A headteacher interning at a startup – only in Estonia!

For the second year running, school leaders in Estonia are undertaking full-time internships in companies with well-established management cultures. Estonian startup Veriff is taking part in the initiative called Educational Leaders’ Internship Program and has welcomed a headteacher of Estonian school to their team. 

Siret Paasmäe has been a school leader for 15 years at Tallinn Järveotsa Gymnasium, a school with more than 800 students and around 70 staff members. Education has always been her true calling and she wants to give back through her experience and knowledge. The internship program at Veriff provides an invaluable opportunity for this. Siret’s mentor at Veriff is Tiit Paananen, Veriff’s VP of Engineering. Tiit has had his share of diverse experience of being a mentor before thanks to the awesome companies he’s worked with in the past. 

Mentee’s view: leaping into the unknown

Siret Paasmäe, the headteacher of Järveotsa Gymnasium: The main keywords describing my experience so far are intensity, a steady flow of information, and leaping into the unknown — everything’s new and exciting for me. I see the internship program as a great new experience – I get to know how a business operates and experience the role of leadership across the organization and teams. I believe effective leadership is important regardless of the organisation – whether you’re a headteacher of a school, working in the private sector, or elsewhere. 

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I’d like to contribute to education, share my advice and knowledge but also anything I learn from my time spent here in the program at Veriff. Moreover, with the program, I can show Veriff’s team the world I come from, draw parallels and find common ground. The end result would be shared experience and mutual development. 

I take people’s well-being very seriously – how to support them, keep them involved and motivated, and find the most effective tools and methods for that. For example, recruitment is a topical issue both for the technology and educational sector – finding talent is a challenge for all of us.

What role does technology play in education?

It’s most prominent in the context of distance learning when we rely on technology. Speaking of the COVID-19 pandemic – our process of moving from a contact learning environment to a virtual one almost overnight went well without any major hiccups. We’ve been practising e-learning for a while doing different school assignments from homes. When the first wave of school closures happened, we asked our students and teachers to treat it as one of our regular e-learning days, but it just lasted for more than one day. 

How can schools and businesses work together?

That really depends on the school and what their ambitions are – whether they have a specific niche to develop or what more they want to do. In any case, cooperation is positively developing whichever way it takes place. 

As the PISA test results show, our children and young people are brilliant. And we are really proud of them. However, I would like our graduates to succeed in life – not to be afraid to make mistakes and pursue a path that makes them happy. It’s important to be humane. Perhaps this is something that schools and businesses working together could pass on to the younger generation?

Mentors view: intellectual work requires a side-by-side mentorship culture

Tiit Paananen, Veriff: One of the end results of being a mentor or a mentee should be finding a common language with different people regardless of their background or personality, helping you feel at ease in any situation. The nature of our work – creating or producing something – is intellectually challenging, so the need for a mentor’s support is almost natural. 

For example, in software engineering producing something practical is a relatively small part of the whole process. The main focus goes into what, why, and how things need to be done. This is also where processes, methods, and tools involving humans come into play.  

Mutual learning

Mentorship also deals with mutual learning. I take Siret as an additional team member that I am working with. I’ve already had an opportunity to practice and consolidate the techniques concerning mentoring. During our meetings and talks, I’ve been able to create a foundation and structure for our further cooperation.

There are certainly some differences between Siret and myself in our daily work as leaders, simply because we operate in different fields. Education is rather traditional, with history, and the way things have always been done play a larger role, whereas the technology sector is more agile and forward-thinking. All these aspects create different layers to leadership. 

In the long term, this internship program should also get to the school leaders who initially have not shown any interest. The top leaders shouldn’t be increasing the gap – instead everyone’s competencies and leadership practices should be developed in harmony decreasing the gap also in favour of the school leaders.

In any case, I’m really pleased that we at Veriff are contributing to this program.


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, twelve school leaders from four different Estonian towns have become interns with top-level managers as their mentors. The 9-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.

The full version of the interview was published on the webpage of Veriff, Estonian startup offering AI-powered identification verification.


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