Joel Linna, the principal of Vesanka Day Care School, has been engaged in developing and revising things since his youth. He has had the ability, and most importantly the will, to look at things from different perspectives. In this sense, his membership in the male choir Seminaarinmäen mieslaulajat, or Semmarit for short, has provided an excellent community where he can test and exchange ideas with teacher colleagues. His interest has focused on school safety issues for several years already. Joel chairs the Safety Group for Growth and Learning of the City of Jyväskylä.

Joel Linna was born in Karstula but spent his childhood in Pylkönmäki. He applied for class teacher training at the University of Jyväskylä because he was interested in a range of subjects. It would have been too difficult for him to choose just a single major. He also had experience working as a substitute teacher, and his fond memories from his own school career encouraged him to the teaching profession.

“From the teacher studies, I particularly recall the expression education and drama studies – Lecturer Erkki Laakso’s contribution to the development of expression education in Finland is invaluable. Of course, Semmarit was the very best part of my study years!”

Right after graduating, Joel was employed as a class teacher in Vesanka. Over the years and alongside his job, he completed studies to be a principal and has now led Vesanka Day Care School since 2005. As a principal, he finds the maintenance of wellbeing at work especially important and emphasises employee skills. “I think that the foundation for a well-functioning work community is that the job gets done well enough and people feel well at the workplace,” Joel says.

“How to bring out everybody’s strengths and how to make use of these in order to reach the common goals? Is the basic unit of the work community ‘I’ or ‘We’?”

Joel spent the spring semester of 2019 on a study leave and studied at the Open University for the basic study module on occupational and organisational psychology. Under his lead, Vesanka School fosters an atmosphere of trust, and the days also include humour and even some goofing around. According to Joel, however, no work community can “force itself” to have genuinely good interaction and cooperation and to feel the sense of togetherness or the draw of work. These things emerge if the conditions are right.

“When I recruit new teachers and employees to work with us, I pay special attention to their ways of encountering people. This issue could also be taught more to prospective teachers.”

Safety issues are also close to Joel Linna’s heart; the principal is responsible for safety management at his school. This is another topic that Joel hopes would be presented more widely in teacher education. “Basic issues get often overridden by everything new. If safety is considered an important value as such, it must also be made visible,” Joel emphasises. In Finland, we have annually dozens of threat situations targeted at the school world, including five or six serious ones. Safety management should be risk based, but people easily forget the ‘black swan theory’. At times, we encounter such events that are highly improbable, yet still they do occur. We can prepare for these only by anticipating them.”

“At many schools, they have everything needed in an emergency situation, but the problem relates to where these things are kept. Will anybody remember them during an emergency or does a substitute, for example, know where to find everything?”

Joel boldly started to look at shortcomings in school safety. At first, he came up with a simple device for the safety locking of doors, Säppi (Latch), which prevents invaders from entering a classroom. Soon it was followed by Turvakaappi (Safety Cabinet), which contains the necessary equipment for emergency situations. The safety cabinet is placed in every classroom.

“Safety cabinets located in classrooms show the staff, students and guardians that safety is valued in this community.”

Joel Linna’s strong commitment to the work community he is leading can be seen from the outside as well. The Health and Safety Representatives Team of the City of Jyväskylä awarded Vesanka Day Care School as a safe work community in 2021. The local school staff gives good feedback for encouraging management. The work community’s values are also an asset in recruitment as the school cannot compete for good employees by salary benefits.

In the development work of safety devices, Joel has collaborated with Principal Juhana Autio from Jyväskylä. Säppi has been patented and a firm called Säppi Oy has been established around it. The company develops and manufactures devices to promote the safety culture of public spaces. The innovations are so simple that they do not even feel like anything new.

“People often ask us, ‘Don’t these devices already exist there?’ The answer is no.”

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