Million Dollar Teacher

Nancie Atwell is the “best teacher in the world”. She teaches English as a writing-reading workshop in a rural school she created in Maine (USA). She was just awarded with the Global Teacher Prize.

What can you learn from the best teacher in the world? I read her book “the Reading Zone” to get closer to her teaching philosophy.

Being a teacher for her is like embarking on a life-time mission. “The good teachers I know from every grade and subject are in the classroom because they want to influence kids for a lifetime, to make a difference over the long haul, to inspire students to become thoughtful, productive grown-ups.” So everything that could constrain teacher’s inspiration and freedom –like the obligation to follow the Common Core curriculum and assess students’ performance with standardized tests – will go against teaching as an inspirational and aspirational profession. When interviewed, she recommends “creative and smart young person NOT to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit them”. You can be the best teacher in the world and maybe the last one…

© Global Teacher Prize

© Global Teacher Prize

Atwell defines reading instruction as a process that “brings knowledge, joy, purpose, skill, personal preference and a sense of community”. This is a powerful definition of innovative learning that makes knowledge only one component of the learning experience. As she puts it: “No child ever grew to become a skilled, passionate, habitual, critical reader via a fat, bland textbook.”

Questioning “fat, bland textbook” is another way of highlighting the importance of the learning experience as both a unique personal experience and at the same time shared with peers.

Atwell understands reading as a personal art and defines the key for learners’ engagement: “every day they engage with literature that enables them to know things, feel things, imagine things, hope for things, become people they never could have dreamed without the transforming power of books, books, books”.

Engagement is the school #1 problem and early school leaving or boredom at school are two symptoms against which Atwell brings solutions : know, feel, imagine, hope.

No such thing as rewards in Atwell’s pedagogy: “The passions aroused by stories and characters are the prize”.

It is interesting to put Atwell’s visions in perspective with the main digital learning challenges.

MOOCs are criticized for the lack of students’ engagement with students facing the solitude of the on-line learning process and unable to engage into fruitful exchanges with peers. All types of rewarding schemes have been imagined from certification to gamification. But following Atwell, passion for learning should be the true reward!

Teachers, trainers, MOOCs instructors are therefore all facing Atwell’s challenge: inspire students. And certification is not the substitute for passion!

A last comment regarding being the “best teacher in the world” as opposed for instance to be the “best tennis player in the world”. The million dollar Prize will be paid in equal annual installments over a period of ten years and the winner must continue to teach for a period of five years after the awarding of the Prize. Imagine Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal being paid for winning a grand slam tournament in ten installments and forced to keep playing for five years.

Shouldn’t be teachers considered as trustworthy as tennis players?

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