Dr. Marta Palacios, principal of Washington, DC’s Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, talks about her recent immersion in Helsinki education as a journey into the three Ps-- play, pedagogy and professionalism. “In Finland there is no rigorous model of teaching and observation, but in terms of moving ahead with instruction and the way teachers work together, I now find myself referencing Helsinki, saying, this is the way it’s done in Finland.”
Visiting Käpylä Comprehensive School serving grades 1 through 9, she was impressed, for example, by the teachers’ lounge. “This was not our idea of a place where you go for lunch, or to warm up food and then go back to your classroom to eat. Here was a professional room, a community center, really, set up with a big table with chairs, technology, a small kitchen, and all arranged to encourage talking and collaboration. Here teachers met and discussed lesson plans. I want that kind of hub in my school; I’m pressing for that. “Palacios may see her Helsinki-inspired dream come true. She is now working with District of Columbia education officials on the plans for the new Bruce-Monroe facility. “Collaborating together and doing interactive meetings in the mornings across the grade levels, these are ideas instilled by my Helsinki trip.”
Comparisons such as this fueled the culminating interactive education seminar hosted by the Embassy of Finland in May 2009. Aspects of the Finnish educational system were presented by Helsinki colleagues from the Helsinki Department of Education, Early Childhood Section, and Dr. Palacios’s Helsinki hosts Ms Sirpa Kopsa, Principal of Käpylä Comprehensive School and Virve Vakiala, the school’s Spanish education coordinator, and the staff of Bruce-Monroe compared and contrasted these shared insights with American educational models. “It was such a great opportunity not only for us, but also for the Finnish people to introduce, discuss, and reflect on their educational system.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Palacios would welcome the opportunity to send a teacher to Helsinki to “look, see, and come back with ideas,” so the influence extends beyond the administration. “I’d like also to host a Helsinki teacher here,” adds Dr. Palacios. “That’s one idea I’m trying to follow up.”
Dr. Palacios also credits the MYHelsinki program for broadening Bruce-Monroe’s connections on the local front. New relationships formed with other MYHelsinki guests continue to blossom and enrich programming at Bruce-Monroe. The school just worked with Casey Trees in a program that engaged Bruce-Monroe students in planting trees on the school grounds. The Embassy of Finland continues to play a strong role with the school, with Embassy staff, for example, recently participating in a school performance with the students. “MYHelsinki, it’s like it’s my family,” says Dr. Palacios.