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Meet the British Teacher Who Won a $1 Million Education Prize

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Andria Zafirakou, an art and textiles teacher at an inner-city school in London, has won the 4th annual Varkey Foundation's Global Teaching Prize.

Through her art classes and work on a senior leadership team at Alperton Community School, Zafirakou has led efforts to support the school's economically and ethnically diverse student population. Many of Zafirakou's students come from low-income families and struggle to succeed academically with limited language and social skills. Zafirakou works to foster a sense of community within the school while recognizing her students' complex—and often trauma-filled—family backgrounds.

"My calling in life is to make sure that every single child reaches their full potential, that I unlock that, that I make sure that whatever it is that they need to achieve, I make it happen for them," Zafirakou said in a video made by the foundation.

Zafirakou worked with other teachers to craft student-centered curricula in all subjects at Alperton. Now, the school is recognized for being in the top 5 percent of schools in England and Wales for student achievement. Outside of the classroom, she helped a music teacher start a Somali choir and founded an after-school boxing club in an effort to help students build self-esteem and stay off the gang-plagued streets of West London. In her attempts to improve relationships with students and parents, Zafirakou learned phrases in many of the 35 languages spoken by Alperton students.

In addition to her work to support marginalized students, Zafirakou leads professional development for other educators at the school. In part because of her efforts, Alperton is now one of fewer than 10 British schools to have received the Institute of Education's Professional Development Platinum Mark.

Zafirakou is the first U.K. winner of the Global Teaching Prize, which is chosen by a panel of judges that includes teachers, entrepreneurs, and public officials. Previous winners include a Canadian teacher in a remote, indigenous village and renowned U.S. language arts educator Nancie Atwell. The $1 million award "seeks to acknowledge the impacts of the very best teachers—not only on their students but on the communities around them," according to the Global Teacher Prize website.

Image courtesy of Global Teacher Prize.

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