Nancie Atwell Wins $1 Million Teaching Prize

By Jordan Moeny — March 16, 2015 2 min read
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Renowned language arts teacher Nancie Atwell won the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai on Sunday. The honor, which the foundation refers to as the “Nobel Prize of teaching,” comes with a $1 million award.

A teacher for more than four decades, Atwell currently teaches a reading and writing workshop at the Center for Teaching and Learning, a demonstration school she founded in Edgecomb, Maine, in 1990. In addition to her work in the classroom, Atwell has been a vocal advocate of the importance of book reading in schools, and particularly of the importance of giving students the freedom and space to engage with deeply books and develop a love of reading.

Atwell is also the author of numerous books on teaching, including the widely influential In the Middle and The Reading Zone. Through her books, she is well-known as an advocate of the reading-workshop instructional model, in which students generally select their own books and are given ample time for independent reading and discussion of their reading.

Atwell was one of three U.S. teachers in the top 10 finalists, along with Stephen Ritz of the Bronx’s P.S. 55 and Naomi Volain of Springfield Central High School in Massachusetts. 1,300 teachers from 127 countries applied for the prize. The winner was selected by a panel of entrepreneurs, politicians, celebrities, and (a few) teachers from around the world.

The prize was created, according to founder Sunny Varkey, as a way of “collectively celebrating teachers, of saying to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect ... My hope is that it starts many conversations around the world about the role of teachers—from families around the dinner table and teenagers on social media to education ministries around the world.”

The Varkey Foundation is a philanthropic branch of GEMS Education, a Dubai-based company that works to improve access to education across the globe. Bill Clinton serves as honorary chairman of the foundation.

True to form, Atwell is taking the recognition and financial reward that come with the award and redirecting them to students. She plans on donating the full $1 million to the Center for Teaching and Learning. “I really find that I’m validated every day just by the experiences I have with children in the classroom,” she told the Associated Press after the award ceremony.

Image: Nancie Atwell works with a student at the Center for Teaching and Learning. Photo courtesy of the Global Education and Skills Forum 2015.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.