Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms by Timothy D. Walker offers tidbits of inspiration and practical advice to American teachers and homeschooling families alike.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Post contains affiliate links.
While it’s no secret most of what Mr. Walker’s book showcases why many American households decide to homeschool, I found it extremely beneficial to read cover to cover.
I first noticed Mr. Walker’s blog Taught by Finland a few years ago in my homeschooling research journey – Again, someone once said to me “if you don’t want to homeschool, don’t research it.” I found his articles, like this one, in the Atlantic, to be a refreshing reminder to all parents and teachers to help our children find joy in their learning again.
So when Mr. Walker – an American teacher turned Finnish teacher – planned to publish his book, I was probably one of the first crazy moms to email him my support and let him know how anxious I was to get my hands on it… and here’s why:
Finland teachers are relaxed, students are joyful and yet they outrank every other country in reading, mathematics and science.
When everyone else in America (and the world, really) is scrambling to figure out why our young generations are not only falling behind but are more stressed and over-medicated than ever before, Mr. Walker dives into why Finland’s students are not only responsible and happy children but also score so well academically.
I couldn’t agree more with one of his underlying finds: less is more.
Americans spend a ridiculous amount of money on schools and yet we still have huge issues. Parents and teachers make the case for more technology, more materials, more teachers, more time in school, more activities, more this and more that and yet everyone’s beyond stressed out and no one’s learning much of anything under pressure to teach to the test.
On the contrary, Finland’s schoolrooms maybe have one or two computer rooms, the children and teachers take 15-minute breaks every hour, there’s a sense of camaraderie versus competition between the teachers and children have fewer workloads and homework.
Mr. Walker breaks his book into four main chapters motivated by SDT studies (self-determination theory)), and each chapter contains several sections:
I felt a bit vindicated reading his book, to be frank. The well-being section echoed what I emphasize at home already. If you use Waldorf or Montessori methods in your classroom/home atmosphere then none of this is new information to you, nor a surprise (peace, nature, simplification…etc.).
However, while I promote minimalism and a simple life here on my blog, I’m not the best at being an “instructor,” so to speak, but instead rely on multiple other avenues to guide my children such as mentors, curriculum, literature, nature and outside activities. So while my books of choice tend to focus the decline of our school system and why to take our children out, I found it refreshing to read a full-time teacher’s point of view on ways to make classrooms better since most children have to, in fact, be in school. Because let’s face it, not everyone can homeschool (nor has the desire to do so).
But every child deserves to have a childhood, in and out of school.
The second section, Belonging, contained advice most helpful to me personally. While my children are more socialised than most children (forced association is not socialization, people!), this part of the book made me realize I’m not leaning enough on others (aka teachers need to lean on each other, work together, not isolate themselves and compete with one another).
Don’t get me wrong, we homeschoolers have no reason to compete BUT we oftentimes secretly compare ourselves to other homeschooling families instead of reaching out and asking those we admire to offer us their humble advice.
This was a wake-up call.
So, finding a mentor, soon, might be in order. I’ve already jotted notes down on how to celebrate my children’s learning more effectively thanks to Mr. Walker. Our minimal, simplified home shows almost zero artwork, which is unbalanced I realize. However, including my children in their learning is something I’ve done from the start, something he also discusses at length.
And while I teach at home in order to cultivate independent thinkers, Mr. Walker’s book made me realize I may not be giving my children enough autonomy. In other words, giving them more opportunities to take responsibility and own their work. My takeaway here was:
Not just completing work because it’s on my agenda but letting them make their own agenda and helping them stick to it.
And since I don’t want to completely spoil the book for you (which is impossible, there are way too many good nuggets of information in his 190 pages), I will only say one of my favorite recommendations was an acronym strategy to help our children see how they’ve grown in their knowledge.
He also says to Make Learning Real.
Who could argue with Mr. Walker here? Either recreate real-life scenarios (or homeschool, I say) so they witness how real life works through each day.
Mr. Walker also discusses strategies to help incorporate activities which have drastically declined after states initiated Common Core including music, art and physical movement.
A few of his points felt redundant but it didn’t disrupt the flow. And I disagree with Mr. Walker only on occasion and rarely more than a paragraph or two. Considering our viewpoints differ drastically in one area in particular (he teaches at school, I chose to take my children out of school), he seems to get an honorable message across that:
Our children need more joy and less stress for learning.
How do we accomplish this? Read his book. I can’t imagine trying to be a teacher in America these days but, if you are one, Teach Like Finland will serve you well.
Finally, again, something Mr. Walker emphasizes throughout the book that I agree with wholeheartedly – “Students who pursue their own learning demonstrate increased motivation, learn more, and develop stronger metacognitive skills,” as quoted by Moss and Brookhart in their book, Learning Targets.
My opinion in a nutshell?
Get your own copy of Teach Like Finland if you love teaching (in school or at home). It’s packed with practical advice you can actually implement tomorrow as a teacher and/or as a parent.
But most importantly, buy this book if you want future generations to be happy, contribute to society and thrive.
I hope you found this review helpful.