Wednesday, April 1, 2015

3.25.15 Friisila School Visit (Espoo, Finland)

On March 25th, we visited a small primary school on the outskirts of Helsinki in the community of Espoo. The school is very small with 120 children and 9 teachers. Probably the most interesting thing for me to learn was that in all Finnish schools, principals also teach. In this school, which they told us was "special", the principal teaches 16 hours per week. In all other Finnish schools, principals are required to teach at least 2 hours per week.

The school itself is extremely charming in it's design with a "bee nest architecture" (their description) and hexagon shaped rooms. The classrooms are very, very small (I would say my room is easily triple the size of any of theirs) but they do not waste any space AT ALL, utilizing the hallways for multiple purposes and ensuring that no excess space is going unused. It was quite interesting. I have been adamant for quite awhile that I would like to start my own school and this school provided me with much inspiration to what I would like my future school to be like. Who says I can't bring Finland home to Michigan? :)

Come along as I show you how they do things on the other side of the Atlantic pond.

This is the outside of the school. If you didn't see the edge of that swing set, you might not even believe it was a school, right? It's very low-key and blends into the surrounding environment.

This is immediately inside the entryway. It's a hallway and also the cafeteria area. They utilized the corridor as a multi-fuctional space by making it the cafe. The chairs also hook onto the underside of the tables for easy clean up underneath.

This super fun mural (notice the bee hives!) is just inside the doorway too, right before the cafe hallway begins.

This is inside a 2nd grade classroom. The rooms are teeny!

More artwork from inside the same 2nd grade room.

Front view of the 2nd grade classroom.

I love how they use the windows as extra wall space since the room is so little.

This is a 4th grade room.

Same 4th grade room. It's really not big at all. There is no extra "stuff" that we Americans tend to flood our rooms with.

My favorite part -- I LOVE these stairs. I am totally replicating this in my school some day :)

Why do they surpass us in everything? They use their whole brains. Primary school there is grade 1-6 and from 1st grade they have "wood crafts" (wood shop) and sewing class. They are hitting every aspect of learning styles from the very beginning. This pig was done by a 2nd grader independently with a sewing machine. Let me point out I'm 36 years old and can barely use a sewing machine but these 8 year olds did.

The hallway area where they hang up their coats. Notice the shoes underneath. They do not wear shoes in the classroom -- they wear stocking feet. We asked why and were told it keeps the floors from getting all dirty after the kids have played outside. I'm down with that!

Entry door. It's just fun so I took a picture.

Long view of the cafeteria area from the other side of the hallway.

They truly waste zero space. The library is in the hallway and is just a series of books on shelves that are labeled by level. No need to waste the space for a whole room, instead bookshelves are placed throughout in various hallways.

Even the sinks and utility area are in the hallway so as to not need to waste another room for that sort of thing. It might seem kind of weird at first but in reality it's quite charming.

Upstairs (at the top of those awesome spiral stairs) is a circular area that leads into some classrooms. In the hallway area you'll find many spots like this. Kids can just come out to work or read or study.

More coats/shoes

This was in a 6th grade class. I just liked the guitars so I snapped a picture :)

Every space is used for something. There is truly no wasted space. Everything serves many purposes.

I absolutely loved the visit to this school. It varies a little school by school in Finland because they have a ton of autonomy. When we asked the principal about teacher evaluation, she told us it doesn't exist. Their prep programs are such that once you get a teaching post, you know what to do and therefore, you do it. Everyone supports everyone and there is no need to check up on people. Yes, they discuss goals and progress but it isn't tied to unrealistic accountability as it is in the States. 

Additionally, one girl in our group asked about standardized testing and the principal said that when you give children a standardized test, you're trying to control them. I realize how very true of a statement that is. We are trying to control kids here in the USA and make them all fit into the same box, which is just not realistic. 

Their motto is "As long as we have children we have hope" and I think that is something the United States needs to think about. They go to school from 8-1 pm for the most part (although a couple of the students I did speak with told me that two days a week they stay until 2 or 3 and take extra classes but that's optional)...that 8-1 schedule also includes at least 45 minutes of recess and a lunch break. Yet they kick our butts on the PISA when their 15-16 year olds take it. 

We are doing it so, so wrong here in the USA. I'm pretty ready to learn Finnish and go teach there instead.


  1. I loved reading your article about the school. I live right next door to it, in Friisilä, but - believe it or not - I have never really visited inside the building except on polling day when I go there to vote in municipal elections!

    I found your blog when I was googling "Friisilä" and "honey" (I have bee hives right next door to the school, we sell our honey in the local area).

    You might be interested to know that the architect was Jorma Järvi, he designed the school in the late 1950s I vaguely remember reading somewhere that the architect's design was used to build schools elsewhere including America, but I can't find any links about that.

  2. Hi Penny! How cool that you live right there! I am so fascinated with everything different that is done in Finland compared to the United States. Thank you for the background information on the architect too. Very cool!