Council+ Meeting

Session 2: Introduction to the Finnish system


The presentation discusses the principal’s role in governance, drawing inspiration from the book “Educational Leadership in Finland” by Tapio Lahtero and Vikko Salonen. The focus is primarily on the first and second points mentioned earlier. The Finnish team celebrates the fifth year of their principal well-being survey, which was recently released to the media. Key insights from the survey will be shared by research professor Katarina Salmelaarro and Professor Minna Huotilainen from the University of Helsinki. Saija Ohtonen-Jones from the Finnish Parents League will also discuss the relationship between home and school.

The Finnish rectorate began its work a decade ago, aiming to promote the interests of principals and vice-principals. Challenges faced include work overload, the need for clear job descriptions, and the rapid changes in schools. The importance of pedagogical leadership over mere administration is emphasized. Principals are seen as leaders of well-being in schools, and their well-being impacts teachers, staff, and students.

The “circle of well-being” concept is introduced, suggesting that good leadership leads to teacher well-being, which in turn affects student well-being and learning outcomes. The importance of understanding and ensuring conditions for good leadership is highlighted.

The presentation credits the ICP and the Cape Town conference in 2017 for introducing them to Dr. Philip Riley’s work on principal health and well-being. This inspired the Finnish team to conduct a similar survey in Finland, now referred to as the “principal barometer.” The results from the Finnish survey conducted in spring 2023 are ready to be shared.

Principal Barometer results (Katariina Slamela-Aro)

Professor Katarina Slamela-Aro from the University of Helsinki presented findings on the well-being of principals, emphasizing the importance of understanding the challenges and resources available to them.

  1. Burnout Trends: The study revealed a concerning trend: burnout among principals in Finland has been on the rise, with nearly 30% experiencing it by 2023. This increase in burnout has been consistent, especially since the onset of COVID.
  2. Engagement Decline: While burnout increased, there was a notable decline in work engagement, or the positive feelings towards one’s job. This decline mirrors findings from student well-being studies in Finland, suggesting a broader issue in the educational sector.
  3. Workplace Challenges: Principals reported increased work demands over the years, particularly in workload and pace. There was also a reported rise in both verbal and physical violence in schools, though the numbers remain relatively low on a global scale.
  4. Resource Shortage: Alongside the rise in demands, there’s been a decrease in resources available to principals, including training opportunities and influence over their work. This combination of increased demands and decreased resources is a potential catalyst for the rising burnout rates.
  5. Comparison with Estonia: When compared to their Estonian counterparts, Finnish principals reported higher job demands and fewer resources. However, Finnish principals still showed a higher sense of commitment and recognition.
  6. Job Crafting: The study introduced the concept of job crafting, where principals proactively adapt their roles to meet challenges. This approach, especially relevant during the COVID era, can lead to better work engagement and overall well-being.
  7. The Importance of Community: A significant insight was the role of community and support. With 10% of principals reporting feelings of severe loneliness, the study emphasized the importance of principals feeling integrated and supported in their communities.
  8. Principal Well-being Barometer: This tool, now in its fifth year, provides an annual snapshot of principal well-being. The barometer has been instrumental in tracking the aforementioned trends and offers principals personalized feedback.
  9. Looking Ahead: With societal changes, including the advent of AI and upcoming educational reforms in Finland, the study underscores the importance of continuous monitoring and feedback. The goal is to equip principals with the resources and support they need to thrive in their roles.

The presentation concluded with the introduction of an international book that offers a global perspective on these issues, suggesting that the challenges faced by principals are not isolated but are part of a larger global trend.

Findings on physiological responses

Minna Huotilainen from the University of Helsinki presented findings on physiological responses in the context of Finnish principals.

  1. Stress and Recovery Timescales:
    • Stress and recovery can be categorized into acute daily moments, overall daily experiences, and long-term lifestyle patterns.
    • Factors like sleep quality significantly influence daily stress and recovery.
  2. Physiological Indicators:
    • The autonomous nervous system’s reactions, such as heart rate variability (HRV), provide insights into stress and recovery levels. A higher HRV indicates better recovery.
  3. Measurement Methodology:
    • A device used for four days captures HRV, physical activity, and sleep patterns.
    • This data offers a detailed view of principals’ stress and recovery during workdays and weekends.
  4. Key Study Findings:
    • Since the study’s inception in 2019, participation has grown from 50 to 200 principals.
    • Data revealed a concerning trend: HRV, indicative of recovery, was highest during the night but has been decreasing over the years, with 2022 showing the lowest levels.
    • Principals with severe work fatigue showed diminished recovery during workdays but some recovery during weekend nights.
  5. Music as a Recovery Tool:
    • The study explored music’s role in managing emotions and stress.
    • Principals commonly used music for strong sensations and entertainment. However, female principals showed a higher inclination towards using music for solace and introspection.
    • Two strategies, strong sensation and revival, emerged as the most effective for stress relief. In contrast, exclusive reliance on diversion and unistar was found less effective.
  6. Conclusive Insights:
    • Objective physiological measurements, like HRV, provide a more comprehensive understanding of stress and recovery than self-reports alone.
    • The decreasing HRV trend over the years is a cause for concern, indicating reduced recovery among principals.
    • Music, with its direct impact on the autonomous nervous system, emerged as a potential tool for principals to navigate daily stress and enhance recovery.

Finnish Parents’ League

  1. Introduction:
    • The importance of supporting principals was highlighted, as they play a crucial role in children’s lives.
  2. About the Finnish Parents League:
    • The organization is over 115 years old with a Christian background.
    • Initially focused on supporting parents, but since the 1950s, the emphasis has been on home-school cooperation.
    • They represent over 1,236 parents associations across schools and daycares in Finland.
    • The core mission includes supporting parents associations, promoting parent inclusion in educational institutions, and influencing educational and family policies.
  3. Legal Framework:
    • The legal framework in Finland strongly supports home-school cooperation.
    • Various acts emphasize the importance of cooperation with parents for the benefit of the child.
    • The National core curriculum of 2014 in Finland also emphasizes the importance of home-school cooperation.
  4. Parents Barometer:
    • The Parents Barometer is a survey that gauges parents’ opinions.
    • Data from 2018 shows high appreciation from parents for the work schools, teachers, and principals do.
    • However, only about half of the parents feel that schools are open to their ideas.
  5. Challenges and Opportunities:
    • Communication is a significant challenge, and there’s room for improvement.
    • The speaker emphasized the importance of building trust, equality, and mutual respect.
    • The COVID-19 pandemic affected home-school cooperation, making it harder to engage parents.
  6. Parental Activity in Finland:
    • Parental activity is voluntary, and parents are involved in various school activities and events.
    • The speaker emphasized the importance of encounters, interaction, and dialogue with parents.
  7. Conclusion:
    • Attitude plays a significant role in improving home-school cooperation.
    • The speaker encouraged courage and open-mindedness to better serve children and address welfare challenges.
    • The presentation ended with a reminder of the importance of cooperation for the well-being of children.