Professor Chan (left) and Mabel Woo (right)
Think back to your school or university days. Is there one teacher who you remember, who somehow changed your life? Whose support and positivity set you on the path to where you are today.
For me, this teacher was Professor Chan. I met him during my first week at college and our connection continues to this day. He attended my graduation, visited my workplace, and his mentorship has been a hugely positive influence in my life and career.
Back when we first met, I was lacking confidence, largely because my secondary school teachers had constantly criticized the quality of my written English. Professor Chan was different. He encouraged me. He saw my potential and my dedication to my schoolwork. Above all, he believed that I could try. His positive reinforcement inspired me to work harder, and it really paid off.
I no longer feared criticism from my teachers. Instead, I had the unwavering support of someone who wanted to help me succeed.
On this year’s World Teachers’ Day, I fondly remember Professor Chan and his life-changing role in my educational journey and beyond. And I celebrate the transformational impact that teachers like him have on their students all around the world—encouraging them to try every subject, to be curious, and to excel.
Yet too often, the importance of their role goes with little recognition. Many lack the necessary resources, opportunities for professional development, and work-life balance.
According to the United Nations, teachers are the “most influential variable” in a child’s education and their learning outcomes. We must invest in their wellbeing and professional development, help them share best practices amongst colleagues, and equip them with the best tools for success.
In short, to continue changing lives, teachers need education systems to change too. That's why every year, the Yidan Prize recognizes outstanding work in the categories of education research and educational development. The aim is to celebrate the stellar achievements of our winners, provide funding for their work, and inspire others to join them in supporting teachers and transforming education.
Take Dr Linda Darling-Hammond, our 2022 Yidan Prize for Education Research laureate, for example. Her work at the Learning Policy Institute helps teachers and schools create more supportive learning environments, preparing students for work, life and citizenship in the 21st century. Through the EdPrepLab, run in partnership with the Bank Street Graduate School of Education, Linda and her team are promoting a deeper learning approach. One that supports the social, emotional, and academic development of every child in culturally responsive ways.
Linda has been establishing networks in the United States where retired principals mentor emerging educational leaders. Together, they can share their experiences and core values, and exchange knowledge and insights. This aids professional development while fostering a spirit of collaboration in overcoming common challenges, even in places where schools often operate independently. If replicated in Asia and, specifically, Hong Kong, it could have a transformative impact on the education system.
Many teachers feel alone and isolated, especially those working in rural schools. So, our 2022 Yidan Prize for Education Development laureate, Professor Yongxin Zhu, is supporting them through the New Education Initiative (NEI). His Teacher Growth Model has created a community of educators that support each other, especially rural teachers. NEI gives them teaching resources, leadership skills, and, most importantly, a sense of community with their peers—no matter where they are. Significantly, the NEI also brings together teachers, students, and their families around clear learning goals that go beyond just teaching-to-test.
Professor Zhu’s work also highlights the need for teachers to experience joy and fulfilment in their work. This, after all, is what helps them engage and inspire their students. Many work tirelessly under demanding circumstances or in high-pressure environments, like Hong Kong. Programs such as NEI’s can ensure that, despite these challenges, they can still find enjoyment in their career and, in turn, help motivate students to take pleasure in their own learning too.
Through the work of people like Dr Darling-Hammond, Professor Zhu, and our 2023 laureates Professor Michelene Chi and Shai Reshef, we hope to support the personal growth and professional development of teachers and create brighter futures for students.
Yet amidst this transformation, one thing remains constant. In schools and classrooms all over the world, success will be achieved through the energy, passion and enthusiasm of teachers like Professor Chan. It is each and every one of them who I thank and honor on today’s World Teachers’ Day.
Professor Chan (left) and Mabel Woo (right)