When you are able to successfully captivate young minds and inspire them to want to learn independently, then you have accomplished a magnanimous task as an educator.

Joe Fatheree has been noted as a true innovator in the classroom. His outstanding approach to teaching and learning earned him the prestige of being nominated and counted among the distinguished top ten finalists of the Global Teach Prize 2016.

Joe’s accolades and awards also include Illinois Teacher of the Year (2007) and the NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence in 2009. He has worked with the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and directly with education policymakers, leading several initiatives that have impacted education policy and practice at state and national levels.

Let us catch up with this dynamic educator to learn a bit more about his thoughts on the future of learning.

You were among the top ten finalists of the Global teacher prize 2016. How has your life changed since then?

The Global Teacher Prize provided me with an incredible opportunity to make an impact in classrooms worldwide. The experience has given me the ability to make meaningful contributions in classrooms that I would never have had access to before.

The award has also increased my degree of awareness as to my moral obligation to do everything I can to help elevate the profession. In the past two years, the Varkey Foundation has recognized 100 teachers as Varkey Teacher Ambassadors (VTAs). The VTAs have a strong commitment to help celebrate the work of great teachers and reshape instruction to provide for the needs of students.

My classroom continues to be filled with camera crews and dignitaries who are interested in learning more about how the students in my program push the limits of creativity and innovation on a daily basis. I have shared my thoughts as a keynote speaker at numerous educational conferences, and am in the process of co-authoring a book on teacher leadership.

The Global Teacher Prize has helped reshape the global narrative as to why teaching is important and what a platinum level teacher looks like. I am honoured to have been selected as a top 10 finalist for the 2016 award and look forward to the journey ahead.

You are a passionate advocate for using ‘out-of-the-box’ type activities and strategies to help your students learn. What motivated you to think outside the box for teaching and learning strategies?

I was asked to teach English to a group of low-level learners early in my career. I quickly discovered that a traditional lecture from the front of the classroom did not meet the needs of those students. One of the hardest things I ever had to do as a teacher was to take a look in the mirror and realize I was the reason my students were struggling. The lessons I learned in my second year of teaching have stuck with me my entire career. I am constantly searching for new ways to engage my students and make them vested partners in the learning process. Along the way, I have learned how important it is to create a culture that connects the curriculum to the real world in order to assist students in overcoming the fear of failure. Today, my classroom is an innovation ‘think tank’ where we challenge students daily to push the limits of creativity.

Share briefly your thoughts on the future of learning within this rapidly changing technological age. How can educators ensure that they are ready?

I have grave concerns about where we are going in education. This relates to how students are prepared to handle the impact that rapid changes in technology will have on society in the coming years. The world is set to lose close to 2 billion jobs over the course of the next 20 years due to automation. In addition, advancements in augmented/virtual reality, language translation software, robotics, and artificial intelligence will have a major impact on how we live.

Unfortunately, most schools are doing little to help empower their students with the transferable skills they need to thrive in the new age. Instead, in countries like the United States, we continue to waste time, energy, and untold financial resources on testing. The test and teacher evaluations drive everything we do. That way of thinking has to stop if we want to make sure our students are world ready.

Educators need to familiarise themselves with the 21st Century Core Competency Skills and how they can be integrated into the school day to help prepare students for the future. Likewise, they need to start looking at some of the new technologies that are on the horizon and begin to discuss how those tools might impact the world in order to prepare students for the changes that lie ahead. Finally, as teacher leaders, it is vital that we advocate for the disenfranchised, in order to help close the digital divide. Colleagues of mine teach in countries where their students are literally starving to death or are living in refugee camps. We have to become a global voice for those in need and advocate for the creation of new models that will provide us with the ability to share instruction and connect classrooms around the world in order to equip those students with the skills they need to find success.

What are two important personal goals that you hope to accomplish within the next 5 years?

I would love to create a digital platform that would provide me with the ability to create an entrepreneurship program to help teach students in disenfranchised countries how to start businesses and transform the economies within their communities.

Provide teacher leadership training to teachers around the world, so they have the ability to work with policymakers and one another to create innovative systems that provide students with the skills they need to become global citizens.

Share in short sentences, five things that you use to stay motivated when it comes to both professional and personal goals.

  1. I believe that teachers are world changers.

2. I realize I have a lot to learn about a lot of things.

3. I am constantly picking the brains of other great teachers and industry leaders for new ideas.

4. I make sure to schedule time to spend time with my family, work out, and enjoy the world. A dull mind and body does little to inspire anyone, including one’s self.

5. My students challenge me to bring my “A” game to class every day.

How can other educators engage with you or stay abreast of the work that you are doing?

The best way is to follow me on Twitter @josephfatheree. Otherwise, I can always be reached via email at [email protected]

By Carolyn Lee

Carolyn is the editor at Teach Middle East Magazine.