A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

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Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

Getting in Rhythm with Finland


It has been 18 days since I landed in Finland, but it feels like much longer.

Leaving Los Angeles, and leaving my public, urban middle school (what’s up Lions?) I was moving at the speed of 100 miles per hour. Here, I have had the incredible luxury of s l o w i n g  d o w n , as I mentioned in my last post.

Cultural exchanges take time. Time to understand why people live their lives the way they do. Why certain practices exist. Why some values are more important than others. With 18 days under my belt, I am barely scratching the surface, but progress is being made. It comes with understanding phrases spoken to you. Or learning how to pronounce words correctly. Or walking in snow and ice and not biting the dust.

Humorous take on pronunciation of certain Finnish letters

I’m getting used to little to no direct sunlight and am surprised at how much it has affected my mood. In the darkness, you have to push yourself to be active, to make some kind of progress.

Fulbright Finland Alumni Association

Upon arrival in Helsinki this week for my Fulbright Finland Orientation, we were invited to an alumnus gathering at an ice skating rink. At first I was going to stand by the sidelines and just watch, but my wise program director gently encouraged me to give it a go. I did and was so grateful. In no time I felt like my gregarious old self. Exercise does wonders.

Elija Kauppinen, Salla Sissones, and Sanna Leoinonen representing education at the national, municipal, and school level 

Suffice it to say that orientation was magnificent. We had expertly chosen speakers and panels that anticipated and addressed any questions both the Fulbright Teachers and Fulbright Scholars might have. We visited the US Embassy and spent an afternoon at the Design Museum of Helsinki. See my tweets from orientation here.



Today I was able to attend the Educa conference, the largest education conference in Finland. What a treat! Contacts were made with schools and organizations that may be able to shed light on my inquiry focus: outdoor education in schools.

Media Literacy Group

Professional Development for Teachers

Creativity Exhibitor

Cultural Exchange

Cub Scouts in Schools

Dropout Prevention

BUT the highlight of my day was meeting blogger and author Timothy Walker of Taught by Finland. We follow each other on Twitter and connected at the conference that way. What a small world. If you haven’t read his book yet, do yourself a favor, even if you are not a teacher. It gives you a different way to approach parenthood and education.



My heart hurts a little when I see the wonderful things happening in Finnish schools and I remember how my school struggles with so many societal issues. But there is no time for melancholy. I’m here to learn and bring back practices that can heal and strengthen the already brave foundation of my school.

Adelante! Sisu!

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