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Strong Together – Evolving School

location_on Hyvinkää, Finland

A model for an ever-developing school

In this innovation the students improve their school together with the rest of the school community. The focus is on learning and school satisfaction using a game. Everybody is involved: students, guardians and the teaching staff.

Finland 100

Overview

HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100

2017

Established

-

Children/users

1

Countries
Updated
November 22nd, 2022
The method suits any school or classroom around the world. The best part is that it engages everyone connected to the school, especially the students
- Jesse Pehu, principal, Hyvinkää

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Today, the whole world is talking about improving schools – both the learning results as well as school satisfaction. The changes and improvement efforts can start from many different levels. Often, however, the order follows a top-to-bottom model that ignores the students that are, after all, at the heart of the changes and improvements.

Learning at school is aimed primarily at the students and school satisfaction plays a significant role in learning motivation. Any school improvement effort should enable student participation in every stage of the development – brainstorming, piloting, execution and reflecting.

The Evolving School innovation strides to improve schools by putting the students first, focusing on learning and school satisfaction.

The innovation engages the teaching staff and parents to improve the school together with the students. This is achieved through a game called “Let's Improve Learning Together.”

The game has seven stages:

1. Preparations
2. Official kick-off
3. Brainstorming
4. Elimination round for the ideas in the classroom
5. Elimination round with the teachers
6. Elimination round with the parents, and
7. Presenting the ideas to the board.

The stages culminate in three ideas with the most potential. The game ends in an award ceremony for the winning ideas.

The goal is to collect concrete ideas for improvement and implement them. The innovation also aims to get the students thinking about learning and how to improve it, as well as take charge of their own learning. The innovation provides a chance for the teachers to make their instruction more effective for all learners. They also get an insight into their students' thoughts about learning and school satisfaction.

The model for continual improvement and the accompanying game was created during the 2016–2017 school year. A team of project management students at Laurea University of Applied Sciences developed the prototype for the model in the fall of 2016. They cooperated with the Puolimatka School's students and teachers and used methods from service design. The finished product was piloted in the spring of 2017. It was organized by the Laurea student team with the principal and teacher coordinators of Puolimatka School.

The following eleven steps introduce the stages of the game and provide the material needed.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Innovativeness

Everyone improves the school, learning and school satisfaction – together.

Impact

The innovation engages everyone connected to the school. Especially students get to participate in improving the education and school satisfaction.

Scalability

The method can be implemented in any school or classroom around the globe.

Media

Steps

Roles
Improving a school requires the commitment of different school operators. Teachers, students, parents and the school board all have a role in the game “Let's Improve Learning Together” and ultimately the improvement process of the school.

Teacher coordinators

Appoint at least one teacher coordinator based on interest and motivation. The teacher coordinators are trained to be coaches whose job is to know the game and instruct the students how to advance in it. You should reserve plenty of time to train and motivate the teacher coordinators. This builds commitment to the game.

Case Puolimatka

A few enthusiastic teachers joined the project with an open mind. They were trained by the principal and the student team from Laurea who developed the game.

Teacher representatives

There should be at least one teacher representative per grade-level. They participate in the elimination rounds of the ideas with the student representatives at a later stage.

Student representatives

The student representatives can be volunteers. Every class teacher nominates 1–2 representatives to present the game as well as develop it further and document the process. If there are no volunteers, the student government must assume more responsibilities during the game.

The student representatives should be open and confident so they can perform in front of a small student group. More guarded students can participate in different roles. As the game progresses, they will gain self-confidence which boosts their learning results and participation in other contexts.

You must reserve time to train and motivate the students. They may have to miss some lessons to participate in the training.

Case Puolimatka

The school wanted a model to engage students in developing ways to make education more versatile and improve school satisfaction. The hope was to find a model that wouldn't require financial resources from the school. The principal made the decision and the student government and a few key teachers were locked into the project right from the beginning.

The student representatives were chosen from volunteers as well as the student government. Training was held over two sessions lasting four lessons altogether. It included brainstorming and team building exercises but also planning various student activities.

Parents and the board

Today, parents are included increasingly more in school improvement efforts. At later stages of the game, parents get to choose improvement ideas and participate in the discussion through an online questionnaire. The student representatives, on the other hand, present three of the top ideas to the board and they get to participate in a debate.

