Teachers’ roles beyond the classroom

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Great teachers know that a child’s education does not stop when they leave the classroom.

We see every year that the nominees for the Global Teacher Prize are those who have gone that extra mile by working outside the classroom to help students, families, their own communities – and even others in far-flung nations.

Maggie MacDonnell, last year’s winner, is a great example. The Canadian says teaching in an Arctic Inuit community is very different to teaching in a city like Toronto.

She is allowed – and expected – to be more of a community figure, and her work reflects this. From providing students with placements in community day centres to helping them lead running clubs, Maggie’s involvement in students’ lives go far beyond schoolwork.

Since winning last year’s Global Teacher Prize, Maggie has travelled the world as an evangelist for the benefits of exercise to young people’s mental health – one of her passions after two of her former students took their own lives.

She has led by example too, braving the water of London’s Docklands to teach UK children how to kayak.

Health and wellbeing

Encouraging students to be physically active is also the focus of a former UK Women’s Super League footballer shortlisted for this year’s Global Teacher Prize.

Top 50 nominee Eartha Pond has set up “Girls Allowed” clubs that helps female students from religiously conservative communities take part in sports including trampolining, table tennis, badminton and volleyball.

In a deprived area with a significant number of refugees and a thriving local multi-faith community, Girls Allowed lets students and staff remove their hijabs, celebrate their differences and try new sports with new friends. It is a safe environment that families feel confident about sending their daughters to, run by women for young women.

Dance is the inspirational tool 2017 finalist Michael Wamaya uses to inspire students. Michael teaches ballet in one of Kenya’s biggest slums – Nairobi’s Kibera district, home to 700,000 people.

He combines dance and social skills, and many other teachers say his ballet classes have a positive effect on students’ academic work. Michael encourages young people to develop self-awareness and take pride in themselves, and those who attend his classes have lower dropout and teenage pregnancy rates.

Sometimes just taking an interest in pupils’ lives outside school can make the difference.

For 2018 top 10 finalist Andria Zafirakou, understanding what pupils’ home lives are like has helped to break down barriers in her London school, where 35 languages are spoken. She visits their homes, takes the bus with them, and stands at the school gates to welcome pupils as they arrive every day.

Growing community

Other great teachers also recognize that poor academic performance, attendance and behavior problems are linked. As the African proverb says: it takes a village to raise a child.

One example of this was provided by 2018 finalist Diego Mahfouz Faria Lima, who involved the whole community in the transformation of his school in Brazil, which was once rife with drugs and violence.

Businesses and other schools donated materials to refurbish the building, while opening the school library to the community has improved student literacy rates.

Other nominees have also helped their wider community. Stephen Ritz, a 2015 finalist from New York City’s South Bronx, the poorest congressional district in the United States, pioneered a scheme for residents to grow food indoors and outside all year round, helping improve the diets and health of people who often struggled for the most basic necessities.

Initially set up for students to grow food in class and learn more about nature, Stephen’s Green Bronx Machine initiative has evolved into community projects such as the “Food for Others Garden”, which provides fresh produce for people on low-incomes.

Globally connected

Many teachers are harnessing the power of the internet to help people all over the world.

Belgium-based Koen Timmers set up a crowdfunding campaign to ship laptops and solar panels to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. More than 100 global educators now provide free education to African refugees at the camp via Skype.

The scheme also helps others beyond the camp as more than 20,000 students from about 40 countries share inspiring Skype conversations with the refugees every day.

Meanwhile, many students have benefitted from maths videos posted by Australian teacher Eddie Woo. His “Wootube” channel has more than 185,000 subscribers from around the globe, who regularly watch Eddie explaining problems to his class.

On discovering that trainee teachers found his videos invaluable, Eddie created a separate channel where teachers can share their expertise.

Whether we are teachers, students or parents, we are wired to learn all the time, and truly great teachers are those who break down classroom walls.


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