Colorado’s Teacher of the Year: Here’s What We Can Learn From Schools In Finland

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Photo:Sean Wybrant, Colo Teacher of the Year 2017
Sean Wybrant, a career and technical education teacher at William J. Palmer High School in Colorado Springs, is the 2017 Colorado Teacher of the Year.

Photo:Sean Wybrant, Colo Teacher of the Year 2017Colorado's 2017 Teacher of the Year, Sean Wybrant, traveled to Finland this summer to see what he could learn from a school system that is consistently ranked one of the best in the world. The Palmer High School teacher tells Colorado Matters some things we can learn from Finland, and some things that probably won't pass muster.

What Colorado Could Learn

  • Put more trust in teachers: "In our system, there's a lots of talk about accountability, but no talk about trust. Trust that teachers will teach appropriately, and students will come ready to learn."
  • Schedule more recess: "In America we think that sitting in front of a teacher is learning. Play is also learning."
  • Less testing: "We use data oftentimes as a fear. We use it as a punitive measure." In Finland, students don't take standardized tests until high school.

What Colorado Might Have A Harder Time Adopting

  • Stronger vocational programs: Finland emphasizes technical education and often encourages students to specialize early, which Wybrant, a career and technical education teacher himself, respects. But he says Finland doesn't need to worry so much about discriminatory "tracking," since 93 percent of its population is ethnically Finnish. Colorado schools are significantly more diverse, and "we know from experience that tracking into non-college programs can be, and in fact often is, discriminatory in our society with so much diversity."

  • Funding: The Finns distribute money to support lower income area schools. "They don't have the disparities we do," he says. In Colorado, spending per student varies significantly by school district.