Co-chair Signe Daly of the Teaching and Learning Environments implementation team hosted a breakfast with her cousin Peter Sloth (meaning ‘castle’) from Denmark that included co-chair Drew Blanchard, fellow Dov Stucker, Partnership co-coordinator Alan Tinkler, and me. As the conversation progressed, the theme of trust emerged: Danes trust their teachers and schools, a commonality with Finland.
Peter teaches in a school for 15 to 17 year olds and explained Denmark’s overall system. Students start kindergarten at age 6, a year later than in the US, and elementary school students spend much of their time in play. Many children always have class outside in nature, even in the winter. After the equivalent of middle school, Danish students all attend boarding schools like Peter’s for one or two years. During these two years, students learn through integrated projects, which often include travel. They focus on collaboration and solving problems as teams, which Peter explains makes Denmark’s students very successful with employment recruiters. Students also learn to live independently from their parents, though they do go home on weekends. They don’t take standardized tests until age 15, and then only for admission to gymnasium, which is high school, where they specialize in academic and career content that is relevant to them.
As Signe explained, Danes demonstrate a high amount of trust in their neighbors and society; they pay at least half their income in taxes, which provide a system of social security for all Danes, a stark difference from the situations of many American children and families.
With all the news about Finland’s top achievement, it was interesting to hear a perspective from one of their northern European neighbors, including why Peter thinks Denmark’s system is even better for kids as it focuses less on test content. As a next step, Peter is considering convening 10 American, 10 Danish, and 10 Finnish teachers, with space to stay at his boarding to school, to discuss different approaches to teaching and share successes.