Four Qualities of Great Teachers
For the past five years, we’ve celebrated amazing teachers by awarding the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice to four of them each year. Today, we’re thrilled to announce the sixth class of Fishman Prize winners.
Hailing from across the country, from the west coast to rural North Carolina to Washington, D.C., all the winners exemplify exceptional teaching in their own unique way, tailored to the strengths and stories of their community. And though these communities are quite different, all four winners share the same important gift: the ability to build strong relationships with their students that inspire them to take on—and master— challenging content.
This only scratches the surface of why we chose to award these teachers each a $25,000 prize and a spot in our one-of-a-kind summer residency, so here’s what their school leaders—the education experts who know the winners best—have to say about what makes these teachers truly excellent:
1. Thoughtful Planning
“Brett excels at infusing life and character lessons into his curriculum seamlessly, and providing the routines and structure that create the safety to explore difficult ideas and to engage in intellectual discourse where disagreeing is welcome (as long as it is based on evidence from the text!).
His 11th grade English students constantly refer to the grit they must show to overcome the more difficult challenges they face at school and in life and come out of his class exhibiting a zest for learning as they think about the role models they want to be.”
— Kevika Amar, Principal at KIPP Pride High School
2. Relationship Building
“Mr. Martinez is very purposeful in how he builds relationships with his students, understanding that these relationships create the foundation for the learning students will do throughout the year. He routinely holds individual conversations with students and sees these moments as opportunities to figure out what motivates, inspires, and drives that student.
Students in Mr. Martinez's class know they are responsible for their own thinking and actions. Upon recognizing his students could benefit from a daily practice that tunes them into their own metacognitive processes, Mr. Martinez researched and put into practice a mindfulness curriculum that focuses on helping students connect to their body and mind, and focus their energy on learning.
The feel of Mr. Martinez’s classroom can be defined by the palpable energy of academic rigor and purpose coupled with calm, joy, and respect. This does not happen by chance, but rather through Mr. Martinez’s firm but loving approach to building relationships with students and creating a culture of high expectations and mutual respect.”
— Nazareth Riquelme, Dean at KIPP Raíces Academy
3. Community-Focused Teaching
“Maria’s ability to strategically plan reaches beyond the ability to create a scope and sequence or an exit ticket; she creates lessons for students that require them to think critically. Her rigorous and thoughtful lessons teach students about their voice and what it means to use that voice to advocate for themselves and their community.
Through her instruction, students apply their literacy skills to topics relevant to their lived experiences. Most recently, for example, her fifth graders constructed arguments for refugee status in America. She is one of our most hardworking teachers, modeling for students what it means to work to overcome challenges. We are lucky to have Maria’s love and expertise in our halls.”
— Mairin Finn, Assistant School Leader at KIPP Sol Academy
4. Dedication to Exceptional Results
“Mr. Bryant's dedication to his students is evident through his consistent willingness to go above and beyond. Not only is he effective as a teacher because of his skill at taking students who are struggling with math to proficiency, but also because of his commitment to closing the opportunity gap for all students—he not only tutors his own math students after school, he also tutors students from other teachers' classes.
Successful teaching happens when an educator can build strong relationships with students and inspire them to achieve at levels they wouldn't have dreamed of before encountering that educator. This is exactly what happens in Mr. Bryant's classroom. He inspires children to love math and to see past the limits that they—and the world around them—have placed on them."
— Maisha Riddlesprigger, Principal at Ketcham Elementary School