Case Puolimatka

Parents were informed through the Wilma online platform and the school's website. The parents also filled out a questionnaire sent through Wilma and had a hand in choosing the ideas with the most potential. The parent-teacher association participated in the game and they were consulted often.

Introducing the game
The game is a process and everything learnt during the journey is a meaningful part of the big picture. You should note that you must follow the guidelines precisely in order to achieve concrete results. This requires logical progression in the game.

Before the kick-off, brainstorming and elimination rounds, you should introduce the game in the following way:

Timetable

You should invest time in training the teachers and scheduling. Your school can modify the game to fit their schedule, that is, the time available and student resources.

Timetable example:

  • Preparations, 3 weeks
  • The official kick-off, 1 week
  • Brainstorming, 2 weeks
  • Elimination round for the ideas with the class, 1 week
  • Elimination round with the teachers, 3 weeks
  • Elimination round with the parents, 3 weeks
  • Presentation for the board, 2 weeks

Other preparations:

  • The teacher coordinators assemble teams of student representatives. You should include older students in teams of younger students for support. The teams should include 3–6 students.
     
  • Every class should have an idea notebook. The teacher coordinator should instruct the student representatives how to keep and use it and what the notebook is for. They should be kept in the school so that they are available when needed. The class should write down their idea and the reasons why it would improve the school.
     
  • The teacher coordinator and the student representatives should devise a motivational speech. The speech should inspire and instruct the rest of the class about the purpose of the game and how it works.
     
  • Plan how to make idea boxes and where to put them. Every class has their own idea box and the students put their ideas on notes in them. Every box has the class' insignia or distinct markings so they can be told apart.
     
  • Build or craft a game board. It should be clear enough so it illustrates all the different stages. The board will be placed in a common space so that everyone can follow the progress together, for example on an empty wall in the cafeteria, a monitored hallway or such place. Pitstops in the board could be the stages in the game:

1. Preparations
2. Official kick-off
3. Brainstorming
4. Elimination round with the class
5. Elimination round with the teachers
6. Elimination round with the parents
7. Presentation for the boars

Kick-off
In a school assembly, the principal should hold a launch speech and start the game. The speech should include when and where the winners will be announced and what the prize is. This motivates the students to participate.

The function should include a moment to present the game board to the students. You should mention where the board will be held so they can go and see the stages and schedules unfold.

Finally, introduce the teacher coordinators. They are available for any questions students may have.

Brainstorming in class
The lesson is approximately 45 minutes.

The student representatives take their idea boxes to their classroom. They then hold the motivational speech created with the teacher coordinator to instruct others. The students should understand what the idea notes are for and what they should write on them after the presentation.

The idea box can be in the classroom for a week, for example, so everyone has time to think of an idea. Every student has one idea note that they put in the box.

Organizing the notes

Every class nominates five students to organize the ideas according to type and choose five with the most potential for the next round. They can consult the teacher coordinator, if necessary.

This marks the start of the elimination rounds with the students, the teachers and the parents.


Case Puolimatka

The student representatives' motivational speech:

“Once upon a time there was a school that was an ordinary Finnish school. Some students learnt just fine, some had a great time there, but others didn't like it as much. Many thought there was room for improvement, even if the days went on okay.

A school can always be better, but how? This school decided to ask the people who knew the most about it – the students. The ideas were to do with learning and school satisfaction. How would learning be the easiest, fun and efficient? It was important to remember that the ideas should be realistic and positive. The school had not won the lottery, nobody even bought a ticket so the purpose was to follow two guidelines:

a) Nobody will seek for someone to blame if they don’t like something, or b) The ideas cannot or will not cost money.

Well, the students told and shared their ideas and the school gathered all of them. Many ideas did become reality and soon they noticed that the atmosphere got better and they learnt better. What do you think those ideas could have been? What ideas did you get about our school?

Our school board asks you now to tell them how to improve lessons and learning. Think of an idea and how to implement it seriously – now's the chance to make a real difference!

Write down your idea and grade to this piece of paper and put the note into the idea box or a class idea envelope. You can use both sides of the note, if you want. You can return it anonymously. In a week, our own HundrEd representative (introduce the representative) and teacher will boil the ideas down to a few.

The class will discuss these ideas and vote which one they want to go to the next round to compete what ideas will reach the school board.”

Stage one: Elimination round in the classroom
The lesson is approximately 45 minutes.

The class will decide which idea out of the five remaining will go to the school-wide elimination rounds. “Changing roles” is a task that helps you to achieve this. The student representative will lead the activity and the teacher will write the reasons students give on the chalkboard.

