The Finnish education system is remarkable in many ways, one of which is the schools’ leadership system. The unique role of the principal can be divided into two distinct areas. Firstly, in Finnish schools, the principal functions not only as an administrative leader but also as a pedagogical leader. Secondly, the principal does not work alone – they distribute leadership within the school with an approach called shared leadership creating a learning community where everyone is a learner.
The principal’s role is extremely diverse. The duties include, for example, finances, human resources administration, implementation of integrated basic education, integration of special needs students and overall pedagogical development of the school. All principals in Finland are also teachers and, in most cases, they do a few teaching hours weekly. This ensures that the principal is not detached from the everyday work of the teachers. Experience of pedagogical work is a prerequisite for pedagogical leadership.
What is pedagogical leadership, then? As a pedagogical leader, the principal is responsible for the qualitative development of teaching and learning, and management of educational and teaching work. The principal is responsible for development and management of organisational knowledge, staff’s professional development, management of network based learning and utilisation of shared leadership.
The principal promotes leadership by sharing responsibility. Usually, principals have an assistant principal helping them in sharing the work load. In addition, much responsibility is given to teachers. Generally, the teachers are part of development teams focusing on different areas of school functions, for example student wellbeing, pedagogical development or internationalisation. They might also have a representative in the managerial board. When teachers are taken into development work, they become more committed to the decisions made in the school. Cooperation and being able to participate in the decisions related to their own work supports the teachers’ professional development.
The principals have a great responsibility in creating a school culture that supports each person’s development and growth and is inclusive in nature: a learning community. According to a Finnish study made about the role of principals, the most important characteristics of a principal is orientation towards reform, as they are the visionaries guiding the development of the school.
In our EduVenture week’s panel discussion, we have two principals sharing their thoughts: Mr. Kari Louhivuori, Principal (retired) and Mr. Jerker Polso, Assistant Principal. Mr. Louhivuori’s work as principal has been featured in an article by the Smithsonian Magazine a few years back.
Next week we will discuss the students’ role in the school’s development work.