An epic trip: what I learned in Helsinki and the Hague

Today we are joined by Kristin Lewis, Executive Editor of Scope, Scholastic's Language Arts classroom magazine for middle school. Kristin recently traveled to Finland and the Netherlands for 10 jam-packed days, and we asked her to tell us about it! Her story, below:

When I was first presented with the opportunity to go to Helsinki with 52 educators, my immediate reaction was YES. (Duh.)

Then a few moments passed.

Wait. What about Scope? What about our pressing deadlines? What about my clogged inbox? (Cue panic.) So I brought it up with my team, and they all said GO. (They are great like that.) 

Well, I could not be more delighted that I listened to them: The journey was transformative. 

I participated in a 10-day professional learning experience organized by EF Educational Tours. I, along with 52 American educators, spent four fascinating days in Helsinki, Finland, learning about the fabled Finnish educational system, which is considered to be one of the best in the world. Then we all headed to the Hague, where we joined up with 1,300 teenagers for a for the EF Global Student Leaders Summit on human rights.

In the Hague, I had the honor of interviewing keynote speakers Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi.

Hanging in Helsinki! Left to right: Petteri Elo, 5th-grade Finnish teacher and founder of PedaNow; Joey Lee, 2014 New Hampshire State Teacher of the Year and Education Programs Manager at EF Educational Tours; 2016 State Teachers of the Year Natalie DiFusco-Funk (Virginia), Ernie Lee (Georgia), Chelsea Collins (New Jersey), Revathi Balakrishnan (Texas), Leticia Ingram (Colorado), Ashley Lamb-Sinclair (Kentucky); Colin Shaw, PhD, Vice President, Professional Learning at EF Educational Tours. 

There were too many incredible moments to recount. I met Finnish teachers and principals and picked their brains. I explored how Finnish culture has produced a system that puts teacher autonomy and trust at its core. I tasted reindeer meat and experienced what 11 p.m. feels like so far north. (The sun is still bright.) In the Hague, I sat down with keynote speakers Ndaba Mandela and Dr. Arun Gandhi to talk about their legacies—and I met one teenager who was so excited to shake Dr. Gandhi’s hand that she swore she was never going to wash it. 

Check out how much free play is built into the schedule in Finland!

Now that I am back in New York, my mind is abuzz. There is something powerful about traveling closely with passionate, gifted educators, whom I now count as friends and colleagues. I am excited to infuse Scope with all I’ve learned. But most of all, I have a renewed sense of mission for the work we do here at Scholastic: supporting teachers and students with important content that will unleash their curiosity and remind them that they have agency in the world.

Students in the Hague designed solutions to a human rights issue, then pitched their ideas in a science-fair like setting called the Innovation Village. 

Look for my upcoming articles in Teacher and Scope for more about what I learned on this trip. In the meantime, I will leave you with these beautiful words from Dr. Arun Gandhi:

"Education must not only make us more informed human beings, but it must first and foremost make us better human beings."

For anyone curious in learning more about education in Finland, I recommend The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley, and Finnish Lessons 2.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg. 

Photo credits, L-R & top to bottom: Adam Bickelman/EF Education First; Eva Persson/AP Images for Scholastic; Schedule Courtesy of Tim Walker; EF Education First