Talking to Mentor Teachers: Liisa
At HEI Schools, we ensure that Finnish pedagogy is implemented in all of our local Learning Centers and Clubs by providing thorough introductory teacher training and management training to all local staff and by sending mentor teachers from Finland to each one! For several weeks, mentor teachers work alongside local teachers in the Learning Centers and Clubs, providing hands-on support and guidance in the everyday life of the children.
To get a better sense of what such an experience is like, we spoke to Liisa, who was a mentor teacher at HEI Schools Seongbuk in Korea from February to April 2019. Read on to learn more about her story!
What is your background in education?
I am a Finnish-educated kindergarten teacher. I have completed additional studies in early childhood education management at the University of Jyväskylä Institute of Educational Leadership, and I continuously update my professional "toolkit" by completing studies at the University of Helsinki Centre for Continuing Education.
On top of my formal education, I have had the privilege to learn about the educational systems in the USA, Singapore and Estonia while living abroad. Since I have a long career in education, I have also taught in some alternative educational systems, namely Waldorf and Montessori. I was chairman of the board for a Finnish Waldorf kindergarten for a few years and completed some volunteer teaching in two Montessori schools in Florida.
Why did you choose to become a mentor teacher?
Teachers play a huge role in education because we create the learning environment for the children. The learning environment is not only the physical environment - the emotional and social environments are important, too. Children thrive in an encouraging and happy atmosphere in which playful learning is the primary teaching method.
My sincere hope is that children all over the world have access to the kind of education that HEI Schools represents, allowing each of them to reach their full potential. As a HEI School mentor teacher, I have been able to actively promote an educational system that I believe to be the best in the world.
How did you find out about the program?
In 2017, I had three of the teachers from the HEI Schools Chinese pilot program training in my kindergarten classroom in Vantaa, Finland. Later, I had two more groups of teachers come in, one from China and the other from Australia. During these trainings, I got to know the good people at HEI School headquarters, and in 2018, I wrote the English program for HEI Schools. When the opportunity came to be a mentor teacher in South Korea, I was happy to take it because it allowed me to experience the project of launching a HEI Schools Learning Center.
What challenges did you encounter?
The biggest challenge was the language barrier because I don't speak Korean, and English is not widely spoken in Korea. We had to rely on the few people in the Korean staff who spoke English to do the translating. And Google Translator was a great help, too!
Was this your first experience teaching English?
No. I have been working in an English kindergarten in Vantaa, Finland for several years, so I am experienced in delivering a bilingual education as well as teaching English to young learners.
How did you connect with the local teachers?
I was very impressed and touched by the local teachers’ willingness to learn about the HEI Way and to think critically in order to understand the science behind it. I was accepted as a member of the team, and when it was time for me to return to Finland, saying goodbye to the local teachers was not easy. Efficient learning always involves emotions, no matter what age the learners are, and we had a very intensive 10 weeks with lots of learning and positive emotions!
Was your time away long enough to experience the culture of Seoul?
Seoul is so huge that one could spend a year there and still find new things to see! But yes, I did get to experience many wonderful cultural events, including fantastic Korean dinners. I also experienced an overnight temple stay in a Buddhist temple, and I visited the city of Busan on the south coast.
What was the most common question you received about Finnish education and how did you answer it?
I was asked how Finnish education differs from other types of education. I responded by saying that Finnish education is truly child-centered and respects each child's individual pace of learning.
Since all the teachers and families you worked with were new to HEI Schools, did they understand this new approach to early childhood education?
We had a two-week initial training period for the local teachers, and I think that it provided them with a lot of insight. After the school opened, we discussed the approach together every day, and we mentor teachers explained how the pedagogy played out in actual daily events.
Parents had clearly done a lot of research and thinking before enrolling their children, and they all wanted an alternative to the very competitive education that is the norm in Korea. One Korean parent said, "I want my child to be happy." And the children were certainly happy, but also learning a lot!
What interactions did you have with the local parents and the community?
We sent a weekly newsletter to the families describing the activities and learning goals for the week. A monthly family day was a lot of fun. The last one I participated in was a fashion show where the children walked the catwalk in their personally designed outfits.
Every Friday, we went on a field trip with the children. If the air quality was good, we visited forests and parks. Indoor trips included children's museums, science museums and the like. The children would always have their yellow vests on for safety and on the back of the vests, the name “HEI Schools” is printed. On many occasions, I noticed other members of the community paying attention to the lovely interactions and conversations between the HEI School children and the teachers while we were on our field trips.
I had the pleasure of attending the "Finland Days" fair in Seoul with HEI Schools. We held some demo HEI Time events, and the response from the participating families was very positive. We also had a large group of spectators at the demos, who unfortunately did not bring any children with them and were therefore unable to participate in the festivities!
Please add anything further you would like to share about your experience.
I am very passionate about good education, and I have very much enjoyed sharing this passion with the HEI Schools headquarter staff and the local team in Seoul. People from two different cultures working together toward a common goal of providing the best kind of education for children is special indeed!
Want to learn more about what teachers learn with HEI Schools? Watch our webinar recording to learn more about our diploma program!