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The Global Search for Education: Icehearts

“Our goal is not to become a winning team. Our goal is self-development.”  –  Ville Turkka

As automation and artificial intelligence continues to disrupt our workplaces and our societies, experts agree that skills, and particularly social skills, are a critical part of future learning for all youth. Research has shown time and again that sports can be a medium for developing social skills and building better relationships with communities.  Sports are especially beneficial for promoting wellbeing in youth with behavioral problems and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Based in Finland, Icehearts is a child-centered program developed to prevent social exclusion and school dropouts among children and youth. The program runs from pre-school through high school and attempts to bring about change in communities by recruiting at risk youths into ice hockey teams. The Icehearts program focuses on equipping these children with the necessary social skills to contribute to society in a respectful and tolerant way, and to overcome the existing challenges they may have encountered.  This improvement can be attributed to a curriculum focused on self-discipline, long term goals, and by offering troubled children a stable mentor. Moreover, those involved in Icehearts offer support and advice to the parents of troubled children.

To talk more about the Icehearts program, The Global Search for Educationis pleased to welcome its founder, Ville Turkka.

Ville, when you think about the work you’ve done to date with Icehearts, what has been the biggest surprise? 

When we established Icehearts in 1996, I knew that players had problems of many kinds. Each player was selected by social workers and teachers as boys in need of support. Around 70% of the chosen players came from single-parent families. Many of them had problems with their behavior and emotions.

The biggest surprise was how much the players benefitted simply from a loving and stable relationship with an average male adult. These relationships helped them learn about themselves, adults, and social life in general. As a result, they have been able to become valid members of society.

What do you see as the biggest challenges your intervention model faces in terms of helping to bring about lasting change in children’s lives? 

Finland as a community still believes that different aspects of our lives can be categorized and separated from one another. However, if you are in need of help, you should not be limited to finding it in places such as your school, family, or suburb. Instead, we must understand that we can seek help and support from anywhere if necessary.

Public funding is based on projects. In human life, there is only one project. It begins when you are born and ends only when you pass away. The children that are sent to our organization face many kinds of challenges that they can only overcome with long-term support. For example, a young man’s bad experiences with instability are very hard to repair. It may take several years for him to learn to trust again.

How do you train your teachers and what kinds of teachers are important for a program like Icehearts? 

When a new educator is selected to gather his or her own team, they are sent to ‘rookie camp.’ Each new educator is given a manual and an extensive information packet detailing our work.

Twice a year, all the current educators congregate for two days to discuss our concerns. Together with professional consultants, we come up with solutions to problems that we have encountered since our last meetings.

When we are recruiting new educators, we look for adults with a sense of humor and strong interpersonal skills.

Can you speak about your sports curriculum?  How do you accommodate students with different abilities? 

Students learn many important social skills and can benefit greatly through their participation in team sports. Unfortunately though, poorer children don’t often get the opportunity to experience these benefits. Team sports introduce you to a group with shared goals, within which there are definitive rules you must obey.  Our goal is not to become a winning team. Our goal is self-development.

It’s also important for each child to be considerate of one another. Each member of the team must recognize one another as individuals with unique skills, cultures, and personalities.

What social skills and competencies are you nurturing in learners and how does this help them to flourish? 

We help the kids both at school and during their free time. We also offer support to parents and families in raising their children.

As I mentioned earlier, team sport is an efficient tool to teach necessary social skills. The players learn discipline, tolerance, courage, and respect.

What tips do you have for educators around the world who wish to build something similar for their communities?  How would you describe the most valuable lessons you have learned? 

It is very important in every society that we address what needs to be changed. In Icehearts, we believe that it is even more vital to offer help to those in need.

Each country should recognize their strengths and assets and use them. To make a real change in the world, you must have courage and determination.

We must also recognize that change can be slow. However, those who are less fortunate in your country need you and the love that you offer.

C. M. Rubin and Ville Turkka

Join me and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Michael Block (U.S.), Dr. Leon Botstein (U.S.), Professor Clay Christensen (U.S.), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (U.S.), Dr. MadhavChavan (India), Charles Fadel (U.S.), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (U.S.), Professor Andy Hargreaves (U.S.), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Jean Hendrickson (U.S.), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Honourable Jeff Johnson (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Dr. EijaKauppinen (Finland), State Secretary TapioKosunen (Finland), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Lord Ken Macdonald (UK), Professor Geoff Masters (Australia), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Shiv Nadar (India), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Dr. Pak Tee Ng (Singapore), Dr. Denise Pope (US), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Dr. Diane Ravitch (U.S.), Richard Wilson Riley (U.S.), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Professor Manabu Sato (Japan), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. Anthony Seldon (UK), Dr. David Shaffer (U.S.), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (U.S.), Yves Theze (LyceeFrancais U.S.), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (U.S.), Sir David Watson (UK), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Dr. Mark Wormald (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.

The Global Search for Education Community Page

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland, is the publisher of CMRubinWorld and is a Disruptor Foundation Fellow.

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