Veriff is once again taking part in the Educational Leaders’ Internship Program in Estonia, and we’re pleased to welcome headteacher Mari Roostik on board. We had a chat with Mari to see how the internship has been going so far, her thoughts on education and much more.
I am originally from a town called Rakvere in Estonia, where I lived until I finished high school. Not a strictly straight-A student, but I was eager to organize events in my school, tried to make all my peers act and dance since that was what I liked, and tried to do everything that was not studying besides reading and writing. I have always loved it!
I got my BA and MA degrees from the University of Tartu, where I studied Estonian language and literature teaching. For the past five years, I have been focusing on reading and learning as much about education, leadership, and how to be the best partner and leader to my team and students, so what you do indeed is who you are – I am a learner and reader, for 1,5 years a head teacher. It has been an exceptional journey, and it still is!
I work as a headteacher at Tartu Jaan Poska Gymnasium, established as a secondary school in 2011. We have about 540 students and a team of teachers and staff of around 45 people.
Our school’s main priority is offering each student an individual learning experience that helps them connect between subjects and use their creativity to the fullest. We do everything possible to ensure every student flies to the world with the best knowledge, positive attitude, and skills to chase their dreams.
An interesting fact about the school is that it is housed in a historical building where on February 2, 1920, the Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and Soviet Russia was signed, marking the end of the Estonian War of Independence.
I am not 100% sure that I have always wanted to work in education, but I have always wanted to work with people. Today I know I am in the right field and live and breathe making a difference in education.
I have worked in education for over 11 years. I started as a teacher and thought those first years gave me knowledge and understanding of the profession. Working with students was and still is a beautiful experience. Still, I knew I had to choose between becoming an exceptional teacher or striving to become a leader in education. I chose the latter and worked a lot to be worthy of deputy principal, and after that, I knew that the next goal was to try to reach the role of headmaster. And here I am, a headmaster, still working harder than ever to make a difference for my team and students.
That is a tough one because I love all of it (almost). It comes with a huge responsibility and many challenges. I love how we, as a school team, share the same vision of what and how we want to achieve for our students. We cannot just teach them as we always have; we have to change and sometimes rethink how we think about our roles and responsibilities as teachers.
Right now, a big part of my work is to lead many changes simultaneously and ensure that everybody in our team understands why we are doing it, how we will grow and benefit from the hard work we put in, and where we are heading. Leading changes and doing some things differently is always as rewarding as challenging.
My first four weeks in Veriff have been unique, eye-opening, exhausting, but amazing! First, two weeks passed like a blink of an eye since I did two onboarding sessions – company and new team leadership training.
I had forgotten what intensive learning is and how exhausting it is, but I am so glad that I had the opportunity to remind myself of that. I know now what all my first-year students and new teachers feel when they start in our school. Of course, it also gave me many ideas on how to make it easier and more efficient and structure information more precisely, step by step, just like you do in Veriff. There will likely be a new onboarding program for new students and teachers in our school next fall.
I have had many inspiring 1:1 conversations. People in Veriff are warm and welcoming, brilliant, and the best in their fields. That is probably my favorite part so far.
Photo: Mari's first day interning at Veriff
Many headteachers whom I admire have taken part in the program. I have seen the sparkle in their eyes, and it seemed like the only way to get myself to accomplish some of the more complex and fundamental route changes I dreamt of creating in my school. And as I said before, I am eager to learn, so I decided in spring 2022 to apply when the new opportunity comes next!
Photo: Indrek Heinloo (COO, Mari's mentor), Mari Roostik (headteacher at Tartu Jaan Poska Gymnasium), Pilleriin Pillav (People Partner, Internship Coordinator)
One of my goals is to learn about data, what to and when to collect, when our why is set, what are the different tools to do it quickly and efficiently, in which areas it is the foundation of decision making, how to monitor and analyze it etc. Of course we are already doing it and have been doing it, but I know that there are more ways to use data to observe, if we really are moving in the right direction with our strategic plans and OKRs (to know and learn more about them is also an important goal for me) for this and upcoming years.
I love to read a lot, discover new music, walk a lot, and occasionally go to the theater, concerts, and exhibitions and enjoy spending time and just talking with my friends and family. I work out almost every day, wake up too early for most of the population, and write a lot.
And a fun fact about myself is that I have a plan for everything, not only for work but for everything in my personal life as well.
The Educational Leaders’ Internship Program was initiated by the Good Deed Education Fund and Tallinn Education Department in collaboration with the talent agency Fontes. This year, fifteen school leaders from across Estonia have become interns at Estonian companies with top-level managers as their mentors. The 10-month program aims to develop the quality of school management and give the school leaders insights into the organisation's daily and operational model with a modern management culture. For the first three months the school leaders will work full-time in the companies and then return to their schools to take the knowledge and ideas into practice with the help of their mentors.