As a teacher, Tuula Herkepeus, the principal of the Kivimaa school, saw how important a teacher is for a child's growth. Now, as a principal, Tuula is happy to have a committed and motivated work community around her. Everyday work is guided by courage, kindness, freedom and responsibility.
Principal Tuula Herkepeus says she wanted to be a teacher since she was a child. She recalls with a smile that, as a little girl, she had demanded that her friends play school and she was always the teacher.
The spark to guide and inspire things did not die, but after working as a substitute teacher for a year after upper secondary school, Tuula applied for class teacher training and then worked as a class teacher. She thinks fondly about her first year working in a small village school.
– Actually, it was only at work I realised how important a teacher is in guiding a growing child's school path. The class teacher is holistically involved in the pupil's life, and at best, the educational partnership with the home is remarkably fruitful and rewarding, she ponders.
After her village school year, Tuula worked for 12 years as a class teacher at the Kivimaa school in Lahti, which she calls her own school as she has also attended the same school as a child herself.
She then applied for the position of a vice-principal elsewhere but returned to Kivimaa school five years, now as a principal.
Sharing leadership eases the workload
There are both differences and similarities in the jobs of the principal and class teachers. According to Tuula, the importance of guidance, motivation and communication is emphasised in both jobs. The principal is responsible for many administrative matters, but at the same time the principal is the leader of the whole work community and the builder of the work culture.
The principal's working life barometer*, published last autumn, tells about the harsh reality of the principals' workload. Nearly half of the respondents to the survey were at risk of exhaustion, and one in five was already exhausted. Even in the Kivimaa school, the principal and vice-principal work full-time in the administration, and the working hours are still not enough to perform all the tasks.
– A school of 850 students is such a vast entity that one person cannot lead it alone. Shared leadership, however, eases the load somewhat. I'm lucky as I have an exceptionally committed and whole-hearted work community supporting me, says Tuula.
Values are strongly reflected in the everyday life of the school
A committed work community is founded on values. The core curriculum determines the value base of teaching. In the Kivimaa school, courage, kindness, freedom and responsibility have also been defined as core values. According to Tuula, all of these are strongly visible in everyday life.
– We experiment with various things boldly, and it is clear that when there are hundreds of different members in the community, the importance of kindness in everyday life is emphasised. And freedom comes before responsibility. We see this as giving teachers and students freedom, and there is also a responsibility to get things done in the best possible way.
Tuula says that commitment to the values is also reflected in how teachers meet students.
– We want to meet students as individuals who are given the most personal support possible, she says.
Starting point does not determine success
In addition to supporting students, it is important to remember to talk about teacher motivation and the demanding nature of the job. According to Tuula, there have been challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic year: for many teachers, the boundaries between work and leisure have become blurred, and new operating models have had to be sought for distance learning. Successes have also been experienced.
– The digital leap became a reality in all teachers' daily lives, and it was important for many to note that their teaching is also successful from a distance. The encounters with the students' families were also more comprehensive and easy to arrange, even though the meetings were arranged through Teams.
As a principal, Tuula is not as involved in students' daily lives as she was as a teacher. The students' daily lives still form a broad overall picture of the principal's work.
– In this work, you can see even more clearly than as a teacher how we come from a huge variety of backgrounds. It is so good to see that the students are not labelled by their starting points. The encouraging community can support the student on the way to adulthood and help to overcome possible challenges, Tuula states.