HEALTHY BITE | Let’s Make This the Century of the Revered Teacher

Welcome to another Healthy Bite. If you haven't heard this week's podcast with Prof Pasi Sahlberg, I really recommend it because it touches on the subject of education. I love this expression that Pasi coined: "Leaders are teachers and teachers are pedagogical leaders."

In this episode, I will share with you some takeaways from my conversation with Pasi. I will also share some quotes from one of my favorite authors, Yuval Noah Hari.

Let’s Make This the Century of the Revered Teacher

Now, if you haven’t heard this week’s episode with Professor Pasi Sahlberg, I really recommend it because it really touches on the subject of education. 

Interestingly, Pasi comes from Finland, and something rather extraordinary happened in around 2000-2001. There was an agreement from the OECD countries that they would implement the Programme for International Student Assessment, the acronym is PISA. And what it did was it took a random sample of 15-year-olds from the 34 or however many OECD countries they were at the time, and then it would assess which education system was the best. 

The Foundation for Good Education

As you will hear, Finland came up as the best education system in the world, and so there were many, many lessons that were to be learnt from this. I think it surprised the Finns, as you’ll hear, it’s quite an interesting story and Pasi relates it in the episode. It was interesting to consider why Finland had done so well, and he had riddle something that he’d done in preparation for the podcast, and he had identified five areas that he thought were extraordinarily important. 

One of them was, I’ll quote it  “We argue that the comprehensive school the children start when they turn seven should provide get this – balanced, holistic, child-focussed education and development to all children. And that lays the foundation for good, equitable learning.” That’s an underlying first principle.

“Leaders are teachers and teachers are pedagogical leaders”

They also realised early on that successfully teaching heterogeneous classes would require better-trained teachers than we had. They elevated teachers to be better trained. It was also established to establish permanent mechanisms to secure and enhance the children’s wellbeing and health in all schools. So recognising not only that you had to take a holistic approach, the teachers had to be better trained, but also child’s health and wellbeing were critical to that.

Interestingly, we go into quite a discussion about this in the podcast, but mid-level education leadership i.e. schools and local this district should be given, should be in the hands of experienced and qualified teachers. In other words, to give more autonomy to teachers to the leadership hierarchy in Finnish schools is relatively flat, and most principals also teach students alongside their leadership tasks. 

And I love this expression that he coined. “Leaders are teachers and teachers are pedagogical leaders.” Pedagogy is the education, how the whole study of education, and also recognising that out-of-school situation explains a significant part of that students experience in their school. 

It was so interesting to talk about teacher autonomy and giving more freedom to teachers to actually plan out and direct the way that their students learn. And it’s so interesting because I’ve had many teachers, many primary school teachers as my patients, and when I was talking about a very close family member who was teaching, who was doing primary school teaching. 

Their reaction was, “Oh, we really going to have to look after them because it is really tough out there on teachers.” Actually, the high turnover rate of teachers, particularly in primary school, but generally is very high. This is a really disturbing thing because teachers, as I mentioned in the podcast I will repeat here, I believe teachers should be one of the most highly regarded members of our society.

I actually have hope that the 21st century is not just the century of the revered farmer because they are, after all, producing all the food that we eat and nurturing the environment in which our food is grown. I think the 21st century should definitely be the century of the revered farmer, but I would add to that also the revered teacher. And while we’re at it, the revered nurse as well, because they are all so essential to a well-functioning society.

It was interesting to talk to Pasi about how revered teachers are, and that’s why I mean, he’d written a book called In Teachers We Trust, and I thought in honour of that, I would refer to the episode as that as well. 

New Challenges of Teaching

He talks also about the new challenges of teaching because while it was very mechanical when he started teaching and he started as a teacher and one could argue that the industry as a result of the industrial revolution, a very mechanical approach to education was preparing us all for a very mechanical existence of nine to five jobs, being in the same job for 30 years, going to and from our work, etc., etc. So it’s a very mechanical approach to work.

One of my favourite authors, Yuval Noah Harari, which I’m hoping one day to get on to my podcast, wrote these several wonderful books. I mean Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. If you haven’t read it, it is a must. 

His other book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, identified the 4 Cs that we should be focussing on in our education, and Pasi actually added an extra ‘C’. And that was that “So what we should be teaching,” I’m quoting now from Yuval Noah Harari, “Many pedagogical experts. This is a word. Pedagogy is a word that defines educational practise. Many pedagogical experts argue that schools should be switching to teaching the 4 Cs: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. More broadly, schools should downplay technical skills and emphasise general-purpose life skills. Most important of all, with the ability to deal with change, to learn new things, and to preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar circumstances. In order to keep up with the world in 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products. You will, above all, need to reinvent yourself again and again.”

Teachers deserve our Greater respect

Now, I thought that was pretty powerful and worth quoting. As I said, Pasi added, I think another ‘C’ to that, to those 4 Cs of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity.. compassion, another C that we should be teaching. 

Giving teachers greater autonomy, giving them greater respect and less testing. This whole accountability and I think in many ways as we’re delegating more responsibilities and this is really what many teachers have said to me, we as a society are delegating a lot of parenting to teachers. 

Maybe the way we justify that is by making our teachers more accountable and testing and making them more compliant to every step along the way. Well, that’s not the message that Pasi shares with us about the success of the Finland system, that giving them greater autonomy and freedom would pay back very handsomely.

I thought it was a wonderful episode. My wife is in education, and I was very aware that Professor Pasi Sahlberg was coming to Australia. He’s been here for three years and I was very excited to hear that because I hoped that it would have a dramatic impact on our education system. It was a really interesting discussion to get into some insights there. I would recommend you have a listen to it. 

Certainly, education is something that has touched us all. I mean, teachers have played a significant role in each and every one of our lives. I have no doubt about that. And we could all identify a teacher who has had a major influence on our lives. So teachers are critically important to society and they should be revered and remunerated and respected accordingly. Anyway, I thought I’d share that with you. I hope this finds you well. Until next time.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.