A jury member’s experience

Recognition of excellence for lesson-sharing...

Insights from Jury work for the UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize for Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers

Ora Kwo

In 2011 I had the honour of an invitation to join the International Jury for selection of the awards of a major teacher education prize. The Jury, appointed by UNESCO’s Director- General, was composed of “distinguished professionals with a high level of knowledge and experience of teacher-related issues, reflecting the global nature of the Prize with geographical representation of all UNESCO regions”. The prize was for outstanding practice and performance in enhancing the effectiveness of teachers, with “priority given to developing country contexts, as well as to marginalized and disadvantaged communities from the wider global contexts”.

The prize money was donated by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, whose secretariat organized the jury meeting. Before I set off to Dubai, I had some queries about the proliferation of competition amidst a world-wide ceremonial trend of awards-giving. However, over the intensive Jury work, I became more attracted to the objectives of the Prize, especially concerning its contribution to the Education for All goals and to targeted populations that deserve due recognition.

 

Collegiality in Adjudication

Following the initial screening exercise, each member of the International Jury was given two weighty folders of applications. In the pre-Jury workshop, members went through the criteria together with a trial run of assessment. Each Jury member examined the documents independently by filling up score sheets with clear indication of criteria. The technical procedures were precise; but real challenges arose when we looked at the details of each application. In some cases, we sensed that profound work was not clearly communicated. A piece of artwork in the meeting room may offer an appropriate illustration: could it be that the account of valuable work is just like the gathering of twigs and branches ready for use, whereas the clear documentation for consideration in award-selection is like a process of learning and conceptualization to transform the collection into an art form? An object of art is not just for display; it naturally inspires. In the process of adjudicating, I intended to read beyond the words, while observing the variation in how valuable works from different countries are being presented for effective communication.

At the end of each day of adjudicating work, I enjoyed the intellectual discussion with our UNESCO colleagues and team members. We were open in articulating our difficulties, but reticent in the private judgment without naming the applications so as to respect the space for independent adjudication. We rediscovered the significance of specific criteria, while hearing each other’s approaches to resolving the difficulties. It was a process of learning to reach our decisions of scoring and ranking with optimal attention to the salient aspects of outstanding practices, even though sometimes we felt like comparing apples and oranges.

The climax came when we had to validate our decisions based on the files and the results of our independent adjudications each member of the International Jury submitted to the General Co-ordinator. It was an exciting process of open dialogue over a few cases that carry a considerable gap among the scores. I found each episode of the discussion rather revealing of the ways that some aspects of outstanding practices were interpreted with assignment of varying degrees of recognition, calling upon our acute sense of judgment. In a sense, we were also mutually judging our judgment. The strong collegiality of the team was a dominant factor for respectful hearing of different viewpoints, and the procedure was concluded with neat consensus on the shortlisted applicants for our validation in the field visits. The acceptance of differences with sustaining focus from our professional perspectives made the whole exercise both challenging and rewarding. The event culminated on a photo-taking ceremony, followed by interviews from a journalist.

Commitment to Continuous Learning

I appreciate the professional commitment by jurors, who worked without remuneration. In a jolly celebration among the members of the International Jury and UNESCO colleagues, we reflected on the time together, anticipating what impact this Prize will bring in terms of both recognition and sharing of outstanding practices. Across continents, it was an occasion that we felt like colleagues beyond our institutional boundaries, and spoke about “what can we do to make it happen... to serve EFA goals...”

Given that it has taken considerable labour and resources to bring the International Jury together to make decisions on the shortlisted recommendations and the ranking, there is much more to achieve beyond award-presentation. Personally I am deeply impressed by those submissions that all Jury members reached unanimous consensus to shortlist for field visits. Three weeks later, I was further educated in the field visits, as I saw how the marginalized can teach the well- resourced what education means and how partnership can make differences.

On a further episode to address the objective of dissemination of outstanding practices, the challenge is to ignite the power of learning in the global space. I observe that learning does not simply take place with dissemination of information, though information interflow is of primary importance. It is desirable that the outstanding practices of all shortlisted applications can be given recognition, even though the awards can only reach the top three. From the experience of collegiality in the Jury work, I am confident that the mission of giving recognition to the excellent can be aligned with lesson-sharing in a spirit of collegiality rather than competition. I can also envision that in the long run, a global community of award winners can emerge with sustainable contributions to the global dialogue and practices in development of outstanding work much beyond the scope of the award-presentation ceremony. While the financial value of the Prize will certainly carry practical implications to support the work of the awardees, the long-term global impact on learning is beyond measure. It is not just a matter of planning or dreaming. It is about both...

 

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