Imagine yourself among over 100 educators from throughout the world whose conversations are focused on innovation! Pinch me—is this real? Over and over that question entered my mind as I traveled to Helsinki, Finland to attend the Innovation Summit planned by HundrED during the first week of November of this year. It was an honor to be invited to participate in the summit. You might be wondering, how the heck did you get there?

Background

In 2016, I traveled to Malawi with Lindsay Pinchbeck, a colleague who established an arts center and an arts focused school called Sweet Tree in the small village of Hope, Maine. We traveled with Go! Malawi to an even smaller village called Mpamila. Malawi is a country in Africa with a population of about 18 million. In spite of being one of the poorest countries in the world, the people we met have warm and hopeful hearts.

We shared professional development workshops with 12 teachers and introduced arts integration ideas while using the arts to learn and build community. The experience was life changing, and pushed me, as only travel can do, to think deeply about teaching and learning. I couldn’t agree more with Lindsay when she says: “I continue to believe travel gives us the ability to step back and see with fresh eyes what we knew all along; it allows us to trust our intuition, see new perspectives, and build new friendships and new ideas.”

On the flight home from Malawi, Lindsay and I began dreaming about other places we might travel to keep growing and learning. Finland, the antithesis of Malawi, was on the list. 

Lindsay Pinchbeck and Argy Nestor.Fast forward a year and I was introduced to HundrED, an organization looking at what Finland was getting “right” about education and considering the future. They turned to the global community and that’s where we came in. We applied to be Ambassadors and were selected based on our work in Malawi and invited to the HundrED Innovative Summit. One hundred innovators were selected and their ideas are all posted on the amazing website filled with innovative resources. If you’re looking for inspiration or ideas for yourself or for students, I highly recommend taking time to visit. I guarantee you’ll be excited once you learn the stories of educators from around the world. Most innovators started with an idea they grew into amazing projects that impact communities and, in many cases, countries.

About HundrED

The HundrED report provides an in-depth look at what they believe and what they’ve learned doing the research. The report’s introduction reads:

HundrED is a non-profit organization that discovers, researches, and shares inspiring innovations in K12 education. HundrED was born from the notion that in a world becoming increasingly connected and globalized, education can still be very local and isolated in its practices. Our goal is to support improvement in education and inspire a movement, opening up valuable innovations to spread across the world. The goal is to be the world’s leading expert on scalable education innovations by 2020. HundrED is unique in its solution-oriented approach to education. We go beyond just identifying problems by highlighting existing solutions already improving education worldwide. We focus on celebrating, inspiring, and empowering all stakeholders to create positive change in education, striving for inclusivity and openness. What we share in our media is grounded in HundrED’s research and only shares innovations and ideas that have been identified as innovative, impactful, and scalable.

Part of the HundrED Manifesto reads:

The purpose of education is to help every child flourish, no matter what happens in life. In a fast-changing world education must adapt to keep up. The world is full of inspiring innovations, but they struggle to spread beyond their immediate environments. That’s why HundrED discovers, researches, and shares impactful and scalable K-12 innovations, with the world, for free.

HundrED has identified 100 innovators for 2019 and highlighted their work so others can learn and apply ideas to their own work. Some of the innovators are working against all odds. But the one thing they have in common is starting with a seed of an idea and figuring out how to impact the learners in their communities.

HundrED summit participants.

In addition to the HundrED website, where they are highlighting the projects of the Innovators and the Ambassadors, they live streamed the three-day November summit, which is archived on the home page of their website. If you’re curious about what went on, you can see and hear for yourself.

HundrED has a Facebook page where many of the summit participants are providing live sessions—all of them archived. Twitter chats are underway as well, providing more opportunities to learn from each other.

Finland's Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laas.The HundrED Summit was happening in conjunction with the first annual Helsinki Education Week. Finland understands that the international attention they have received and the quality of their system makes it a perfect hub to bring the global community together. Their message is heard at every level. Attending the closing session at the summit was the Minister of Education, Sanni Grahn-Laas. Her commitment to innovation in education was very clear: “The Finnish people love and respect education. We consider education to be our greatest resource. We want Finland to be wanting to learn all the time and for everyone to have equal access to quality education, so each child can reach their full potential.”

Master Class

As part of Education Week, I attended a one-day Master Class where we had the opportunity to hear presentations from amazing educators from India, California, Brazil, and Arizona. I was so humbled. Their stories were amazing—everyone was abuzz sharing ideas and their passion for making a difference with their innovations. Talking Tree Hill One Day School, located in Auckland, New Zealand, uses the arts and nature to drive the school’s content. The learners are focusing on skills to thrive as compassionate, conscious, and creative humans while they explore and learn what makes their hearts, bodies, and minds sing. They believe that healthy children + healthy planet = re-imagining education.

New Zealand teacher presenting Talking Tree Hill.

School Visit

The next morning, I had the opportunity to visit a school and chose one that focuses on visual arts, digital arts, and Chinese. It was a highlight of my stay in Helsinki. Meilahti Comprehensive School was comprised of 468 students in grades 7 through 9, and a total of 54 staff members. The 7th graders are grouped by interest with the year’s focus on cultural interaction and self-expression. Grade 8 and 9 students select courses on an individual basis. For example, an 8th grader can focus seven of their periods per week in visual arts or music. The overarching grade 8 focus is culture, interaction, and self-expression. Grade 9 is working life and active citizenship. In addition to Finnish and Chinese, five other languages are offered. Each school follows a national curriculum, but there is an enormous amount of freedom so the teachers can determine how to deliver the curriculum and how much they focus on what. Teachers are trusted and supported to offer the best learning for students. In turn, their empowerment encourages student empowerment. In Finland, teaching is well respected and it is competitive to get a teaching job.

Art at Meilahti Comprehensive School.

The principal was a gracious host, sharing and answering our questions, and was very well connected to the students. The focus on student-centered learning was evident in all parts of the curriculum.

Helsinki

In addition to attending the HundrED Innovative Summit and Education Week offerings, I had a chance to visit Helsinki. The Finnish people were warm and welcoming, the offerings in the arts and culture were plentiful, and the food and shops offered many treats. I highly recommend a visit!