Michael Dunlea

Tabernacle Elementary School, New Jersey, USA

Michael  Dunlea

Michael had a troubled start in life. Bullying and a difficult home life left him feeling excluded, discarded and sometimes suicidal. However, he always remembered certain teachers that had given him a sense of belonging, and after a long period of recovery, he became inspired to help others in the same way. The community where he now teaches is very rural, and his class has several students for whom education is a challenge. Several have medical conditions they were born with, such as autism, that they must deal with on a daily basis. 30 per cent of them also live between two homes.

Michael’s approach to these difficulties has been to build a community of learners who support and celebrate one another. His classroom is arranged like a traditional living room in a home, creating a reduced stress environment where struggling learners can feel supported. He also uses tactile, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual activities to aid all areas of study, and brings in music, food, and smells to make learning experiential and physically involving. The results are great: in 2017 and 2018 nearly three-quarters of his students exceeded their expected results in mathematics and reading.

In the classroom, he has been using technology to take students on virtual field trips around the globe. Last year they connected to 15 countries: many students had previously thought there were only 2 languages in the world – now they know there are over 9,000. Michael feels that his greatest contribution has been leading The Empatico/NNSTOY Fellowship, which has connected 42 states, 5 countries and more than 1,000 students who learned how to interact with their peers across cultures. In 2018, Michael was recognized with the Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, for New Jersey K-6 Mathematics. He was also named the “2013 Humanitarian of the Year” by the Martin Truex Foundation for his work in helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy. This year he is an NEA 2020 Global Learning Fellow and will travel to Peru to study their culture and build relationships with educators there.

If awarded the Global Teacher Prize, Michael would develop and implement an international teacher fellowship that focuses on helping students become world ambassadors of empathy and kindness. He would also look to support an exchange program for students to make physical trips to places they have virtual connections with.