Raising up the Teaching Profession
Will $1M dollars do it?

This week I took a trip to Dubai to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum, sponsored by the Varkey Foundation. The Varkey Foundation launched a Global Teacher Prize to elevate the state of the profession to that of winning a Nobel Peace Prize. The winner receives $1 million. There were 10 finalists, but the winner was…Nancie Atwell, a reading and writing teacher, an author, and the founder of a demonstration school in Maine called the Center for Teaching and Learning.  Congratulations to Nancie!

What an honor to be among such a distinguished group of teachers for a few days.  What surprised me was the diversity of teachers and their heartfelt stories from around the globe. It was hard for me to compare Naomi, an incredible science teacher in Springfield, Mass. and a teacher who had a death threat out on his life because he was educating girls in Afghanistan. I was struck by the Kenyan teacher’s comment when asked, “How do you know a good teacher?”  She said, “They are smiling and they are happy.” Good teachers love what they do and they do it well.  I was moved by the sheer humility of the teacher from Cambodia who set up the first school for blind students in her country and how she motivated the government to act.

I enjoyed Andreas Schleicher’s slides (he’s always great at synthesizing reams of data) but was particularly interested in his comments about the teaching profession. He said that the way teachers feel about their profession mirrors PISA scores. The countries where there is strong belief that the profession is valued tend to have higher scores.

Dubai #1 Pic

You’ll see the U.S. in the middle of the pack. We have some work to do! He asked a great question:  “Why don’t we ask teachers how great they want to be?  These days we only ask them how effective they are.”  I walked away asking myself ‘what communities do great teachers belong to and how do we help them influence other teachers’ beliefs about the profession?’

Finally I was impressed by Vicki Colbert’s model of Escuela Nueva. I sat on a panel with her about replicating great schools. She shares my belief in simple tools and good design as the keys to scaling effective practices across diverse schools in different contexts.

This is the first in a series of posts about my trip this month to the Global Teaching Prize in Dubai.