Two Australians in the running for Global Teacher Prize 2021

Two Australian educators have been named in the top 50 finalists for the 2021 Global Teacher Prize. Deputy Principal of Bonnyrigg Public School in New South Wales, Rebecca West, and English and History teacher from Brunswick Secondary College in Victoria, Steven Kolber are in the running to win the US$1 million prize – the largest of its kind.

The prize, which is presented by the Varkey Foundation in partnership with UNESCO, is awarded to an exceptional teacher who is making an outstanding contribution to the profession. The top 50 shortlist was selected from over 8000 nominations and applications from 121 countries around the world.

Now in it’s seventh year, West and Kolber join other Australian teachers who have been named amongst the top 50 educators in the world in past years, such as Eddie Woo, Sarah Mathews and Charlie Klein in 2018, Yasodai Selvakumaran and Peter Gurrier-Jones in 2019, and Ashley Stewart in 2020.

West has been recognised for her work in a highly multicultural community, serving students from complex, low socioeconomic backgrounds. Throughout her career as a classroom teacher, she has focused on creating safe and engaging classroom environments where learning was relevant and student voice was valued.

Now in her work as Deputy Principal, she has refined her school’s learning structure, and helps to support the professional development of teachers statewide. West is also well known for creating educational videos on her education YouTube channel Clever Pickles, while her YouTube channel Talkin’ Chalk has clocked up over 1.1 million views and helps her to engage in professional dialogue with educators worldwide.

Kolber was recognised for his willingness to share his expertise with others and contribute to the wider education community.

‘Sharing, for me, encompasses leading teachers through global collaboration, publishing instructional videos for teachers and students, delivering professional learning and working with teachers to engage them in research,’ Kolber tells Teacher.

‘I, like many other teachers, publish teaching content online via my YouTube channel Mr Kolber’s Teaching for other teachers and students to use. Contributing educational musings and interviews to the TER podcast, and building communities to share best practice, through TeachMeets, or through the academic reading group #edureading all typify this sharing,’ he adds.

Through this work, Kolber also advocates for teachers and strives to empower them to understand the important role they have in society. ‘Advocating for teachers is step one, empowering teachers to advocate for themselves is step two,’ he shares. ‘I believe teachers can and should be taking more visible, active, and public roles within our society, in recognition of the superb and important work we do.’

He believes that more can be done to support teachers, particularly when it comes to advocating for them in the public sphere.

‘A current focus of my work is the manner in which teachers are represented in the media, typically in overtly negative ways, invariably linked to standardised testing results and claimed to be anything but the “best and the brightest”, yet the experience of teacher adaptability during lockdowns has been incredible and worthy of significant, and long lasting praise.’

Kolber says it’s wonderful to be recognised among the top 50 finalists this year and he looks forward to collaborating with the other superb educators on the shortlist.

‘It’s wonderful to be recognised, I see it as part recognition of the superb work that Victorian teachers have completed over this year and last during rolling periods of lockdown, and the flexibility they have shown,’ he says.

‘I hope that this recognition becomes more common within education, not only at the individual level, but the Victorian, New South Wales, and Australian teaching workforce. I see it as continuing the line of superb teachers, including those 11 already recognised by the award over the past six years, which represent this excellence.’

Teachers from Peru, Nigeria, Morocco, Russia, Canada, the UK, Chile, Spain, the USA (and many more!) make up the top 50 finalists for 2021.

This year, the Varkey Foundation also launched the Chegg.org Global Student Prize, a sister award to the Global Teacher Prize, to shine a light on the efforts of extraordinary students everywhere. The winning student will receive $100,000.

The top 10 finalists of both the Global Teacher Prize and the Global Student Prize will be announced in October this year. The overall winners are due to be announced at an awards ceremony in Paris in November.

To find out more about the educators named alongside Steven Kolber and Rebecca West in the top 50 shortlist, visit the Global Teacher Prize website.