Visiting the schools in Copenhagen showed us that the schools have time for meeting pupils and parents. We thought it was great that the headmaster in one school spent time at the front door of the school in the morning just to say “good morning” to the pupils, parents and teachers. We saw that giving time also increased trust. The good relationship between pupils and teachers increase efficiency in the classrooms. Once a month, they serve morning coffee for the parents. So it makes it easier to discuss things when they know each other better.
In Denmark, children’s school days are long. For example, the pupils in the first grade have 30 hours of school per week. The school days are planned so that there is also time for clubs in the afternoon. The pupils also have few breaks during the school day, just a lunch and two short breaks. A part of the time they are not supervised by the adults.
We also observed the time used during the lessons. We saw different kinds of ways to divide time. It was very usual that timetables and the timeline of the lesson were visible to pupils. They also had info screens where the programme of the day and that of the week were visible to the teachers as well. In classrooms, there’s time for both work and play, a bit of physical exercise. In Denmark, they have a law that every pupil should do at least 45 minutes of physical exercise during the school day. We saw teachers stop teaching and ask pupils to dance or lift up their chairs to train the muscles. The exercise didn’t seem to have any connection to the thing they were learning, it was just random exercise.
Time for a break?
In addition, pupils are given time to plan their work. We think that time for using imagination may lead to creativity (Danish design !). In Denmark, they prefer using computers and mobile devices. So, they spend much more time learning to write on computers. The pupils do not write with pen after third grade. Some pupils told us that they are not good at handwriting.
Teachers and time
The other side of the equation, as to time, are the teachers and other staff at schools. The visits to the Danish schools in Copenhagen left us admiring the efficiency of the teachers as well as the delegated leadership in the organisations that we saw. Nevertheless, the question arose whether there is an excessive amount of work for teachers to carry out within their working hours.
During the visit, we saw many examples of practices that made teachers’ working hours more efficient. For instance, some of the schools had a system of collaborative teams that could divide their tasks among the members. One teacher could, for example, be in charge of the Danish lessons of certain classes and, another teacher, of the maths lessons. There was time allocated in the weekly timetables for these teams to plan their work and to discuss any topics related to their pupils.
Another example of efficiency was the online platform used by teachers in Copenhagen to evaluate pupils’ work, to mark pupil attendance and to do their yearly planning. If a pupil is absent, their teacher can mark the absence online and a message is sent automatically to the parent’s phone. Consequently, teachers can spend more time on teaching the pupils that are present in the lessons and on other tasks during the working day.
Efficiency was not, however, the only positive aspect of time that we witnessed in the three schools we visited. Time was also spent doing things that the different schools considered to be important. For example, the staff of all of the schools seemed to value time that was spent talking about pupils. The staff were also rewarded with time if they did any extra tasks or performed well at work. For instance, they had fewer lessons to teach or could take a couple of days off. In addition, in many cases, teachers themselves had the possibility of deciding how to spend their time at work.
Even though many positive aspects were visible in the schools as to teachers and time, one of the biggest questions that remained was related to the amount of work. It seems that, since the Danish school reform was implemented in 2014, Danish teachers struggle with finding enough time to plan their lessons and to perform as well as they would wish for. Their time at work is often spent in meetings and handling paperwork, in addition to teaching of course. This is a problem that many Finnish teachers also face but it may be even more crucial in Denmark where the schooldays of children were made longer by the reform. How this will affect learning in the future, only time will tell.
– Minttu and Heli, Hankasalmi Asema School