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U.S. teacher, Atwell, wins $1m Global Teacher Prize


Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton (left), teacher, Nancie Atwell, from the United States; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President/Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, and Sunny Varkey of the Varkey Foundation (left) after Atwell received her Global Teacher Prize award from Clinton in Dubai during the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF)...on Saturday

Former President of the United States, Bill Clinton (left), teacher, Nancie Atwell, from the United States; His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President/Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, and Sunny Varkey of the Varkey Foundation (left) after Atwell received her Global Teacher Prize award from Clinton in Dubai during the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF)…on Saturday

  • Winner donates prize money to school

Nancie Atwell, a teacher at The Center for Teaching and Learning in Edgecomb, Maine, United States, has emerged the first ever winner of the $1m Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. The prize was set up to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society by Dubai-based education entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sunny Varkey.

Widely referred to as the Nobel Prize for teaching, the US$1m teacher prize, is the largest prize of its kind, and was set up to recognise one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

Nancie was presented the prize at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) 2015 by President Bill Clinton, Honorary Chairman of the Varkey Foundation, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai and Indian-born Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, in front of dignitaries, education ministers, international education experts and global business leaders.

In her remarks at the award presentation, Atwell said, “I’m honoured and proud to receive the Global Teacher Prize. I celebrate it in the company of the nine extraordinary colleagues who have been a part of this journey: Kiran Bir Sethi, Guy Etienne, Jacque Kahura, Phalla Neang, Stephen Ritz, Azizullah Royesh, Madenjit Singh, Richard Spencer, and Naomi Volain.

She described working as a teacher to help young people read and write as a privilege just as she announced that she was donating the prize money to the school she founded.

She said donating the money to the school was “not being selfless, but being committed to public service.”

Jacqueline Jumbe-Kahura, of Bofa Primary School, Kilifi, Kenya, a top ten finalist congratulated Atwell thus: “My heartfelt congratulations go to Nancie for winning the prize. She is an amazing teacher who has served in her school for many years. Congratulations Nancie.”

Founder of the Varkey Foundation and the Global Teacher Prize, Sunny Varkey, said: “I want to congratulate Nancie Atwell for being the very first recipient of the Global Teacher Prize. Your incredible story will shine a light on the tireless work that teachers do all over the world.

Varkey added, “We all need to find ways of collectively celebrating teachers, of saying to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect.

“Right now we need teachers more than ever. We need great teachers to grow great minds or we will never tackle the problems facing the world, from global poverty to climate change.

“Of course, more will be needed than the Global Teacher Prize to raise the status of the profession worldwide. But my hope is that it starts many conversations around the world about the role of teachers – from families around the dinner table and teenagers on social media to education ministries around the world.”

Atwell was chosen from 10 finalists by a global academy made up of prominent individuals including academy award winning actor Kevin Spacey; social activist Geoffrey Canada; entrepreneur, Baroness Martha Lane Fox; Deputy Director College Ready, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Carina Wong; CEO Teach For All, Wendy Kopp; founder and CEO of Teach First, Brett Wigdortz; Grammy award winning musician Esperanza Spalding and Deputy Principal, Tsinghua International School China, Jiang Xueqin.

Atwell discovered a love of books while bedridden with rheumatic fever as a child. She teaches English as a writing-reading workshop.

In her workshop, students choose the subjects they write about and the books they read: an average of 20 pieces of publishable writing and 40 books each year. Her students experience a volume of practice that leads to engagement, stamina, and skill.

In 1990, she founded the Center for Teaching and Learning, a non-profit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating effective classroom practices. The faculty conducts seminars, publishes professional books and articles, and invites teachers from across the United States and other countries to spend a week at the school to experience its methods firsthand.

A teacher since 1973, Atwell has written nine books, edited five collections, and delivered hundreds of keynote addresses and workshops about her teaching.

She added: “I love my teaching life- the intellectual, social, and personal challenges of working with young people and the satisfaction of developing methods that transform their lives and give them perspective on the lives of others. I am grateful to the Varkey Foundation for shining a light on teaching as a powerful profession, one of fulfillment, creativity, and lasting worth.”

Honorary Chairman of the Varkey Foundation, President Bill Clinton said: “Attracting the best people to teaching, developing and supporting their skills, and holding them in high regard would lift learning levels all around the world.”

In his remarks, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said: “I count my teachers as among the most influential people in my life. Teachers are entrusted with nurturing the potential of the young and helping them blossom as productive and responsible members of society. It is hard to underestimate their value.

