Eight Great Teacher Entrepreneurs Who Started Their Own Schools

25 Jan 2016 | TaylorCampbell

Featured image: Global Teacher Prize 2016 Top 50 Finalist Ron Clark with his students at the Ron Clark Academy. Source: The Huffington Post Oprah Winfrey Network video. Some teachers like to teach on frontiers of different types. They like to teach in areas where students have no one to believe in them. Today we celebrate eight great finalists who knew that they could provide something new and started their own schools. They were chosen to be among the Global Teacher Prize's Finalists because of their exceptional contribution to their communities and to the teaching career.

1. Robin Chaurasiya - Kranti School, India (2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Robin founded and teaches at Kranti, a nonprofit that empowers marginalised girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas to become agents of social change. Her students, girls aged 12-20, include survivors of trafficking and daughters of sex workers. She has formalised a Social Justice curriculum at Kranti covering the key issues that affect the girls’ lives, such as caste, class, religion, environment and healthcare. Robin’s students, called ‘Revolutionaries’ (Krantikaries), are turned into teachers and community leaders, creating a ripple effect of children teaching each other. Robin-Chaurasiya-Flag-Graphic2

2. Elisa Guerra Cruz - Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, Mexico (2015 & 2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Elisa was never interested in becoming a teacher, until she saw the effect that school was having on her son. She was worried that traditional education would destroy his individuality and love of learning. Therefore, twelve years ago, she borrowed money, sold her car, and opened a preschool with 17 children, including her own. She studied for her teaching degree at home, eventually ranking first in the National Teachers Examination. She was also recently awarded as the Best Educator in Latin America. Her teaching puts a special emphasis on encouraging respect for others and valuing diversity in culture, art and music. Not finding any existing teaching materials fit for purpose, she has created her own. Her school promotes physical excellence as well as academic achievement. All students play the violin, learn three languages and take part in an annual triathlon. Elisa reflects on her life and tells the story of her school.

3. Ron Clark - Ron Clark Academy, United States (2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Ron grew up in a small rural town in North Carolina and started his teaching career at a challenging school. To engage its disaffected students, he danced, rapped his lessons, dressed in costumes and stood on his head, doing everything he could to make learning exciting. He brought joy to the classroom, and test scores soared. After five years at this school, Ron saw a TV show about challenges in New York City's school system. He was compelled to move there and soon began teaching in the tough Harlem neighborhood. Within a year all his students were at or above grade level. Ron’s innovative way of teaching aims to put students into a good mood, so that they are more likely to retain information. He makes a point of creating personal relationships with his students and their families. His school delivers exceptional education outcomes and has hosted over 30,000 educators who come to learn his approach and techniques. Ron Clark dances with his students. Source: Ron Clark Academy.

4. Nadia Lopez - Mott Hall Bridges, United States (2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Nadia was a New York City Teaching Fellow working in disadvantaged communities as a Special Education teacher. In 2010 she founded a new public district middle school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy, which is located in Brownsville, one of the poorest and most violent neighbourhoods in NYC. She wants her students to have the prospect of going to college and leading a rewarding career despite having grown up in this community. She has developed strategic partnerships with several high-profile universities and community-based organisations to better prepare her students for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts mathematics) focused careers. In addition, all students complete an entrepreneurship course to become financially literate and learn how to create a product and set up a business. To date there have been three graduating classes, with a 98% graduation rate. A report from the Atlantic on the impact of school principals.

5. Sean Bellamy - Sands School, United Kingdom (2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Sean took a risk in 1987 and decided to open a school run on a new set of principles – those of ‘democratic education’. Starting with fourteen teenagers, Sean established Sands, a school where the rules are decided collectively, there is no uniform, all the staff are paid the same, and everyone is on first-name terms. No adult has a power of veto, and everyone participates in running the school and doing chores. Over time, six hundred students have passed through Sands, most of them mavericks and those failed by bigger schools. Sean’s teaching approach follows a concept he calls ‘aesthetic learning’. Based on relationships, confidence and trust, he builds learning around an emotional connection to the material using debate, questioning and a range of media. His overall goal is get his students to think, so they can understand themselves and be creative, empathic and critical. Democratic education entails that students learn in and outside the classroom about what it means to be a global citizen and about the responsibilities we have toward one another. A short documentary about Sands School. Source: Luke Flegg.

