Recognizing Teachers And Preparing For Peace

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Last night I had the pleasure to attend the ceremony at which Maggie MacDonnell was awarded the Global Teacher Prize, an award recognizing her outstanding contributions as a teacher that includes a one million dollar prize, along with much support during the year to disseminate her ideas about teaching globally.

Maggie is an admirable teacher in Canada. After five years working in HIV-AIDS prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa, she moved to the Canadian artic to work in a small Inuit village. There she is demonstrating extraordinary skill in engaging her students, and in empowering them to address the challenges they face. The community credits her with having motivated students who were alienated from school to reengage with their studies and develop positive aspirations for their future. She has served as a foster parent to some of her students, engaged her students in collaborating with a day-care center, supported them in creating a nutritious program, engaged with her students in exercise, develop an arts program to help students find their voice, and used project based learning to help their students develop 21st century skills. Maggie is a teacher who offers her students a balanced education, who educates them as whole persons. Her success demonstrates the extraordinary impact that good teachers can have in students and in their communities.

Maggie was visibly touched as she received the honor, and so were the other ten finalists for the prize, as well as the many other teacher finalists to the Global Teacher Prize who had come to the ceremony, and the more than 1,500 people from all over the world who had made a point to come to Dubai to be present at the event, including the Secretary General of Education International Fred Van Leween, the founder of Teach for All Wendy Kopp, the Director of UNESCO Irina Bokova, OECD’s Director of Education Andreas Schleicher, as well as several current and former heads of State and Ministers of Education. The award ceremony culminated a two day conference on Global Citizenship Education.

Maggie’s work so clearly illustrates that she is a global citizen, and that she works to empower her students to improve their lives, their community and the world. The theme of the conference, ‘How do we educate real global citizens?’, was especially significant in a global context which Mikhail Gorbachev has characterized as ‘it looks like the world is preparing for war.’

Maggie was recognized by the ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as well as by Canada’s Primer Minister Justin Trudeau, and other political, civic and cultural leaders.

Representatives from more than twenty countries announced at the conference that they had established national programs of teacher recognition, inspired in the Global Teacher Prize.

Given the importance of the work they do, good teachers need and deserve recognition. Recognition sustains their good work, and signals to others the value of professional excellence. It also contributes to how the profession is perceived in different societies, influencing how attractive teaching is as a career. A recent report of an Alliance on Teaching, underscores the need to recognize teachers as a critical factor to support high quality candidates to the profession.

Quietly smiling as the winner of the award was announced from the International Space Station was the creator and supporter of the prize, Sunny Varkey, an education entrepreneur whose philanthropy supports the Global Teacher Prize and the annual conference which convenes such a wide range of leaders of thought and practice. In partnership with the CEO of the Foundation, Vikas Pota, Mr. Varkey has succeeded in creating an evolving and growing process of teacher recognition, and in creating a community with many of the finalists to the prize and others collaborating across all lines of difference in supporting those who prepare the young to invent the future. This kind of global citizenship demonstrated by Messrs. Varkey and Pota, and by those who form part of this community, also deserves recognition. It gives me hope that, while some in the world are preparing for war, there are many more, especially Maggie MacDonnell and her fellow teachers, who are preparing for Peace. We need to accelerate the efforts to prepare for peace doing all what is within our power to normalize the recognition of the good work of teachers who empower their students as global citizens.