Administrative officials from Elkin City Schools spent a week in Finland learning about the country’s highly respected teaching methods. Among Elkin’s travelers to Finland were Elkin City Schools Superintendent Myra Cox, Director of Global Studies and Virtual Learning Pam Colbert and Elkin Elementary School Principal Emily Rycroft.
School leaders participated in the Lapland International Education Forum (LIFE 2022) with educators from 18 other countries.
Rycroft said the conference confirmed to him that many of the teaching methods the school system already knows to be effective were among the things being taught. Although much of the freedom enjoyed by educators and students in Finland is not exactly achievable within the framework that educators must conform to, Rycroft, Cox, and Colbert said they hope to incorporate some of the educational philosophies Finnish here in Elkin.
“In Finland, they really emphasize the outdoors and nature and engage kids in nature from an early age,” Colbert said. “We have so many opportunities to teach our children by walking our trails, working in the streams, being able to use what we have.”
Finnish children have fun and learn outdoors from an early age and even in extreme temperatures, Colbert said. Rycroft said this is one aspect that she thinks Elkin Elementary can immediately start doing more of.
“We live in a city so rich in different learning environments; we have the rivers, we have the trails, we have the parks, we have a historic downtown within walking distance, we need to get there more,” Rycroft said.
Cox said his biggest takeaway from the conference in Finland was the belief that “every student is unique and has the right to a high quality education.”
“They want to produce happy kids and they want their learning environment to be very student-centered,” she said. “Their teachers really get to know each child in the class, from their abilities to their interests, and they plan lessons to target them. It is not a single educational framework, it is very varied and authentic.
Finnish students have much more freedom to take charge of their own learning.
“We noticed that there were a lot more observations of students being independent thinkers and learners and responsible for their learning than we see here in the United States,” Cox said. “They really transform their students into human beings and prepare them to become citizens of their world.”
The trio of Elkin educators not only participated in the conference, but were able to immerse themselves in unique cultural experiences in Finland, from snowmobiling to watching the Northern Lights to eating traditional Finnish food.
“I was so scared to eat moose or reindeer, but they’re so tasty,” Cox said. “Just trying these new things to eat was very exciting.”
Rycroft said his meal at a Finnish restaurant on their first night there, consisting of reindeer tenderloin over mashed root vegetables, was his favorite.
“It was a little gamey but tender as tenderloin,” she said. She added that she didn’t want to reveal to her students at home that she ate reindeer since the day after their trip included a trip to Santa’s Village with a real reindeer farm.
“He was doing something negative and we ride snowmobiles down a completely frozen river to this authentic reindeer farm where there were reindeer sleigh rides, a fire with hot cider, there was a storyteller,” described Cox. “It was just amazing in this winter wonderland, memories that I will cherish forever.”
Colbert and Rycroft also experienced the cultural tradition of an ice bath in Finland.
“They lie and say it’s invigorating,” laughed Colbert, “It wasn’t invigorating, it was cold. It was really, really cold.”
Both said the hike, maybe 50 feet or so, to the hut to straighten up after their dip in the freezing waters was the worst part. Despite the cold, both said they were glad they had it.
The conference theme was “learning together” and it’s something Cox said they hope to bring more into the school system, collaborative learning.
“I appreciate the opportunity that the Board of Education has given us to participate in this educational and cultural experience, as the interaction with the participants from 18 countries and the observation of the interactions of teachers and students in the schools have really showed how important relationships are. . We can’t do anything in isolation, but we can network, we can collaborate and do things together,” she said.