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A Finnish Vice Principal's Blog on School, Skills, and Silver Linings

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Veera Toivonen - Vice Principal and French Teacher

November 18, 2021

The school’s well-being is essential.

These transformative skills are considered to be at the heart of learning and a requirement for a more sustainable future. They are based on the circles of compassion, which start with “self” in the center, and expand to include family, our “tribe” and community, our nation and on the later spheres, all of humanity and our physical earth.

Students also need to develop resilience towards hardships, protective skills against mental imbalance, and confidence to seek help if needed. None of these things happen if the school itself is not healthy.

Before students, we (adults working in the same place) have to create a professional and emotionally healthy and stable working place. All of us - principals, teachers, nurses, janitors, cleaners - have to share common values and be equal. We have to trust each other. In Finland we say that the atmosphere that you have in the teachers’ lounge or in the school entrance (when a stranger walks in) flows directly to the classrooms and finally to students' minds.

Please follow for articles on more detailed information about the circles of compassion or on how we put these skills into practice. I will be writing on what kind of exercises we tend to have in the beginning of each school year or in the beginning of our weekly lessons. Stay tuned - and in the meanwhile - enjoy your working environment, praise the details and see the beauty while running from one lesson to the next one. It might be a glimpse of a student’s smile while he sees a friend, some colleagues talking about supervising an exam, a laughing kid or even a noise of a dispute around the corner - all parts of life. Think - no other occupation can offer you so many emotions, ages, people, or backgrounds in just two minutes.

July 7, 2021

Trust is the Silver Bullet

It’s 8:30 am, I am running to the copy machine to take the last papers for those students who have missed the exams last week…cursing the copy machine and the kids who don’t do their assignments on time. Of course it is not their fault, but you all know the feeling - you are running behind schedule and getting papers from here and there for the morning lessons that start in a few minutes time. No time to grab a coffee nor chill in the teachers’ lounge.

As I hurry to the classroom with my copies, books, and papers, I hear singing (music lesson has started an hour ago). The corridor is full of unstable notes but steady voices: “Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars and let me see what spring is like…” So simple yet complex enough to stop me in order to admire my working environment. Name one other occupation in the world where you can experience this every day if you want to? To see, to hear, to feel the people singing, drawing, painting, laughing, crying, playing, cooking, studying about genes, learning about medieval Paris or solving equations. How lucky we are to experience and testify to all the possible shades and varieties of the society every day. We know how families are doing, we see what’s hot and what’s not. We are on the pulse of our societies 24/7.

In our school we tend to keep things simple. Focus is in the learning environment and in creating trust between students and teachers. The core is on the transformative skills: Less forcing to learn all the patterns and rules by heart. Trust is the highway to learning and inner motivation. Don’t take me wrong—we do appreciate substance in all subjects, it’s the core of our curriculum as well. But learning a simple code or pure substance is not sustainable. Sustainable learning means that students learn not only the rules, events, orders, patterns or formats, but they can and will(!) apply their knowledge and detailed information in practice. This practice is only rehearsed in a classroom full of trust, knowing the people you learn with.

Lessons are based on the transformative skills that are built on self-awareness, empathy, and mental well being. Through different exercises we try to 1) create new value—being innovative and creative, coming up with new solutions to help others; 2) reconcile tensions and dilemmas – find the common ground between contradictory ideas, being able to think both short and long term consequences of actions, problem solving and finding solutions for conflicts; 3) take responsibility—the ability to assess the outcomes of one's own actions: To see how experience and personal history affect our perspective and judgement.

Veera Toivonen, Vice Principal & language Teacher

Puolimatka School, Hyvinkää, Finland

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