Notice positive things! This slogan sums up the teaching philosophy of physical and health education teacher Katja Sjöblom-Korhonen. Through her positive approach to pedagogy, Katja seeks to see the potential in children and youth, so that everybody can find their own individual strengths and gain positive experiences from physical education at school. Katja graduated with a master’s degree in sport sciences from the University of Jyväskylä in 1998, and she feels privileged to work alongside young people and support their well-being.
As an upper secondary school student, Katja weighed different career options, scrutinising herself and her own values. At first, she seriously considered the option to follow her father’s example and seek a career as a physician, but after some reflection she found herself as perhaps too sensitive to work as a paediatrician. As a passionate amateur dancer, she was also highly interested in becoming a dance teacher, and Katja’s mother was also a teacher. However, a dance teacher’s typical schedule, with its irregular working hours in the evenings and at weekends, made her hesitate.
“Family is an important value to me. I wanted regular working hours and to be present for my children as much as possible.”
So she chose studies at the University of Jyväskylä, in the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, where she was admitted to teacher studies for physical and health education in 1993. Katja says that she loved the feeling of community in the faculty, and it remained important to her throughout her study years. Katja remembers the faculty dances as a highlight of those days.
“I made some very good friends among my fellow students. There were five girls, so we make up a quintet. We meet each other regularly and use to travel together.”
After her studies, Katja moved to Helsinki, where she got a temporary post as a substitute for another teacher on maternity leave, which continued into a childcare leave. After that, she received a permanent teacher post at a nearby upper secondary school (Helsingin yhteislyseo), which offers a curriculum with an emphasis on art and physical education subjects.
“In this study line with special emphasis, students had to choose visual arts, music, or physical education as their major. The school also emphasised dancing in its curriculum, which suited me excellently.”
Katja returned to Jyväskylä in 2008, when she started as a health and PE teacher at Huhtasuo Comprehensive School. For years, the school has successfully developed its own working culture in a more physically active direction. That work has paid off, as Huhtasuo Comprehensive School was chosen as the Promoter of the Year for Children’s Physical Activity in Central Finland, and the school also received the national Physically Active School of the Year award in 2022.
Katja Sjöblom-Korhonen feels that a teacher’s task is to support young people’s overall well-being. A teacher’s work is not restricted to class, but the responsibilities also cover conduct and control during break supervision shifts, in the corridors, at the school yard – everywhere. A teacher needs to have time, courage, and sensitivity to interpersonal contacts.
“Whenever you can, pay attention to the young people around you. Stop and ask, ‘How are you doing?’ Be warm and respectful.”
Katja uses positive pedagogy in her teaching. A teacher must be up to date. There must also be courage to live up to the moment, the readiness to put the lesson plan aside, and the ability to act in changing situations. “Notice positive things!” Katja emphasises. “I try to be the kind of teacher that I would like my children to have.”
Katja finds that values have steered her own identity as a teacher. She has no background in competitive sports, neither does she plan her classes around any particular sport. The aim of her classes is to provide experiences of success and opportunities to participate for everyone. Well-being involves much more than just physical exercise.
Today’s young people, she feels, are used to having and making choices. The teacher’s professional skill includes applying the goals set for the class and involving students in the planning of classes. It creates internal motivation.
Speaking to future teachers, Katja advises them to consider and recognise what you bring along as a teacher when entering the classroom. It is also important to consider how you look at children or teenagers. Emotional memory is powerful: people will never forget how you made them feel.
“Each of us shines when the lighting is right!”
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