“It is my absolute conviction that the minute you make your students take part and give them the opportunity to influence their studies by knowing what the aim and the targets are, they will take responsibility for their own learning.” – Birgitta Trolin, Sweden

“A School for Real” is the motto at Vasby New Gymnasium, and for principal Birgitta Trolin, “real” means her students can put their daily work into practice.  “What they learn, they should be able to see that they can use it in the real world,” says Trolin. For instance, students who study economics start their own companies and are mentored by community businesses as they test their ideas. And Trolin’s approach is working. She was recently named Sweden’s Most Innovative School Leader.

As a former teacher, Trolin has seen “through trial and error all the time” that change can be very difficult, but also a necessity. “It is very, very difficult to change,” says Trolin. “Even though school in its current form only has existed for 150 years, people still say, ‘Let’s do it the old way.’”

Through her trial and error – both as a teacher and a school leader – Trolin has seen many ups and downs. Today, Trolin shares her tips for success – like giving students space and opportunities for reflection — and some things that didn’t always work quite as well.

I hope you enjoy our discussion and join me in congratulating Birgitta Trolin on her award.

What drew you to the field of education? Why is it important to you?
To create possibilities and situations for others to learn and so as to contribute to sustainable development

Can you tell us about a favorite teacher, or someone who made a difference in your education?

My Swedish teacher who used all of herself and all of her emotions to awaken my own abilities to learn.

Please describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education.  What has changed as a result of your work?

My students and also teachers who I have educated in new ways of teaching and learning have changed from being ordinary instructors and passive learners into active responsible learners and coaching teachers with trust in themselves and readiness to try new ways and methods. Both students and teachers that I have met – not only in Sweden, but also in other countries where I have worked as a teacher educator – use the ideas of the tools I have provided for planning and reflection and for situational leadership. It is my absolute conviction that the minute you make your students take part and give them the opportunity to influence their studies by knowing what the aim and the targets are they will take responsibility of their own learning.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I have worked with ICT in education since 1996 – first as a teacher and then as a school leader. As a teacher, I have used it for my students to individualize their way of learning. As a language teacher, the Internet is a treasure for “a school for real,” where they can use the language in many different ways. As a school leader, I contribute to developing platforms for both students and teachers for communication, learning, and assessment – a meeting place that provides more value in education.  My mission is to provide effective devices and to see to it that both students and teachers get sufficient training to be able to use, and to develop the use, of ICT. My mission is also to provide the means for developing new IT products and to make ICT development become part of the organization (for example, ICT Helpdesk run by students, Digigirlz for training of younger girls, ICT tools for creating pedagogical programs, etc.).

In your view, what is the most exciting innovation happening in education today?

The fact that schools have to change from supplying student with facts and knowledge into a center of gathering knowledge and information from all over the world, transforming it and creating it into skills and new knowledge. School then becomes a place to meet, to discuss, to question, to create and to use.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

I am very passionate about creativity and innovation. The two skills require all the other skills though, and they are both the necessary means for sustainable development.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

A computer connected to a sun panel in order to connect to the world.

What is your country and/or region doing well currently to support education?

Both my country and my region promote and provide means for ICT in education.

How must education change in your country and/or region to ensure that students are equipped to thrive in the 21st century?

Education must change the way I described above. This means that school has to be the place to work and to communicate knowledge received outside school.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Traditions and the fear to leave what you’ve always done. These make it take longer than necessary to implement new ways of learning.

How can teachers or school leaders facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Challenge themselves, try new ways, communicate and learn from others. But above all, provide themselves with tools to create new structures in the classroom. You can’t leave the old structures of teacher control without replacing it with another, and that structure has to provide the students with the tools for planning, reflecting and taking responsibility.

About Birgitta Trolin

Principal, Väsby New Gymnasium

  • Birthplace: Kalmar, Sweden
  • Current residence: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Education: English and French teacher, National School leader education, University degrees of Administration and leadership, Learning styles and Innovative leadership
  • Website I check every day: www.upplandsvasby.se, www.vasbygymnasiium.se www.google.com, www.pil-network.com
  • Person who inspires me most: My husband who is a school leader, Jan Carlzon, former leader of Scandinavian Airline System, Peter Senge, Howard Gardner.
  • Favorite childhood memory: Traveling with my parents.
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): The island of Öland off the Swedish east coast
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? 10 minutes ago, because I watched a crazy commercial on television.
  • Favorite book: Systems Thinking by Peter Senge.
  • Favorite music: Blues
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? Never to give up!
  • Your favorite quote or motto:

To know where you’re going
To believe in what you do
To use what you learn
To change when it’s needed
Try to deviate from your course sometimes

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