“I applaud the launch of the Global Teacher Prize, which recognizes their worth. The award is in line with my Global Education First Initiative, launched in 2012, which aims to give momentum to the worldwide movement to put every child in school, improve the quality of learning and foster global citizenship.”

For co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, “We were so excited by the plans to launch the Global Teacher Prize. I want to congratulate all 10 finalists for their inspiring work. I also want to recognise the leadership of Sunny Varkey, founder of GEMS Education, who had the idea for this prize and is a great partner for our foundation.”

Academy Award winning actor Spacey, who sits on the academy that chooses the final winner, said: “When I was starting out, I was inspired by an older, more experienced actor, who told me that he thought I ought to go into acting professionally. That’s the kind of mentoring and personal support that every young person needs to realise his or her potential.

“It’s the kind of encouragement and guidance that good teachers give to their pupils every day. And that is why I support the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize. However much we achieve in life, we all began learning the basics from a teacher in a classroom. Those that teach – devoting their talents and time to nurturing the talents of others – deserve to be respected and celebrated.”

Since the prize was launched in March 2014 it has received huge global support, including public backing from world leaders like Queen Rania of Jordan, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The Italian PM recently invited top 50 shortlisted candidate, Daniela Boscolo to speak at his school reform event in Rome.

Turkish Education Minister, Nabi Avci, recently met top 50 shortlisted candidate, Dilek Livaneli, to better understand her high impact teaching methods.

Official congratulatory billboards were also placed at bus stops in her hometown of Samsun. Other education ministers from around the world have also met and sent messages of support to their respective top 50 shortlisted candidates.

Ms Kahura, the only African in the top ten, comes from a family of teachers and showed interest in teaching from when she was a child. She is the founder of Lifting the Barrier (LIBA), which helps young disadvantaged pupils learn in a better environment.

Her novel approach to teaching involves learning in small groups. It also involves field trips that help to raise her pupils’ consciousness to the environment.

She also encourages her pupils to undertake community services. Many of her pupils outperform their peers in traditional schools that rely heavily on written tests.

Among the finalists is Stephen Ritz of South Bronx in New York who developed a project of growing food in the inner city to provide students with the nutrition to help them learn well.

There is also Phalla Neang from Cambodia who helped to develop a Braille version of the Khmer language so that blind students can read. She also works to prevent blind students from being treated as outcasts by the education system.

The top ten finalists were narrowed down from the top 50 shortlisted candidates, which were chosen from over 5, 000 nominations and 1, 300 final applications from 127 countries including the US, UK, Italy, Kenya, Uganda, India, Afghanistan, Australia, Argentina Mexico and Jordan, amongst others.

The Varkey Foundation is the philanthropic arm of GEMS Education. Its aim is to impact 100 underprivileged children for every child enrolled in a GEMS school.

The Global Teacher Prize winner will be paid the prize money in equal installments over ten years, and the Varkey Foundation will provide the winner with financial counseling. Without compromising their work in the classroom, the winner will be asked to serve as a global ambassador for the Varkey Foundation, attending public events and speaking in public forums about improving the prestige of the teaching profession.

A condition of winning the prize is that the winner remains as a classroom teacher for at least five years.

The top 50 shortlisted teachers were narrowed down to the final 10 teachers by a prize committee. The winner was then chosen from these 10 finalists by the Global Teacher Prize Academy. The prize committee and the Academy looked for evidence that applicants for the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize met the following criteria:

Innovative and effective instructional practices and student learning outcomes in the classroom and school; accomplishments beyond the classroom that provide role models for the teaching profession – whether through charitable or community work, or through sporting, academic or cultural achievement; contributions to public debates on raising the bar of the teaching profession, whether through writing articles, blogs, take part in media and social media campaigns, events or conferences; sharing inspirational education practices with other teachers and preparing children to be global citizens in a world where they will encounter people from many different religions, cultures and nationalities.

Others are improving access to a quality education for children of all backgrounds; third party recognition of a teacher’s achievements in the classroom and beyond. This can include pupils, colleagues, head-teacher as well as members of the wider community – (including government, faith organisations and business; supporting written and/or video testimonials) and encouraging others to join the teaching profession.

The Global Teacher Prize is part of the Varkey Foundation’s long-standing commitment to improve the status of teachers. In November 2013, the foundation published the Global Teacher Status Index, the first attempt to compare attitudes towards teachers in 21 countries. The index found that there were significant differences between the status of teachers worldwide. The survey also found that in many countries, between a third and half of parents would “probably” or “definitely not” encourage their children to enter the teaching profession.

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