OK, Finland. We get it. You are infinitely cooler than us.
Edweek's recent article about Finland’s move from factory-style school buildings to more innovative and architecturally stimulating buildings made me green with envy. The article claims that these “contemporary campuses [will] meet the pedagogical and social needs of their students and teachers.”
Everything about the structure is intentional, and it is meant to create a more purposeful environment for teaching and learning. Sometimes this means an atrium in the middle of the school where students can get a little vitamin D between classes. Sometimes this means a teachers lounge with an espresso bar. Finland already has one of the most successful education systems in the world. Now, with these new buildings, our sexy Scandinavian friends have really outdone themselves.
But just when I was staring over the edge of an isn't-Finland-so-great-abyss, I spent a day at Henson Elementary School in Chicago and realized that visionary leaders right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. are doing a lot of the same work. Henson is an old building, but it is full of hope and potential. In an effort to create a more joyful environment for kids and teachers, we painted the walls bright green. It may not seem like much compared to Finland’s state-of-the-art facilities, but a small change like this in a school that’s strapped for cash can go a long way for school culture. Sometimes all you need for a fresh start is a fresh coat of paint. I know that the kids will be so excited when they come back from summer vacation and see Henson 2.0.
I spent some time at Henson last fall organizing classrooms and creating more usable space in the building. The students are used to manila walls, white halls, and cluttered classrooms. It was your standard factory-style, old public school building.
Henson’s principal (and 2002 Teach For America alum) Demetrius Hobson begged the district for money to clean up the school and make it a warm and welcoming place for kids, but in case you haven’t heard, the Chicago Public Schools district is a little tight on the cash right now. Mr. Hobson has relied on his staff and community volunteers to help get the school back in shape. While the building may still be old, the new bright colors and crisply organized classrooms reflect the energy, hope, and spirit the students, teachers, and leaders of Henson bring.
When I first read about Finland’s new fancy schools, it made me sad for the state of our public school systems. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where the next logical step is to build innovative and modern buildings for our students?
Reading about Finland again now, I feel hopeful and inspired by what our school leaders are able to accomplish when a community comes together. Courtyards and espresso machines aren’t the only way to instill pride in kids and teachers. After my experience at Henson, I realized that it’s not innovative buildings that we should be pining for, it’s innovative leaders like Mr. Hobson who get resourceful when money is tight. With a little ingenuity, a slew of community partners, and a lot of green paint, the students of Henson will have something to brag about when they return next week.