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Wanted: The 20 Most Compassionate Teachers in the World

Help give 20 educators who are real change-makers $1,000 each to further their projects.

Ninety-two percent of teachers in the United States report having spent their own money (a combined $1.6 billion!) on school supplies in 2010. Research shows that more than half of public school teachers have personally paid for field trips for students who couldn't afford to go, and about one-third of public school teachers polled buy clothing, food, and even toiletries for their students who can't afford these items.

With no budget for even basic supplies, there are certainly no resources to support school-based projects that promote environmental stewardship, social justice, human rights or animal protection.Yet innovative, ambitious teachers are doing these very things, with little to no support, in schools around the country and around the world. That's why The Pollination Project, a small, grassroots grant-making organization wants to reward all the positive things that teachers are doing to promote positive social change.

We award $1,000 seed grants to individuals working in areas like sustainability, social justice, community health and wellness, and social change arts and media. Our "pollination philanthropy" model of giving provides seed money directly to people, instead of established entities. Our goal is to help grassroots change-makers launch new ideas.

Together with the Institute for Humane Education, a graduate and continuing education program that trains teachers to create a more just, sustainable, and humane world through education, we're giving 20 grant awards to educators who are committed to bringing a social change perspective into their schools.

Winning teachers will receive a $1,000 grant to launch or expand a project, plus paid tuition for the Institute for Humane Education's six-week online course, Teaching for a Positive Future (continuing education units are available in most states), peer support, and guidance from seasoned nonprofit leaders and like-minded social justice activists. Teaching for a Positive Future is designed for classroom teachers who want to inspire their students to become leaders and change-makers. The course offers thoughtful and inspiring exercises, dynamic conversations with fellow participants, mentoring, support and motivation to teach valuable critical and creative thinking skills about our global challenges.

This is an ideal opportunity for teachers interested in starting a new campus club dedicated to human or animal rights, establishing a school garden, a community service club, or a technology or media project to address a social issue.

By focusing on what is working, this grant program will curate stories and examples of teachers making a real difference for their students and their schools, but who are also models for our entire educational system.

Teachers who have served as inspiration for this program include superhero educators like Ed Hashey, a fifth-grade teacher in Bradenton, Florida. Mr. Hashey is a retired engineer who became a classroom teacher to inspire young people to care about the world. With a grant from The Pollination Project, he transformed his classroom into a working energy research laboratory, where students build scale models of their cutting-edge clean-energy creations: plant-based biofiltration systems, methane manure digesters, portable wind generators, fuel cell technologies, and much more.

"We, as humans, are interdependent with all life forms on earth and therefore have the responsibility to plan for our future carefully as our planet is beginning to reveal signals that can no longer be ignored," said Mr. Hashey. "I am blessed to be able to help children believe that they can be heroes of action."

Natasha DeVenuti, an eighth-grade teacher in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, used her grant money to create an outdoor classroom in an open field next to the school. She teaches a course in animal studies in which students learn about wildlife conservation and habitat protection in their area. Now, her students can get hands-on skills via a garden area where they will learn how to grow flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and a wooded area where they will revitalize an old hiking trail and replace broken birdhouses.

Ms. DeVenuti and Mr. Hashey are just two of the many committed and creative teachers who have inspired this program. We know there are more out educators like them out there. Applications are being accepted from any educator, at any level (preschool through post-graduate), anywhere in the world, with priority given to educators working in traditionally underserved communities. The deadline for fall grants is September 22, 2013. Click here to learn more and to apply for a teacher grant.

Alissa Hauser is the executive director of The Pollination Project, and champion of ordinary people doing great things to change the world.

Paper chain of people holding hands image via Shutterstock

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