Creating a great school for all students

December 5, 2011
Jean Stiles
How do we achieve transformation from the inside out?
How do we create a great school for all students?

We addressed these two questions just under a year ago at the onset of the Finland–Alberta partnership. During the discussions, we noted similarities between the two jurisdictions—both share a passion for and a commitment to student success and both face challenges to make changes in schools and are motivated to do so. We agreed that the partnership is not about adopting each other’s system but about reflecting on our own practices and removing the blinkers. It is all about how we see our schools now and how we can imagine them in the future.

One theme that emerged is that we must address educational transformation at the following three levels of leadership: student leadership, teacher leadership and principal leadership.

Student leadership

Amplifying an authentic student voice in our schools is paramount to progress. Many Alberta schools host principal advisory student councils, where students talk about their school and classroom experiences, and their input and feedback guide principals’ decisions about effective classroom practices. The Finnish principal network has initiated a project whereby two students from each of seven participating schools form a principal advisory committee to the Finnish principal network. Principals discuss school culture and school spirit with students. These students will visit Canada in February to meet with Alberta students in a student summit.

Teacher leadership

Teacher leadership is a key ingredient of transformation. This November, nine Finnish teachers spent a week visiting five schools in Alberta. Participating teachers discussed how the partnership could help them reflect on classroom practices and advance student success. Many of the partnership’s projects involve exchanging assessment practices and examining instructional strategies. For example, in an art project, an Alberta teacher will share her assessment practices with her Finnish counterpart as they each assess the work of the other’s students and discuss the assessment process and how it affects their personal assessment strategies. Sharing teaching practices leads to informed thought about what makes a great school.

Principal leadership

The last leadership element identified in our transformation discussion is that of enhancing our skills as principals. We discussed how best to support our teachers and be attuned to the student voice. We have much to learn from each other within our own jurisdictions. The Finnish principals meet monthly to discuss strategies. Similar discussions are taking place in Alberta among principals. In February, we’ll host a principal summit for all 12 principals involved in the partnership. At that time, we’ll share our findings and discuss our journey toward creating a great school for all students.


Jean Stiles is the principal of Jasper Place High School, in Edmonton.