WCHS staff members set for first phase of Finland/Alberta Research Partnership

In a few short weeks, four members of the teaching staff from Winston Churchill High School will be on a plane heading to Finland.

WCHS is one of five Alberta schools set to participate in the Finland/Alberta International Research Partnership, which will see principal Carey Rowntree and teachers Craig Findlay, Omar Kadir and Tracy Wong travel to Helsinki, Finland Oct. 8-12.

“It’s a natural partnership for Alberta schools and Finish school,” said Rowntree, who added Finland is known across the globe for having a very progressive education system.

Churchill is part of the second phase of the Alberta Teachers’ Association research partnership with Finland. It will see three year’s worth of visits and back-and-forth dialogue between educators in two very different parts of the world, dialogue which will also include students.

The goal of the partnership is simple.

“It’s about starting conversations about what makes a great school for all,” said Rowntree.

Year one of the partnership will include finding the right questions to ask, to identify potential practices that can be incorporated to the advantage of individual schools.

Year two will include implementation of a program and a plan, which will include a fair share of experimentation in both Alberta and Finland.

Evaluation of those programs will take place in year three, as schools will also examine the feasibility of continuing on with the programming.

Through it all, teachers on both sides of the partnership will work closely with the people that matter most in the entire equation – the students.

“The student voice is going to be very important,” said Rowntree, who added following the Finland visit, a student cohort will be developed to lend a voice to the initiatives.

Churchill students will also have the opportunity to travel to Finland in year two and three, while Finnish students will visit WCHS this spring.

As the partnership enters year two and three, Rowntree added additional staff members will make the trek to Finland. He estimated 8-10 staff members will eventual participate in the trips, while two or three students will head to Helsinki each time in year two and three. When staff and students are in Finland, it’s all business, according to the principal.

“This project has a very direct working component, said Rowntree, who added finding ways to serve Churchill students better, and removing educational barriers, will be key to the process. “We can always work together to find practices they have found successful, by being in their schools and talking to their teachers and to their students.”

Findlay first learned about the Alberta/Finland partnership through a colleague in Crowsnest Pass, who was involved in the first partnership project.

“I picked his brain about the transformation his school was going through due to the Finland connection,” said Findlay, who added the partnership took the CNP school on a reflective journey, highlighted by Finland’s less-is-more model. “It seems counterintuitive to us, being in front of students less and giving students more freedom and time.”

Findlay added Finland’s experiment with providing less structured time for students has proved successful, as Finish students routinely thrive under international testing standards.

“I think our school systems are structured quite differently, so we do have some limitations,” said Findlay, in terms of changes which can be made in Alberta, as he added the current curriculum-reform process in the province could offer some opportunities.

For Findlay, seeing Finish teachers in action will be a major highlight of the October trip.

“One of the most valuable things for me as a teacher is to be in other people’s classrooms and to learn from them. Now, we get an opportunity to go into one of the most reknowned educational systems in the world. I’m certain this experience is going to be very rich for all of us who get the opportunity to go.”

The Alberta Teachers' Association initiated the international research partnership with Finland to engage Alberta high school principals, teachers and students with opportunities to expand their knowledge and leadership skills and share exemplary practices in areas of common interest.

Following the October trip to Finland, Finnish schools will visit Alberta in May of 2019.

The first day in Helsinki for the Churchill crew will consist of a base camp summit for orientation, followed by three days of school visits, and a debrief summit back in Helsinki on the last day.

The annual financial commitment from the ATA includes $5,000 per partner high school each year.

The Churchill application to the ATA focused on improving and enhancing current approaches and practices, and seeking ways to enhance and improve current beliefs and practices with fresh ideas and considerations.

According to Rowntree, the partnership will help WCHS move forward with High School Redesign opportunities, as one example of foundational knowledge.

“As we move forward, members of our school community, students, staff, parents and District, will have opportunities to share their visions on what makes a school great for all, and contribute to the development and implementation of the initiatives,” he said.

Churchill is partnering with Joensuun Yhteiskoulun Lukio school in Joensuu, Finland, located about 430 kilometres northeast of Helsinki.

Date posted: Sept. 27, 2018