Taking Finnish Lessons… Part 2


In my previous post I hypothesized that providing my students with a “softer” start to the school year than I’d provided in previous years might be a positive thing to do.  I referenced an article in The Atlantic that talked about how teachers in Finland do this and achieve great things as a result.

The main idea behind the soft start is to place the focus on students feeling included, welcomed, accepted, valued, and loved, and these are things most educators are correctly placing on a very high pedestal.

Back in June my dad had given me a section of The New York Times in which David Brooks had written an article about these very things.  “He seems to get teachers like you,” my dad said.  It wasn’t until today, though, while cleaning up in preparation for next week, that I came across the article and finally sat down to read it.

Teachers are now called upon not only to teach biology but to create a culture: a culture of caring criticism, so students feel loved while they improve; a culture of belonging, so fragile students feel their work has value. Suddenly, teachers must teach students how to feel about their own feelings; how not to be swallowed up by moments of failure, anger and sadness, but to slow the moment and step outside the emotional spiral.

That’s pretty powerful stuff, and it further pronounces the need for my skills to include a very high level of emotional intelligence.

I’ve put a great deal of thought into what my first day is going to look like, and without question the focus is going to be on ensuring my students feel included, welcomed, accepted, and valued (if they feel loved after just one day, bonus).  This summer I took Tribes TLC Training, and it was a perfect match with the philosophies Brooks and Walker (and I) adhere to.

We’re going to talk.  We’re going to share.  We’re going to deliver some statements of appreciation to each other.  We’re going to let each other pass if we are too shy or have nothing to say.  We’re going to play outside.  Basically we are going to begin the process of getting to know each other, and nothing else really matters.

Yes there will be some academic content: I am going to personally assist each of my students as they find a book or two that they might be interested in reading (like Donalyn Miller does).  I’m going to talk with them about the books in my class library and let them explore them.  We’re also going to listen to Jo Boaler tell us (in video form) that we can all be good at math; that the myth of a “math person” is just that: a myth.

I remember the first day last year, and how eager I was to be “different” for my students.  Instead, this year, I’m just going to be ME.  I’m trying to create the first day that I would have wanted when I was their age.  I was trying to do the same thing last year, too, but it felt put on.  This, though… this feels genuine.



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