The Instructional Philosophy of the “World’s Best Teacher”

Nancie Atwell at the Center for Teaching and Learning. Image courtesy of globalteacherprize.org.

Nancie Atwell at the Center for Teaching and Learning. Image courtesy of globalteacherprize.org.

In March, an American educator was awarded the highest honor in teaching – the inaugural Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize, which some have called the “Nobel Prize of Teaching.” Nancie Atwell of Edgecomb, Maine, is the founder of the Center for Teaching and Learning, an independent private school. At the Center, students learn in a relatively non-structured environment which allows them considerable choice in how and what to study. Meanwhile, teachers from all over the country (and the world!) come to observe the classes and enrich their own instructional methods.

Atwell’s teaching philosophy puts a heavy emphasis on students’ freedom of choice, because she feels that interest is the basis of engagement with learning, and engagement is the overall goal of her educational program. She seeks to instill in her students a passion for knowledge and a lifelong love of learning.

Another key aspect of Atwell’s philosophy is that students should not be graded by arbitrary metrics, but rather according to their teachers’ daily assessments of their engagement with and mastery of the material. As such, the Center for Teaching and Learning does not use traditional tests and quizzes.

While the Houston area does not have anything quite like Atwell’s unique Center for Teaching and Learning, its overall approach to instruction is reminiscent of the Montessori Method, which is used in several Houston schools.

You can learn more about Atwell and the Center for Teaching and Learning in this excellent feature from PBS.

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