Sunday, 6 November 2016

When educators are trusted. #educationiceland

Team #educationiceland
I have just returned from a week in Iceland as part of the #educationiceland group organised by Martin Besford of Highway Farm Activity Centre in Cornwall  & Unnur Henrys of Stekkjarás Leikskóli, Hafnarfjordur, Iceland. The original idea behind this visit was to bring a group of educators from the Cornwall area over to Iceland to begin to make links with schools between the 2 areas - however in the end there were people from outside Cornwall too. 
Martin & Unnur met up for the first time 3 years ago when Martin & I were part of another  group that visited Iceland - #playiceland - organised by Hulda & Tom of Fafu. I had become friends with Unnur through social media & knew I had to visit her school when I got the opportunity to go to Iceland, luckily her school was willing to have 2 groups visit over the 2 days we were looking around schools. Martin & Unnur became firm friends & their respective schools have become partners & have visited each others settings frequently in the past 3 years.
So, when these two said they were organising week long visit & a conference and asked me to come along and do a workshop at it, I jumped at the chance to firstly get another chance to spend time in Unnur's school but secondly to meet up again with people who have become firm friends in the past 3 years - Martin, Unnur & Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School.

In October 2013 when I first visited Stekkjarás Leikskóli, it was a fairly new school - just 7 years old and the ethos was very much Reggio based. You can read about this original visit here:
3 years ago what I noticed was that Unnur was an extremely enthusiastic educator who was passionate about getting her class outdoors & using the amazing forest area that was right on the school's doorstep. The biggest question most of us had was how she managed to take 2 year olds out into such a vast space, as the classes were mixed aged groups with children ranging from 2 - 5 in every class. Unnur & I had connected when she had seen some photos of my class outdoors and we had begun to chat on line about the various ways we could convince our colleagues to embrace the outdoors too. 
This time round I could see that Unnur is much more confident in her practice and is very much an expert in this field - I could see that other colleagues looked to her for advice or ideas on how to enhance their outdoor experiences. By going twice a week every week with her classes, Unnur has become so much more confident in all that she does in the space, it is now very much 'their' space, the children are very familiar with it, as some of them have being going there for 3 years & the staff aren't afraid to take resources with them to use in the space - or take fallen trees back to use in the school.
This space & the way this preschool uses it is unique to them & this beautiful wild setting - they could have tried to replicate things they had seen online or in other countries but instead by visiting other settings & countries, the staff are all confident to know what will work for them & what won't.

But of me the biggest message is that the staff were allowed the time to explore the space and to decide on an ethos that suited them, they don't have the pressure from above to comply to certain whims that are seen to be the latest 'must have' in education. More and more staff members are making use of the wonderful outdoor space because they can see the benefits, the children are happier & there are plenty of little natural decorations around the school that they have brought back with them over the past few years. The teachers in this school have embraced every opportunity to widen their perspective and especially Unnur, who has visited lots of settings across the UK and further a field to help sustain her enthusiasm and embed her wonderful outdoor practice into her every day teaching.  It was wonderful to see her lead a maths lesson out in the forest and to see how every opportunity of training has been harnessed by her and brought back to be used in her own setting.
Unnur a passionate & enthusiastic educator.
For those us from the UK & US who were spending time at the school, the biggest questions featured around paper work & risk management. The teachers from Scotland & England were amazed that their colleagues in Iceland don't have endless reams of paper work to fill out before they can take classes off site & they don't have the same pressure to capture data to prove that the children in their classes are learning - parents and school boards are confident that the teachers are working hard each day to ensure progression in learning & they TRUST the teachers to get on with jobs without constant observations and lots of paper work to prove it. 

I only wish Iceland & Ireland were nearer so I could visit Unnur's school more often & that our classes could meet up - my class were so delighted to see my photos from my visit but also very disappointed that they can't go & meet the children too!


  1. Wouldn't that be just the coolest thing -- if all the classes could get together? Thanks for the great reflection or our trip. I needed that!

    1. That would be the best day ever!

  2. Yeah so cool environment. Campaigning with family and friends means a lot of Fun. Thanks for sharing such article with us.