Finnish Embassy hosts AFT's Share My Lesson showcase

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Finnish Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde (see left) welcomed the AFT and international guests to the Finnish Embassy Dec. 12, where she praised the union's Share My Lesson teacher resource as reminiscent of Finland's own renowned commitment to teacher training and support. After comments from AFT president Randi Weingarten and others describing Share My Lesson, a free, online collection of curriculum and lesson plans by teachers, for teachers, the embassy then hosted a reception as well as a session of hands-on demonstrations of the program.

Koukku-Ronde said one of the primary reasons the Finnish education system is so successful is teacher training: Teachers there are trained in universities and must hold master's degrees. Training "is at the same level as that of doctors or lawyers," she said. "Teachers in Finland "are so highly valued and respected," she added, the profession is "a kind of dream job."

One of the primary reasons teachers are highly esteemed lies in their training, and Koukku-Ronde gave high marks to the AFT's commitment to rigorous teacher training—a standard proposed in the recent AFT' report, "Raising the Bar—Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession." [This report has been updated to the 2013 version, 4/25/14.]

Share My Lesson can be an extension of that training, a tool for new teachers to continue their professional development: "Sharing is caring," said Koukku-Ronde, and giving teachers the tools to share their best lesson plans and activities is another way of valuing their work while at the same time supporting their professional growth.

SML crowd

Among the embassy guests were diplomats, college of education deans, Fulbright program administrators and Department of Defense education specialists, who help run U.S. schools overseas, as well as teachers and other AFT members who have used Share My Lesson and want to recommend it to others.

Because it is an online system, Share My Lesson serves international populations particularly well. Marie Sainz-Funaro, president of the Overseas Federation of Teachers-AFT, described it as invaluable for students who have to move to another country in the middle of the school year, because it allows teachers to continue to support them as they finish their work. It also allows teachers who work thousands of miles apart to collaborate with one another, an especially important point for members of AFT locals spread across several nations.

Everywhere AFT representatives travel, international educators ask for resources and curriculum ideas; Share My Lesson allows them to plug in and find more than 250,000 free resources.

The embassy event underscores the relationship between the AFT and Finland: A delegation of AFT leaders has visited Finland several times to study the success of the internationally respected education system there, and the embassy here has welcomed Weingarten and other AFT representatives twice before.

"You have shown the world that there is a way, through public education, of helping all children succeed," Weingarten told Koukku-Ronde. "Finland prepares teachers like we prepare our doctors. Education of the next generation is as important to Finns as life is to us."

"Teaching is a sharing and caring profession," she continued. "We build off each other's work. But ironically, teachers often feel really alone. There is an all-too-common rite of passage when new teachers are just tossed the keys to the classroom. Then they're expected to figure things out and left to see if they and their students sink or swim." More rigorous teacher preparation could help remedy that.

Share My Lesson can help as well, filling the gaps and preparing teachers for the classroom – both as new teachers, and on an ongoing basis.

"Teachers tell me all the time, they want access to content that enables them to provide a great education to students," said Weingarten. Share My Lesson is an important tool to making that access truly universal." [Virginia Myers/Photo credit Mike Campbell]

December 13, 2012