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23.3.2018 |

HundrED Ambassadors Share Their Journey as Global Teacher Prize Finalists

We caught up with Barbara Zielonka and Nam Ngo Thanh, two of our HundrED Ambassadors, to discover what being a Global Teacher Prize Finalist means to them.

The Global Teacher Prize celebrates the importance of teachers and the powerful impact they have on their students, their community and the wider world. The US $1 million award is presented annually to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to their profession. This year’s winner was Andria Zafirakou, an art and textiles teacher transforming the lives of young people affected by poverty and gang violence in inner-city London.

Among the many amazing finalists this year we were thrilled to see two HundrED Innovators, Nataliia Kiseleva and Koen Timmers, as well as two HundrED Ambassadors, Barbara Zielonka and Nam Ngo Thanh. We caught up with our Ambassadors to find out what being a Global Teacher Prize Finalist means to them.

Celebrating Exceptional Educators 

Barbara Zielonka, Top 10 Global Teacher Prize Finalist, is a teacher of English in both vocational and academic classes in a Norwegian high school. Making clever use of technology and projects such as ‘genius hour’, Barbara motivates and inspires her students and helps previously low-achieving or undermotivated students to thrive.

This isn’t the first time this outstanding teacher has gained recognition. In 2017 she received Norway’s prestigious Gullepleprisen for effective IT use in teaching and was the only European teacher to receive a Great Global Project Challenge Grant prize 2017, for her innovative school projects. Zielonka described her involvement with the Global Teacher Prize, saying, “It was a long process, but it was definitely worth it. Meeting more than 150 teachers who were finalists in the past and this year, showed me that there are people out there who are interested in education, willing to share their expertise and knowledge with others and believing that every child should have access to education no matter what.”

Barbara Zielonka with Koen Timmers, HundrED Innovator and Top 10 GTP Finalist 

HundrED Ambassador Nam Ngo Thanh is an innovative teacher from Vietnam. Nam has been nationally and internationally recognized for his approach to integrating creativity and technology in the classroom.  As well as being a Top 40 Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2018, he was also named Educator of the Year Asia 2017. He described the whirlwind of attending The Global Education and Skills Forum, where the Global Teacher Prize is presented each year, saying; “The four days at the forum are fast, every moment there is something that makes us proud we became teachers”

This passionate teacher dedicates his spare time to teaching orphans unable to attend school due to financial restraints, as well as teaching students in low income public schools, discussing crucial topics such as sexual abuse prevention, online internet skills and career choices. Nam’s passion for teaching is self evident; “In my opinion, the standard for a teacher to be involved in the Global Teacher Prize is that teaching is done with the heart. Even if you are working in a full-fledged environment, if you lack the love of your students, the material will become meaningless. It is the love of children that will do wonders. Once the teaching work comes from love, you can easily awaken the students’ passion for learning.”

Nobody enters the teaching profession because they are motivated by money, so it’s no surprise to hear that the prize money wasn’t a focus for either teacher. “The most exciting part of this award is not the one million dollars that the prize brings but the opportunity to be part of the best teacher community in the world”, explained Nam Ngo Thanh. “We all feel like one family because we share our passion for education…  I totally agree with the statement Maggie MacDonnell (Prize Winner 2017) gave in her session at the forum: “A million dollars can not buy the moments we’ve spent at the Global Teacher Prize.”

Looking to the future of education 

This year, the theme at the Global Education & Skills Forum was 'How do we prepare young people for the world of 2030 and beyond?'. Nam explained, “I loved the theme this year. As you know, the world is growing every hour, every minute and this is changing the roots of our everyday lives. Who can say in advance what will happen? How will life around us change? As a teacher, I see that future education needs to integrate with the 4.0 revolution. Facing the rapid changes in science and technology, teaching methods must change...a backward education program will not create the right people for the future. Instead, these people can only be created by a liberal education.”

But teaching in a changing world is never going to be simple. He continued, “This revolution also places great demands on transforming teacher roles. Teachers must be technology oriented and responsible not only for teaching but also for learning. They have to take into account the needs of each student, creating a student-centered learning environment that enhances creativity, curiosity, and learning motivation. The value of the teacher is not as a lecturer but a guide,  a catalyst to help students to orient themselves in learning.”

Both finalists were left brimming with ideas and inspiration for the coming years. “As Nelson Mandela once said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ it is my strong belief that schools should teach students how to solve real-life and complex problems and create global learners who are passionate about their work and understanding towards people of different viewpoints, religions and race”, Barbara reflected.

“Global citizenship, global leadership and educational technology have already a clear place in my curriculum, and it is hard for me to envision teaching in the 21st century without the focus on these three pillars”, she continued, "In my future teaching practices, I am going to focus on connections-based learning, dynamic learning and inquiry-based learning. There is nothing more important than the preparation of my students for their future workplace. It is my aim to stimulate curiosity and promote lifelong learning in my classroom.”

Nam  Ngo Thanh  at The  Global Education and Skills Forum 

For Nam Ngo Thanh, the experience of the Global Teacher Prize helped solidify his belief in collaboration and his passion for global learning.  “I always want my students to be global citizens so that they can adapt to the world’s development in different cultures...Today, I am working with children on projects related to caring, self-esteem, development goals of the United Nations... I believe these projects will help them reach those humanitarian values.”

While there were many incredible speakers at the event, Nam Ngo Thanh recalls being profoundly moved as three students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, shared their experiences surrounding the recent school shooting. “When I heard the children share the deaths of their friends in the classroom, I could not hold my tears.” he recalled. Attending the forum also made him reflect on the need for more inclusion in education, saying, “Education for children with disabilities is also a concern for me after attending the Global Education & Skill Forum. Give all children the chance to study!”

An Inspirational Experience 

Sharing what being a Top 10 Finalist means to her, Barbara said - “Being recognized by other amazing teachers from all over the world means a lot to me. I feel very humbled and honored to be one of the Top 10 finalists. This nomination means a lot to me. Not only because it recognizes my work, but especially because it shows increased recognition of the importance of teachers and the work they do! Teachers do matter!”

Nam Ngo Thanh reflected on the experience, saying “Each person who is a teacher is an important factor to change the world. I feel so lucky to be one of those wonderful people...Their sharing, their experiences have inspired me so much about a very special career that we all devoted our passion to. My passion for teaching is aroused more than ever.”


We would like to extend our warmest congratulations to our amazing ambassadors, to this year’s winner Andria Zafirakou and to everyone nominated for The Global Teacher Prize.