Cat Davison realised early on the role teachers could play in supporting students’ efforts to drive change. She started teaching philosophy and ethics as a means to engage students in challenging debates on social justice. Recognising that classroom practice needs to be community-connected in order to enable students to apply knowledge to the transformation of their worlds, she has committed to a life as a community-centred educator.
Cat has created innovative curricula that apply ethics to action, such as ‘Society and Change’, which introduces students to critical perspectives on charitable and environmental action, alongside social entrepreneurship and advocacy projects. These curricula prompted a surge of 120 student-led projects including Students Unite, which raised over £35,000 for MSF, www.footprintfacts.org, which offers a personalised carbon footprint calculator, and Women Empower, who lead collaborative workshops.
Cat works in a selective school where pupils are well-supported, globally-aware and ambitious, and was deeply moved by the injustice of passionate teachers using extremely limited resources. This prompted her to work with teachers, students and community members in Ghana and the UK to create EduSpots, a network of 42 community-led solar-powered libraries, whilst also engaging students in global citizenship education. Today, these centres enable 15,000 people to access educational resources, with 200 volunteers creating solutions to local challenges. At national level in the UK, Cat spent the summer volunteering as a board member and mathematics teacher for Invicta Academy, helping to develop the model for this innovative online pop-up school which was praised by the Prime Minister, having created over 150,000 catch-up opportunities. In 2018, she was elected Chair of the Independent Schools Council’s state-inclusive Community Action group, running sessions on teaching community action, alongside organising the first nationwide conference on service education at Sevenoaks. She has developed four online courses online courses on postcolonial thinking, social entrepreneurship, and development, bringing thousands of African and European students together in live discussions on practical ethics, leading to systemic changes to service learning in schools.
The impact of Cat’s teaching is best seen through the impact of student-led projects. A student she mentored won the national Peter Jones Foundation Award for ‘Business for Good’ for creating Period Equality Together, a period subscription service that Cat helped to move to a social enterprise model. Another received a Diana Legacy Award for her commitment to the environment. Two pupils were regional finalists for the F Factor entrepreneurship competition and MIT Launch X winners for their design of a water sanitising head pack. Two African Science Academy alumni Cat mentored won UN Millennium Fellowships and created sustainable community libraries.
In the UK and elsewhere, Cat has found that there is a gap in support for innovative teachers, with no clear fellowship programme or network with this aim. If she wins the Global Teacher Prize, she will spend the money connecting and equipping teachers, students and community members keen to lead innovative educational initiatives that involve communities in addressing local and global challenges.