Phase One of my Churchill Fellowship is less than a month away and I have just finalised Phase Two, so watch out, Norway!
Before I even begin, I should probably mention that applications for 2020 Churchill Fellowships are now open! I haven't even started my project yet, but becoming a Churchill Fellow has already been an incredible experience. The title of 'Churchill Fellow' has already opened so many doors and I am ridiculously excited about what the next few months have in store.
In April, I explained my plans for Phase One of my Fellowship, where I will travel to Singapore to find out how they have avoided the teacher retention crisis that is affecting so many Western countries. Since then, I have turned my attention to Phase Two of my project, which has been a little trickier to organise. My original itinerary that was approved by the Trust back in March, saw me plan to travel to Finland, which is consistently ranked as one of the top education systems in the world. The choice was obvious - like Singapore, teacher retention in the country is incredibly high and it would offer the European cultural context that its Southeast-Asian counterpart lacks.
However, after a few emails to the top teacher-training universities and their partner schools, it became clear that Finland was a no-go; I would have more chance of breaking into the music industry (with zero talent, zero experience and zero personality) than breaking into their education system. Even when I did get a response, I was left counting my pennies to try and scramble together the £3000+ per day that I would need to attend their education tours. (£3000. Per. Day.) So after I had gathered up my shattered dreams and accepted my impoverished position, I turned to Finland's less-successful-but-still-successful-and-100%-cheaper cousin - Norway.
So you must be thinking that this was the end of it - that Phase Two of my project was practically sewn up? Well, no, it wasn't. I then spent around three weeks trawling the various municipal websites of Norway's 18 counties, sending blanket emails to as many secondary schools as I could find. I spent so long doing this that I eventually slipped into a strange trance-like state, where I no longer needed Google Translate to filter the results; I had taught myself Norwegian... (OK, I may be getting ahead of myself, but I figured out the word for 'secondary school', which made the whole process a lot easier).
Whereas Singapore had a central database of all of its schools and their contact details, Norway's education system is state controlled and some of the county websites left much to be desired. I even had to resort to posting on a Norwegian Facebook page for disgruntled teachers, which I later found out was then visible to all of my 'friends'. Within a few hours, as well as receiving a barrage of texts and comments asking me whether I was moving to Norway, I had a few leads from my helpful Nordic counterparts.
So finally, after weeks of scouring the depths of the Norwegian education network and various social media groups, I finally had a handful of schools who were happy to have me. It will all kick off on 19th August (after a week spent sunbathing and throwing confetti in Italy for a friend's wedding...) - I will jet off to Oslo for the first stage of Phase Two. Here, I will visit Kongshavn School and Nesodden School; I will shadow some early-career teachers and chat to senior leaders to find out how each school is supporting their new staff.
From Oslo, I will travel to Bergen to spend the Bank Holiday weekend with my partner and parents. I travelled here back in 2017 and I am desperate to go back; if not for the fjords, then for the reindeer hot dog with potato salad and lingenberry jam (dream.) But don't worry! I am not just going to Bergen to eat hot dogs, I will be eating hot dogs and interviewing a handful of teachers that have offered to take part in my research. While in Norway's second-largest city, I will also visit Metis School and researchers at the University of Bergen (UiB), to find out how Nordic teachers are trained and developed during their first five years of teaching. I will then close off my two-week visit to Norway with a short stay in Trondheim, Norway's fourth-largest city, and a visit to Hoeggen School.
Having the opportunity to visit so many different schools across three of Norway's counties should provide a great overview of both the complexities and consistencies in the country's education system. It will provide a stark contrast to the highly-centralised system in place in Singapore and I am really looking forward to seeing how teacher retention fits into both.
But for now, Norway can wait - bring on Singapore!