So my thinking continues: the America in Living Color Seminar


a quotation from my friend Karen’s presentation

For the past year or so since receiving this amazing Fulbright award, I have been carrying around a little secret in my back pocket . . . and as the months have worn on, it has grown bigger and heavier and threatened to climb right out and swallow me whole:

I have no idea how to be a researcher.

I initially thought that the change in scene from New York to Finland might change this, somehow make me more astute as an outside observer . . . and it certainly has. But what I really needed more than a change in scenery, was a change in my own self definition.

Sometimes life hands you a little something amazing and you realize that your narrow definition of both yourself and your abilities were really the issue.  Two days after my arrival, the University of Tampere in my home city was host to the Fulbright Center’s annual America in Living Color Seminar, in which American grantees present their research and scholarly work in fields like education, science and sociology.  alc

I arrived like a child on the first day of school, clutching my still empty notebook, hoping that nobody would recognize that I had no idea what I was doing.  Within the first two minutes of the opening remarks, the Executive Director of the Fulbright Center was publicly welcoming me as a newly arrived teacher-researcher from New York and all eyes were on me.  The title of teacher-researcher was still feeling fraudulent at that point, but I smiled and half stood up out of my chair and waited for the crowds’ eyes to return to the podium.

What happened over the next two days was just short of monumental.  I sat and listened as other American Fulbright grantees presented their work: not finished research, not published papers, but rather engaging studies that were bundled in human interactions and observations.  The teachers, who like me, were on sabbaticals and missing their families and students, spoke openly and honestly about their research processes –their inquiries at times messy and meandering, leading down different paths than originally intended.

I listened as my friend Janet spoke about the Finnish culture’s sense of duty and respect for the individual child’s learning process; about how she saw entire schools where the teachers provided environments for learning and how in those environments, the children were able to create knowledge; about how trust, respect and expectations dictated every interaction between student and educator.


clockwise from top left: Laurie, Karen, Amanda and Janet

I thought about my own experiences in New York with struggling students as Karen spoke about her experiences studying Finnish vocational schools and how students, who are trusted to take on the responsibility for learning, have the freedom to make choices based on interest.  She reflected on how teachers give students the tools they need to make decisions and believe wholeheartedly that the students will do their jobs.  I listened optimistically as she spoke about the collaboration of teachers that she had witnessed, and how Finnish teachers are routinely provided freedom of time for research, reflectiveness and collaboration.

I understood better the positive effect educational research can have both here and abroad as Laurie described her research examining how Finnish schools fail to teach about the indiginous Sami people and was blown away by her efforts to research Sami traditions and create lessons based on their culture –even going as far as to ask them how they would like to be taught about.  I was particularly impressed by the notion of having American students examine a culture completely foreign to their own (and the discrimination and marginalization that culture faces) in order to open a pathway into an examination of their own culture for the Mexican-American students she teaches in Phoenix, Arizona.

I gained a whole new perspective on role-play as Amanda plowed over our preconceived notions of Larping (yes, Live Action Role Playing) and showed how she was exploring how educational Larping was an intrinsically motivating, metacognitively active, authentic exercise for students, wholly aligned with her constructivist approaches to classroom pedagogy.  As aforementioned Fulbrighter, Karen, commented, “You would be hard-pressed to find a good teacher who hasn’t larped.”

These were just a few of the myriad of presentations I was able to engage with.  As the two days went on, I slowly began to realize that I was selling myself short.  I am an active and passionate educator, who is hopelessly inquisitive, driven by my allegiance towards my students, my profession and my colleagues, and residing in Finland for another three months with all the time in the world to facilitate meaningful conversations about education, observe, and reflect: how could I not be a researcher?

Silly me.

Signed affectionately, your teacher-researcher friend in Finland,



About christine mccartney

I am a teacher, a wife, a proud aunt, a dog rescuer, a person who has been rescued by my rescued dogs, a hiker, a four time (phew!) cancer survivor, a runner, a tattoo addict, a vegetarian, an advocate, a friend and a happy traveller. Enjoy!
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13 Responses to So my thinking continues: the America in Living Color Seminar

  1. Susan Conner says:

    Hi Christine, I I am enjoying reading about you, your very thoughtful observations about education in general, and your experiences thus far in Finland. American education most definitely needs to change and I think your experience will empower you to help make that happen in Newburgh and beyond. As a retired teacher from NECSD, I applaud you and I thank you for communicating the passion that most teachers I know have for their profession. I believe that teaching is an art and can never be reduced to a business. Best of luck to you and enjoy the rest of your time in Finland.

  2. C says:

    Since I’ve known you, you’ve taken an inquisitive stance. It is who you are.

