Pope Francis Awarded This Palestinian Teacher The 2016 Global Teacher Prize


Palestinian teacher Hanan Al Hroub won the Global Teacher Prize at this year’s Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The $1 million award, established by the Varkey Foundation, “is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession.”

Selected from over 8000 applicants/nominations from all over the world, Hanan Al Hroub’s work stood out. Judges were impressed with her “No to Violence” curriculum, her focus on building trusting relationships with her students and the emphasis she places on literacy.

At the Samiha Khalil High School in the West Bank Palestinian city of Al-Bireh, Hanan Al Hroub teaches students who are surrounded by unspeakable amounts of violence—stabbings, shootings and bombings. Her teaching approach not only acknowledges this context, but also illustrates a deep understanding of the way in which the conventions of the classroom can either reinforce patterns of violence or intervene to disrupt them.

Inspired to enter the teaching profession after her own children “were left deeply traumatized by a shooting incident they witnessed on their way home from school,” Ms. Hroub’s classroom embodies a commitment to peace, understanding and conflict resolution. Because she emphasizes and requires inclusive collaboration, trust, relationship building and respect for individual voices—in addition to academic achievement—her work has led to a significant “decline in violent behavior in schools where this is usually a frequent occurrence.”

The atmosphere in the grand ballroom at Dubai’s Atlantis resort was explosive when Ms. Hroub accepted the award. There were stars from Hollywood and Bollywood lending a spirit of glamor. Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, and Prince William all sent video messages. Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, patron of the Global Teacher Prize, was there in person. The prize itself was awarded by Pope Francis in a video message in which he said, “Part of the education is to teach children how to play, because you learn how to be social through games and you learn the joy of life.”

When Pope Francis revealed that Ms. Hroub was the winner, the Palestinians in the audience cheered with pride, waving their flag in the air and chanting, “with our souls, our blood, we sacrifice for you Palestine.”

As a member of the academy that votes on the Teacher Prize, I was sitting close to the stage in a section reserved for the international speakers and delegates who had just spent the past two days in deliberations at the Global Education and Skills Forum. Three Palestinian delegates sat in the row immediately behind me. They stood on their chairs and celebrated when Ms. Hroub won. I could feel the pride they were experiencing in a moment charged with respect for the Ms. Hroub and the teaching profession, but also with political validation and support for the Palestinian people. One of them waved a full sized flag and held it high even throughout the entire gala dinner that followed the ceremony.

Nancie Atwell, who won last year’s inaugural prize, stood next to me as we both observed the celebration. “Hanan was the right choice,” she said, smiling. One of last year’s top 50 finalists, Marit Karise from Estonia, unintentionally summed up the spirit of the Global Teacher Prize nicely, “this is amazing,” she told me. She pointed to the spotlights lighting up the sky, the red carpet, the celebrities, the world leaders, and the excitement, “never in my wildest dreams did I think, as a teacher, I’d take part in something like this dedicated to my profession.”

Jordan Shapiro, PhD. is a Senior Fellow for the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. Visit his website or subscribe to his newsletter: www.jordanshapiro.org. Twitter: @Jordosh