Federal Way school board member reflects on recent trip to Europe

Federal Way Public Schools - Contributed
Federal Way Public Schools
— image credit: Contributed

Federal Way Public Schools’ (FWPS) ambitious Global Learning Initiative (GLI) was back on the front burner this week, as FWPS board member Claire Wilson gave a presentation on the trip district officials and administrators took to parts of Europe last fall.

Wilson shared her thoughts and impressions of the schools they encountered in Finland, Scotland and England, saying the education system is both familiar and different for our neighbors across the Atlantic Ocean.

“In the visits abroad, my specific lens was multi-faceted,” she began. “Early learning, equity and inclusion, family engagement, funding, testing and assessment, facilities and learning spaces and grading. Each country had an area in which they excelled, but for all, it was clear that schools have outcomes that are based on the needs of all children, and the focus was on what quality teaching looked like, what quality lessons looked like, and how the needs of each individual child were assessed, met and continue to be served throughout their educational career.”

Wilson continued, saying the “question of what happens if a child doesn’t read by third grade doesn’t happen.”

She noted that there is no classification of students as special needs/special education and that “children are assessed as individuals and then provided the support, as necessary, to succeed.”

Another unique aspect that stood out to Wilson was  that in Finland especially, most children don’t even begin schooling until the age of 8.

“Theirs (parents, teachers and students) is a unique relationship and trust that exists between each that doesn’t exist across the board in my school experiences in the U.S.,” she said.

The European schools all had a significant focus on music as part of the learning experience, Wilson said, and also provided very early learning in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.

“Students had CTE from the beginning of their career. This is a third grade class in wood shop,” she said, referencing a picture in a slideshow she used as part of her presentation. “They were using the skill saws, the live saws, with great ease. CTE abounded in all the schools we saw.”

Wilson was also impressed by the varied uses of “learning spaces” in the European schools.

“The learning spaces looked very different. There were flexible learning spaces, learning spaces where kids could be comfortable and do their work,” she said. “(They had) flexible spaces and flexible groupings and so students didn’t live in a class and teachers didn’t have a classroom. Teachers moved where children needed them, based on the learning levels of students.”

Part of those flexible learning spaces included outdoor environments where kids were “learning and using their environment for writing and reading and creativity.”

Wilson said the European schools appear to do an excellent job of walking “both sides of the streets” in making sure students meet standardized metrics for academic success, while meeting the individual needs of students.

“We need to figure out how to do that as well,” she said.

Board member Danny Peterson asked Wilson for one or two significant takeaways she got from the trip, that could either be implemented in Federal Way or might already be in practice in FWPS.

“Second language is a huge thing for me,” she said. “Arts and the integration and infusion of the arts in a meaningful way. The third thing for me is providing the landscape and opportunity for teachers to do what they do best, and that’s to teach children.”

The district’s GLI program is one that FWPS hopes will allow for students and teachers to visit foreign countries around the world, and would bring students and teachers from other parts of the world to Federal Way.

The initiative came under fire last fall, when some of the costs of these trips were made public. Between trips to China, Southeast Asia, and this European trip, the district has spent approximately $100,000, which equals out to about .04 percent of the district’s total budget.

To learn more about the GLI, visit


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