Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker

Teach Like Finland

Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker tells the story of an American teacher who moved to Finland with his Finnish wife and got a job teaching in a Finnish school. Although he realizes that there are many constraints that prevent American schools from being like Finnish schools, he does think that we can borrow a great deal from the way Finnish teachers operate. All school leaders should get a copy and consider making copies available to their teaching staff.

Forward by Pasi Sahlberg

  • You can read my summary of Pasi’s Finnish Lessons here.
  • When the first PISA scores were released in 2001, to everyone’s surprise, Finland came in first. There was also less variation between schools and less influence from family backgrounds. Spending was modest. Students start at age seven, schools address all subjects evenly, there are no private schools, students aren’t segregated by their ability, and they believe anyone can learn most of the expected things with sufficient support. Teachers must have a research-based masters and a full-year internship, and about half of all students get some special education support as soon as they need it.
  • Principals are certified teachers and do some teaching. After school, there are many associations and clubs that allow almost all students to engage in sports, arts, and/or cultural activities. While it is impossible to transfer education systems from one place to the other, Tim shows how you can use principles found in Finnish schools to improve the quality of education in your school.


  • As a first-year teacher in Massachusettes, Tim was so burned out that he took a month-long leave in February. After three years of teaching, he moved to Helsinki with his Finnish wife and landed a job teaching in an English speaking fifth grade. In addition to teaching there for two years, he also visited other schools and interviewed many other teachers. He believes that American teachers can and should put Joy first in their classrooms. To organize this book he starts with Raj Raghunathan’s four ingredients of happiness, which are belonging, autonomy, mastery, and mindset. To these, he adds well-being.

1. Well-Being

  • Schedule Brain Breaks: When Tim started teaching in Finland he shunned the 15-minute breaks every forty fine minutes employed by other teachers. He soon noticed that his students became zombie-like after a while. When he did start with breaks he noticed that students were much more focused. Refreshing one’s brain leads to greater productivity and creativity. Students should have a choice of what to do during breaks. Look for enjoyment, novelty, and independence. Classrooms also should have “calm spots.”
  • Learn On the Move: Until recently, Finland, like the US, got a D for physical activity levels. This prompted the introduction of a program called “Finland on the Move.” They realized that students weren’t getting enough exercise so they added more movement during breaks and during class time. Older students act as exercise facilitators for younger students. Playground gear is checked out to each student. Calisthenics breaks happen during class. Standing desks and exercise balls as seats are being added to classrooms. Students post work in class or hallways and then walk around leaving questions and praise on other students’ work with sticky notes.
  • Recharge After School: Finish teachers know the importance of recharging after work. They engage in activities that are not related to their school work. It helps that their teaching load of about 18 hours a week is much less than the 26.8 US schools average. Unlike many US teachers, they don’t equate success with how many hours they work. Rather than encourage teachers to stay late like some US schools, principals will say things like “shouldn’t you be home by now.” This greatly lessens stress and anxiety. Finnish teachers do give homework, but it consists of simple tasks which can be completed over several days without parental help.
  • Simplify the Space: Unlike many US classrooms that feature walls cluttered with teacher displays and student work, classrooms in Finland are relatively simple. Studies show that cluttered walls distract student attention and interfere with learning. By putting only a few things on the walls they will get more attention. Posting quality student work is fine, but it need not stay up too long. Not having to constantly decorate also gives teachers more time for other uses.
  • Breathe Fresh Air: Classrooms full of students can also have increased levels of carbon dioxide, which can negatively impact learning. For this reason, opening windows from time to time is part of the Finnish philosophy. They also get students outdoors even when it’s raining and at temperatures as low as 5 degrees F (-15 C). Classroom temperatures should be between 68 and 74 F and they should feature as much natural lighting as possible.
  • Get Into the Wild: Howard Gardner the creator of multiple intelligence theory has added an eighth intelligence he calls naturalist intelligence. Finnish teachers get their students into nature as much as possible be it on the school grounds or via a field trip. On the school grounds, you can observe and record nature. You can also grow things and add bird feeders. Be sure to bring nature into your classroom where you can also grow plants and some small animals like frogs.
  • Keep the Peace: Peaceful classrooms make for better learning. At times the room will be quiet as students work independently. At other times students will collaborate. Sometimes both may be happening with the collaborators off in a corner. Students work to make class rules with a focus on respect and three rules is a good number. Then they make anchor sheets, which show the kind of behaviors that promote the rules. Students take charge of a “noise detector” so they feel responsible for keeping the peace. Meditative-like mindfulness activities help settle students down after periods of physical activity.
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DrDougGreen.com     If you like the summary, buy the book
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