6. Aggeliki Pappa - I Love Dyslexia, Greece (2016 Top 50 Finalist)

Aggeliki specialises in teaching English as a Foreign Language to Greek students with dyslexia and learning differences. As an EFL teacher, she recognised that there were no methods or resources available specifically for helping students with dyslexia who wanted to learn English. If a child struggled to read and write in their native language, what hope would they have with English? She resolved to fix the problem, and after extensive research developed a whole system to teach EFL with dyslexia called ‘I Love Dyslexia’. Because no teaching job existed for this specialisation, she set up her own organisation. Its afternoon classes offer holistic EFL and life skills learning to students of all ages who grapple with dyslexia and learning differences. Aggeliki’s approach is based on brain science and consists of a synthesis of smart visuals, mind maps, funny mnemonics and games to learn EFL skills in fresh and unconventional ways. It also includes socialising with native speakers, reflection on current affairs, drama, gardening and the use of technology. Her students’ pass rate in international EFL certificates is 100%. Students also report a significant rise in general school performance and emotional satisfaction, often after years of frustration. Aggeliki has taught around 800 students with special educational needs and trained about 1,500 EFL teachers at seminars run in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. Aggeliki was interviewed about her Global Teacher Prize 2016 Top 50 Finalist nomination.

7. Stephen Ritz - Public School 55, New York City (2015 Top 10 Finalist)

Stephen teaches in Public School 55 in New York City’s South Bronx, the poorest Congressional District in America. His big idea – pioneered in the Bronx where 37% of residents are food insecure – is to grow food indoors and outdoors all year round, using a new technology that is low cost and requires 90% less space and 90% less water. His new health and wellness centre has launched! His students have installed over 100 gardens in New York City alone, establishing a food production business that helps achieve food security and urban renewal whilst teaching students key skills at the same time. The program has had health benefits for everyone involved and also donates to and sponsors orphanages, refugees and charities around the world. The National Association of Secondary School Principals has listed it as one of five national exemplars of service learning. Stephen founded the Green Bronx Machine, a non-profit organisation, to scale the food production program to include Pre-K to college students, involve the whole community and instill aspirations and a new outlook on life for youths in the neighbourhood.Stephen speaks about his school.

8. Azizullah Royesh - Marefat School, Afghanistan (2015 Top 10 Finalist)

Azizullah only attended school until the age of 10, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forced him to flee to Pakistan. Unable to continue his formal education in exile, he used his spare time after work for self-study. Upon returning to Afghanistan at the age of 16 he established a school – and five more in the next three years, making dangerous journeys into Pakistan to procure teaching supplies. Fleeing the Taliban in 1994, he established the Marefat (meaning ‘insight and knowledge’) School for Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which moved back to Kabul when the Taliban regime fell in 2001. Based on his own extensive acquaintance with both Western and Islamic traditions of thought and literature, Azizullah has authored various civic education textbooks. Classes at his school pursue a broad interdisciplinary education and students work collaboratively in small groups. Lessons are supplemented by a range of student-run clubs that teach students communication, collaboration and leadership. In 2014 Marefat High School had 4000 students, 44% of which were girls. Azizullah was recently praised for his work at the Marefat School and for his Global Teacher Prize Top 10 nomination in a profile by the New York Times! Azizullah reflects on his life journey, and on why education is necessary in Afghanistan.

2015 Global Teacher Prize Winner Nancie Atwell - Center for Teaching and Learning , USA

As an extra bonus, here is another teacher! In 1990, Nancie founded the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), a non-profit demonstration school created for the purpose of developing and disseminating effective classroom practices. The faculty conduct seminars, write professional books and articles, and invite teachers from across the US and other countries to spend a week at the school to experience its methods firsthand. CTL also makes a concerted effort to expose its rural Maine pupils to other cultures and ethnicities, developing them into global citizens. So far, 97% of CTL graduates have matriculated to university. Since 1976 Nancie has written 9 books on teaching, edited 5 collections and delivered 120 keynote addresses on her teaching. Being the first classroom teacher to receive major research awards in the field of language arts, Nancie has won awards from the Modern Language Association, the International Reading Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English. In 2011 she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of New Hampshire. A trip inside Nancie's school.We are truly inspired by these inspiring teacher entrepreneurs who create a model for educators everywhere never to wait for change to come, but to be the change themselves! Keep up the incredible work!