Recognising exceptional teachers and outstanding contributions

The founder of a non-profit school to share effective practice in teaching reading and writing has won the inaugural million dollar Global Teacher Prize.

Nancie Atwell uses writing-reading workshops to teach English to her students at the K-8 Center for Teaching and Learning in the US state of Maine.

The school has a library in every room and has tens of thousands of books for children to choose from. There is time set aside for youngsters to read every day.

Under Atwell's approach, students choose the subjects they write about and the books they read. On average, her Grade 8s 40 books each per year, across 14 genres, and produce 21 pieces of writing each, across 13 genres.

The demonstration school, founded in 1990, shares its work through seminars and publishes the results of its own educational research. Students also publish their book recommendations on the Center for Teaching and Learning website.

Atwell was one of 10 finalists in the Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, set up to recognise an ‘exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution' and shine a spotlight on educators who make a difference to young people across the world.

Atwell, who began teaching in 1973, has also written nine books. She has pledged to donate her prize money (AUD $1.3 million) to the school so it can revamp its grounds, fund tuition assistance and buy more books.

'I love my teaching life - the intellectual, social, and personal challenges of working with young people and the satisfaction of developing methods that transform their lives and give them perspective on the lives of others,' Atwell told the audience at the awards ceremony in Dubai.

Commenting on the awards initiative, Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, said: 'We all need to find ways of collectively celebrating teachers, of saying to a celebrity-obsessed world that teachers are important and worthy of respect.'

The 10 Global Teacher Prize finalists were:

  • Azizullah Royesh, Marefat High School, Kabul, Afghanistan;
  • Kiran Bir Sethi, The Riverside School, Ahmedabad, India;
  • Guy Etienne, College Catts Pressoir, Port-au-Prince, Haiti;
  • Jacqueline Jumbe-Kahura, Bofa Primary school, Kilifi, Kenya;
  • Nancie Atwell, The Center for Teaching and Learning, Edgecomb, Maine, USA;
  • Naomi Volain, Springfield Central High School, Springfield, Massachusetts, US;
  • Phalla Neang, Phnom Penh Thmey, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;
  • Madenjit Singh, GDI – SOLS 247 School (in Cambodia), Malaysia;
  • Richard Spencer, Middlesbrough College, Middlesbrough, UK; and
  • Stephen Ritz, Public School 55, Bronx, New York, USA.

They were narrowed down from a shortlist of 50 - chosen from over 5000 nominations and 1300 final applications from 127 countries.

Visit to find out more about the finalists and the award.