Quality at IES

IES Östersund: ”When grit isn’t enough I switch to sisu”

Mika Reunanen, Principal, IES Östersund - “Clear leadership is phenomenally important. With my Finnish background, I can add a dose of “sisu” here – in other words, courage and perseverance,” says Mika Reunanen, principal of IES Östersund. “My ambition is for everybody to know that it is necessary to make an effort, to deal with adversity and dare to work hard to achieve your goals,” he explains.


Mr Mika Reunanen

Principal, IES Östersund

A sign hangs in the entrance to IES Östersund stating the school’s values and vision. The text ends with “together, as a team, we face adversity with courage and determination… we stand up for each other as a team, and as individuals we always give our all to achieve our absolute best. We are building a culture inspired by sisu, the art of being brave”.

This message is a good description of how Mika Reunanen runs his school, one of the most recent IES establishments, and which attracted 500 students over a short period of time through its clear focus on safety and a calm learning environment.

“I want to inspire everybody whose work place is the school – students, teachers and other staff members – to persevere and focus on their goals. This is not my school, it’s our school and it is up to all of us to make it as good as possible,” he says.

“Clear leadership is important. But it is equally important to create a collaborative and attentive culture. We listen to opinions from students and teachers, but we do not touch the fundamental values that our organisation rests upon. This creates a sense of security.” 

With sixteen years in the Swedish Armed Forces, a few years as a trainer of the national downhill skiing team, a year at the equine-focused education centre Wången and six years as the principal of a different independent school on his CV, it was an experienced leader who took command of Östersund’s newest independent school. The reason he accepted the assignment was IES’ fundamental values, he says.

“IES’ clear values summarise everything I believe in and have aimed for in my previous positions. It has been enormously stimulating to build a new school from scratch with a team of colleagues and a culture based on these values.

“I have personally recruited all 66 members of staff we currently have at the school. I wanted to make sure that they were made of the right stuff”, he says.

Like most IES schools, IES Östersund is characterised by a multi-cultural mix of teachers and students, from many parts of the world.

“We have high expectations of all our students, both those who are high-performing and those with bigger challenges. We also have high expectations of our teachers. But these high expectations must be matched with the school being perceived as a warm and welcoming place, where everybody is seen and heard and where it is possible to be part of decision-making. Continuous, positive feedback is important to everyone, including teachers.

“It’s about creating commitment, with everybody taking responsibility for everything that happens in the school.

“Everyone has to show the same level of grit. I encourage each and every person to try to solve their own challenges but my door is always open if anybody needs help. And when grit isn’t enough, we switch to sisu”, says Mr Reunanen.

This has been a successful recipe, with a high level of applicants per place from parents and students. Teachers from Sweden and other countries have been attracted to the school, which apart from its strong culture tempts people thanks to the region’s rich outdoor activities. 

One objection that Mr Reunanen has often heard is that the school drains other schools of staff.

“It’s actually the opposite – we are a contributing factor to more people moving to the region, from other parts of Sweden and from abroad. Those people who are concerned about it don’t have the full picture, the school brings a lot of positive aspects with it.

IES ÖSTERSUND - Numbers as per September 2023.
573 students
6 of 10 students recommended the school
36% students with origins outside Sweden
97% students qualified for upper secondary school
67% students achieved the knowledge targets in all subjects.