many details to take care of in order to move away for six months. At this point I have no place to live in Joensuu but its not for lack of trying - both on my part and the help of my friend Leena (Fulbright scholar currently in the U.S. from Finland), Kari (my new mentor from the University of Eastern Finland), and the Finnish Fulbright group in Helsinki.

University housing is already filled with their current student population and there is a long waiting list, and the resident scholar housing is only available for short term visits. Leena has been extremely kind by offering to let me stay with her and her family for a few weeks while I find a place; the immediate pressure to find a place to live is off but I'm still quite curious about how it will all play out.

I have learned that when I arrive I'm required to register myself as a resident and then I'm given, amongst other things, a free bus pass. (I'm very excited about the free bus pass.). I also know that there will only be about one hour per day when the sun is above the horizon in January - therefore, I may be traveling around in the bus looking for a place to live in only darkness/semi-light, with a very limited vocabulary of Finnish. It sounds like fun... and the beginning of a very interesting short story!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Lunch at the Finnish Consulate General's House

Remember that nice Finnish lady behind the bullet-proof glass?  Her name is Hanna and it's very possible it's her I owe her my thanks for inviting me to today's luncheon.  It was held in Bel Air at the home of Kirsti Westphalen, Consulate General of Finland, and the guest speaker was Pasi Sahlberg, educational guru of Finland. There were perhaps 30-35 people at the luncheon, mostly educational folks and philanthropists and venture capitalists; many are members of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.  From this view we are standing within the gates of the Bel Air neighborhood and her house is on the left.
This is the walk up the driveway - notice the insignia for the Consulate? Just to the right is where Hanna greeted us and checked us in.
And the entrance to the house....
We were greeted by Kirsti Westphalen and her husband, given sparkling water to sip, and shown to the terrace to socialize with the other guests. This is where I met the people who work at California State University Channel Islands and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

After a while it started to drizzle and we wandered inside, and then we were served home-smoked salmon from Finland with a light sauce, a potato served in a cube, and thin green beans.  The salmon had a deeper smoked taste than I've ever had before on fish and it was quite delicious.  Pasi was introduced and he spoke for about a half hour about the Finnish education system and he also compared it to ours in the U.S.  He was humble yet specific in his points of contrast between the Finnish and U.S. systems - he wasn't hesitant to say that Finland was successful in many areas, but he also said there are many ways to measure success.  (The Finns were still way better than us in most everything!) What I found most interesting were his points regarding equity and excellence - how the Finns determined more than 30 years ago that in order to have excellence in their education system they would have to have equity for all children.  All children should have the same opportunities no matter who your parents were or how much they had achieved educationally or economically. He also said the Finns didn't agree with the idea of having charter schools, and that, in fact, they were illegal.  I'm sure that comment made some of the people in the room uncomfortable because during the lunch conversation one of the men at my table said, "We like to focus on (improving) charter schools because that's where we have the most influence."

When the lunch was over, Pasi signed books and we had the chance to talk with him and ask him questions.  When it was my turn I asked him if he knew a friend of mine, Henry Heikkinen, and he responded, "Yes! I've known him for more than thirty years!"  I replied, "I've known him for a long time, too!  I really like Henry!"  He said, "I really like him, too!" This meeting was a very fortunate occurrence; Pasi and I are now acquainted and Pasi has extended his friendship to me because of our mutual friendship with Henry.  (Pasi said, "Anyone who is a friend of Henry is also a friend of mine,"  and then, smiling, he said, "That is the way it goes.") He invited me to Helsinki and told me he had several people he wants me to meet.  (I'm realizing this trip is becoming more than I ever thought it could be....)

Here's a picture of Pasi, just after we had our talk about Henry and what a wonderful person and friend he is to us both.

Thanks, Henry, for bringing us together.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Visa Application and an Exciting Invitation

On October 11th my mother and I drove to Los Angeles so I could apply for my six-month research/resident Visa for Finland. We found the Embassy/Consulate on the 21st floor of a building in Century City and I submitted my application to a very pleasant Finnish woman while talking through bullet-proof glass. I've since received my Visa in the mail and have been invited to the Finnish Consulate General's house on November 15th for lunch.  Pasi Sahlberg, a world renowned educational expert from Finland, will be there, as well.  I'm not sure what to wear to a Consulate General's house for lunch but I'm sure I'll figure it out.  :)

My departure date is now less than two months away and it's starting to become "real." Where will I live? What should I bring? What do I do with all my mail? So many questions!  I'm getting so excited to go!

Departure Date:  January 3rd