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Steamboat Springs teacher returns from Finland with new insights

Teresa Ristow
Steamboat Springs High School teacher Meghan Hanson-Peters helps a student with her world geography assignment during class in 2014.
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— Meghan Hanson-Peters left Finland earlier this year with a better understanding of a culture that values trust, individualism and family values.

The 14-year Steamboat Springs High School social studies teacher spent the first five months of 2016 studying in the country under a prestigious Fulbright Award.

Hanson-Peters studied education practices in Finland, a country whose students have consistently scored among the top in academic achievement worldwide.

One Finnish practice Hanson-Peters observed in the many schools she visited was the custom of teachers and students eating together and having the same meal at lunch each day.

“I think it’s really powerful in promoting one of the pillars of Finnish society — and that’s equity,” said Hanson-Peters, who is currently teaching a semester-long course for other Steamboat teachers on her experiences in Finland. She also presented her experience to the Steamboat Springs Board of Education on Monday.

Hanson-Peters said the lunchtime tradition took place at schools large and small, urban and rural.

Because higher education is paid for by the government in Finland, Hanson-Peters said students there are relieved of some of the stresses her American students face when working to achieve a high GPA, class rank and SAT score.

She said her observations on the less competitive nature of education in Finland might influence her own practices in the classroom moving forward.

“Maybe I can be more intentional on decreasing the likelihood that students are competing in my classroom,” Hanson-Peters said.

Hanson-Peters said a teacher is a highly regarded profession in Finland, and teachers are given extensive pre-service training before teaching their own classes.

“Once you’re trained as a professional teacher, the society trusts you,” she said.

Hanson-Peters visited Finland to research cooperative learning, a practice of putting students together in groups and monitoring their performance.

She said it was unfortunate that she had to select her research topic more than a year in advance and before arriving in Finland, as she encountered many other interesting aspects of Finnish education she would have also liked to study.

“I might be more interested in designing a research project about millennial attitudes,” said Hanson-Peters, who observed many young millennials with goals to try new things outside of Finland, something older generations were less interested in.

Hanson-Peters was one of about 50 educators across the United States to participate in the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program for 2015-16.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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