  3. First, I love reading your posts! Secondly, in this myriad of questioning, you are a researcher and each day we step into the classroom with strategies, we are researchers! Teaching by inquiry affords students the same opportunity in a classroom. They may beg you to tell them answer, but you always redirect a new, profound (rigorous, dare I?!) question to prompt them to continue on the journey of exploration. Maybe the three Rs should be: READING, RELEVANCE, AND RESEARCH! This is so amazing… and thank you for this blog!

    • Liz Brocker says:

      My thoughts exactly. Christine, you, me, and all teachers research every time we plan, deliver, evaluate, and modify our lessons.

  4. paula wetzel says:

    Tell me this: How? “…and how Finnish teachers are routinely provided freedom of time for research, reflectiveness and collaboration.”? Do schools there grant these teachers this time? How does it work?

    • I haven’t really been in the classrooms yet to tell you that. But I do know from my Finnish teacher friends that they have less course loads and in one school in particular have one afternoon where they don’t have any responsibilities at all in order to collaborate with other teachers and reflect on their practice. One of my friends laughed when I told her I spend four hours a week in “lunch duty” and that we are expected to be in the building when we are not teaching. I think the professionalism and trust afforded to teachers translates into their being more willing to spend time doing those things outside of the forty minute intervals we get here and there. But I will definitely return to this after I observe a ton and interview teachers . . . my own research 🙂

      • Don’t get me wrong… things here aren’t all unicorns and sunshine… and I am interested to see what is and is not replicable in the States… but it sure seems promising on many levels… we will find out!

      • Richard DiNardo says:

        Christine, as someone who has spent an awfully long time doing research and teaching I can tell you that research requires an immense amount of patience. I found your description of the Finnish school in your post most interesting. As someone who teaches adults, I have found that there are times that you can do more with less. Unfortunately we have a culture that at times demands that you at least be seen doing something. Thinking is hard work, a fact sometimes lost on administrators. Yours, Richard.

      • Barb Laird says:

        hahaha! As a fellow “lunch-duty” colleague, I love that I am at least able to collaborate with you, Christine, in the Humanities cafeteria every period 7. Of course, we need more reflection time as teachers but I am happy to have met you during “lunch duty.” Keep up the great work and kudos for sharing your research with all of us!

    • RIchard!
      What a pleasant surprise. PLEASE any insight you have to offer during this experience is always more than welcome. I will be visiting St. Petersburg in a few weeks (which I know we spoke about). I am sidestepping the Visa issue by taking a ferry out of Finland that only requires a Passport, but puts a 72 hour limit on your trip. But I made inquiries and discovered that you can do this more than once; so I will be traveling once with some friends from Finland and then later with my cousin, Michael Bruckner. I will be sure to tell you all about it!

      • Richard DiNardo says:

        Glad to see you having a great and informative time in Finland! Can you answer a question for me? After Finland gained its independence from Russia after World War I, the foreign language that Finnish school children studied most commonly was German. What is it today? When do they start?
        Such a nice break that you can get to St. Petersburg with out a visa. I would recommed two or three visits. When you go to the Hermitage, I would recommed that you engage a guide. That will allow you to enter as a group, thus sparing you the prospect of having to wait outside for a long time. More later. I have to pack for a quick trip to New York to give a talk on my next book.

      • I wasn’t sure of the answers to your questions, so I emailed my friend at the University who wrote this :
        “After Finland gained its independence from Russia after World War I, the foreign languages that Finnish school children studied most commonly were Latin and German, but very few children studied languages at all those days.

        In the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s German was the most popular language alongside Swedish (which is not a foreign language in Finland; Finnish and Swedish are the official languages of Finland) and Latin, but even then the children who studied foreign languages were the minority.

        In the late 50’s and especially in the 60’s the boom of the English language started.

        In the 70’s the educational system was radically changed. We got the comprehensive school and with it every child had to study at least three languages Finnish, Swedish and one foreign language, which over 90% of children chose as English.

        The situation is similar nowadays except that, if the child’s first foreign language is not English, he/she has to choose English later as well, that is he/she has to study four languages. So, everyone in Finland studies English.

        The Finnish children start to study the first foreign language in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade. It is up to the local authorities or school.
        And the compulsory Swedish starts in the 7th grade, in the next national curriculum in the 6th grade. And Finnish (if it is the child’s mother tongue) from the 1st grade.

        For example in Tampere region other foreign languages studied in schools (other than English) are German, French, Russian, Chinese, Latin and Spanish.”

        I will learn more as I get into the schools more and let you know 🙂 Have fun in New York

  5. blkdrama says:

    Yes, You Are and you will just get better and better… You are a lifelong learner first and foremost and a member of the HVWP of course.

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