Changing roles

The students sit in a circle. They discuss every idea for 2–3 minutes. During this time, the students have free reign to communicate their thoughts on the ideas. You can first hold a round focusing on the strengths of the ideas and then a round for the weaknesses. The teacher will write down the thoughts and reasonings.

At the end of the discussion, the students will grade each idea on the scale of 1–5. The idea that fairs the best will become the class idea and move on to the school-wide elimination round.

The student representative writes down the winning idea and the reasons behind it into the idea notebook. The class teacher will assist, if necessary.

Stage two: Elimination round with the teachers
All ideas will be up in the teachers lounge so the teachers can read them. If your school is a comprehensive school, you should separate elementary school ideas from the junior high school ones.

The teachers will vote for the best idea marking down the votes. Every teacher has one vote and the results will be provided for the teacher representative. The winning ideas move on to the next round.

Stage three: Elimination round with the students and teachers
The lesson is approximately 45 minutes.

This stage only includes teacher representatives and student representatives. The teacher representatives provide the results of the teacher vote which play a part in selecting the best ideas.

Every class provides one idea. Every idea should be rewritten on new notes, so that the teacher representatives have different colored notes than the student representatives. These colors make the vote result clearer.

Traffic light method

This is an elimination round using the traffic light method. The student representatives and teacher representatives, or every student and the whole staff, write down the number of the idea they wish to vote for.

Before the vote, the student representatives introduce the ideas using the idea notebooks. After the presentation, the student representatives discuss the idea and decide which idea gets which color.

The teachers hold a short discussion and do the same. You should note that the teacher must abide by the teachers’ prior vote. In other words, the winner must be placed under the green light.

Every idea that gets placed under the green light will be moved to the next round: ballot.

Stage four: Ballot
Number each idea that falls under the green light. The student representatives and teacher representatives, or every student and the whole staff, writes down the number of the idea they wish to vote for.

After the vote, eight ideas with the most votes move on to the next round. In a comprehensive school, you should pick the most popular four from elementary and junior high school.

At the end, the student representatives write down in the corresponding idea notebooks the reasons and thoughts introduced in the discussion between the students and teachers.

Stage five: Elimination round with the parents
Every parent should be given the opportunity to participate in the voting.

This can be provided in an interactive online platform such as Google Form or Typeforms. The idea that receives the most votes will be among the ideas presented to the school board.

You should also invite parents to visit the school. These parents may be volunteers who have signed up on the questionnaire or parents that the teacher coordinator has chosen.

The teacher coordinators choose eight student representatives. Each representative presents a finalist idea to the parents using the “minute rounds” method.

Minute rounds

In the first part the students take turns in explaining the idea and its potential. Every student has a minute to talk and nobody can interrupt them. The teacher coordinator can time. The time limit is strict so that the students learn to focus on the essential. The next student gets their turn after the minute is up. After the round, each parent picks their favorite and gives their reasons using the same minute method. The student representatives or teacher writes the reasons on the chalkboard so everyone can see them. The student representative also writes the parents' reasons on the idea notebooks.

The parents at the session choose two out of the eight ideas presented to them to bring to the board. The third idea presented will be the one chosen by the previous parent-vote.

Finale: Presenting the ideas to the board
The teacher coordinator picks three student representatives to present the three ideas chosen for the board using the “idea debate” method.

Idea debate

The student representatives give a presentation they have prepared about the positive aspects of the ideas for the board. The board members will share their thoughts with the student representatives and finally they will all make a short compilation of the ideas together.

The board will decide how to put the winning and chosen ideas to practice in the future.

At Puolimatka School, the board decided to award a scholarship of one hundred euros (€100) for the winning classes. They could use the money for supplies for their classroom, having a party and getting snacks or they could add the sum to their class-trip fund.

Announcing the winners and awarding prizes
You can announce the winning ideas through the central radio or in a school assembly, such as the holiday or spring assembly closing the term. You can also award diplomas and/or a scholarship mentioned in step 10.

You can also encourage the students to figure out ways to announce the winners and what type of diplomas or scholarships they will be awarded with. Your school can decide how to inform about the game and award the winners – it all depends on the resources available.

At Puolimatka, the winners were announced in every classroom before the spring assembly. They did not include any formal assembly to celebrate the results due to a hectic schedule with the project and other events at the school.

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