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A Headteacher Interning at a Start-Up - How Did It Work Out?

Back in February, we wrote about Veriff taking part in the Educational Leaders’ Internship Program. As our intern Siret ends her time with us, we revisited her and her mentor, Tiit Paananen, to ask about the success of the mentorship and what they both learned.

AuthorKarita Sall, May 21st, 2021

They say time flies, and in a start-up, it’s definitely the case. 

Back in February, we wrote about the Educational Leaders Internship Programme, remember?

Siret Paasmäe, the headteacher of Tallinn Järveotsa Gymnasium, joined the Veriff team to look into the daily life of a fast-growing startup. Even though Siret's mentor was our VP of Engineering, Tiit Paananen, she got to work with many other people during her internship, exchange experiences, discuss relevant topics and find innovations she could consider implementing in her school. 

Here’s what Siret and Tiit had to say about the past couple of months working together in Veriff. 

(The interview is in Estonian, but you can read the interview in full below.)

How would you sum up this internship for yourself?

Siret: When joining the program I felt like I was jumping into unknown waters, but I was completely ready to take that jump. In retrospect, I can see that all these new meetings and different ideas that I came across were different forms of development. And now, I have got lots of new ideas, and have already put several of them into practice at school. 

Tiit: It has been a practical opportunity to look into mentoring and coaching, its techniques, and how to use the tools that come with it. Some of the techniques were already familiar to me, but I discovered some new findings from the programme partner Fontes.

I also found that in a school, there's more inertia - not all things can be done as we do in a fast-growing technology company. The school has a more limited framework and specific restrictions, whereas a start-up has much more freedom. I think Siret was inspired to look beyond her current habits.

Siret, what are these changes that you experienced?

The focus is on an onboarding programme for new employees, updating the structure of one-on-one talks' and questions and forming in-school teams. In the case of Veriff's onboarding, I liked its compactness, but at the same time, it was thorough enough. Especially the part that team leads gave an overview of their work and activities, goals and plans. In the context of school, we have new students in first and tenth grade every year, some children change schools at other times as well and of course, additional staff – they all need a convenient solution to start with us.

Building project teams at the school is currently in the preparatory phase. It requires more collaboration with our staff and creating a precise concept because we cannot take over an actual example of Veriff's teams. We have many projects, including Liikuma Kutsuv Kool and Enterprising School, that we are working on. For smooth processes, smaller units are necessary to lead the plans into real action.

If you now compare your initial expectations with the experience you have gained, what would you highlight?

I would add to Tiit's comment. The more participants who come through the Educational Leaders Internship Programme, and who then share their experience, the more we can excite other school leaders to participate in the following years. It would certainly give more confidence and motivation to apply, where the first prerequisite is, of course, inner motivation. The super thrilling aspect is knowing that you can get a glimpse of the private sector. Increasing collaboration between different sectors benefits everyone, especially our students, who are the future talents in the labour market.

How did your collaboration work?

Tiit: It was primarily dictated by the programme itself and a specific rhythm and plan. Conversations between Siret and I took place every week, and it went well right from the beginning. My focus was that Siret always has something to do, and various topics came forward during her work. At each meeting, we took a look at these, and did a discussion and analysis. All in all, it was practical cooperation with a tangible result and visibility. For example, we discussed the onboarding programme, people and management, communication, and budgeting with revenue and expenses. The topics also included entrepreneurship in general, teaching in schools and especially relevant today – mental health.

What surprised you?

Siret: I was amazed at how fast I became a member of Veriff's team. They involved me everywhere, including meetings and seminars, and the work started immediately. I was part of the People's Team, where I quickly found out what I would do.

It was a pleasant surprise that happened because there are very open people in Veriff, and I felt it immediately both through Zoom and when I went to the office. I headed to Veriff with a similarly open mind that cut such an excellent synergy.

Tiit: I agree. It surprised me as well in a good way. I want to add another joint discovery that we reached. All sorts of exciting things can be done at the school outside of the daily studying scope linked to entrepreneurship, including seminars, workshops or even publishing. It's like an untapped opportunity for additional funding.

Siret, now that you're back in school. Do you feel that you are any different as a leader?

Yes, sure. When I was away from school, I saw how my team did so good and realized that we had created strong foundations of trusting teamwork. It also reassured me that some of the aspects I have implemented in the past are working well. In addition, I took new things with me to review and do differently from the next school year.

Looking more specifically at this mentoring experience, we actually have a similar system already in place at school, aimed primarily at new teachers. I consider supporting each other in this format to be a crucial element of successful leadership, and this program simply proved it again.

What about you, Tiit? Did this experience affect you as a leader?

In general, I don't run to implement book truths right away, but I do use tools that are suitable for use in a specific situation. This kind of coaching and knowledge development requires a lot of dedicated time next to your usual work. Nothing happens overnight. I will undoubtedly take pieces of this experience for the future.

What could other leads know about this program if they wanted to take part in the next year?

Tiit: They have an opportunity to dive into mentoring and supervision, which includes hours-long development sessions. Dedicated time is most important in this. 

Siret: Willingness to learn and develop oneself, to be open and cooperative. It can't be a strict obligation. Also, the participant does not know at the beginning which company they are going to. So here we circle back to the beginning of the conversation: we need the courage to jump into the unknown.

Finally, anything else to add?

Tiit: My message to students would be a call to push their teachers and other educators out of their comfort zone. If the initiative comes from the right place, there will be positive progress.

Siret: The Good Deed Education Fund should continue with the programme. This is a fierce initiative, and I wish all school principals could take part.

Thank you, Siret and Tiit!

And thanks to the whole Veriff team!

Karita Sall

Karita Sall

Head of Global Communication

Karita Sall is the Head of Global Communication at Veriff. Karita has been working in the field of communication for over 20 years. During that time she has helped many organizations to tell their stories including start-ups, global corporations, government bodies as well as non-profits.

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