The first thing that softens your heart upon seeing Hanan Al-Hroub for the first time is the air of confidence and kindness that emanates from her posture and her expressions. The second thing is hearing her speak about a cause for which she strove and is still striving – bringing smiles to the innocent faces of broken Palestinian children through education.

It was her motherhood to five children living in a refugee camp in the Palestinian West Bank and her first-hand experience of the effects of war and violence on her children’s well-being, ability to learn and happiness that lead her on a journey of striving to bring normality and happiness to children through playful and meaningful education.

When two of her children were young in the year 2000, they were shot at by Israeli soldiers on their way back home from school accompanied by their father. Seeing her husband injured and her children traumatised, she began innovating ideas and games to bring her children to feel happiness and security and to help them enjoy learning once again. Later, she decided to enter Primary Education when her children were all in school and then decided to dedicate her life to teaching. Throughout her teaching, she focuses on ‘developing trusting, respectful, honest and affectionate relationships with her students and emphasises the importance of literacy. She encourages her students to work together, pays close attention to individual needs and rewards positive behaviour’ (The Global Teacher Prize).

Later in 2016, she was recognised by the Varkey Foundation as the best teacher of the year globally. Hanan said on stage: “I will carry the trophy to my children. My students are the true winners of this prize. My ideas and courage came from these children.”

She also addressed teachers saying: “I tell all the teachers, whether they are Palestinian or around the world: our job is caring. The goals of teaching are good and true. We must teach our children that our only weapon is knowledge and education.”

It was an honour hearing her speak at the BETT 2017 show in London on ‘What leadership means to me’. Here are highlights from her speech:

One of our goals as teachers is to build confidence in our children”

“Give your children big goals and help them through”

“Teach your children not only the subject, but how to face life’s problems and challenges”

“Help your child discover what they already know and let it guide your teaching”

“Create hope, love and curiosity in your children and make them sense your care, love and interest”

“Eliminate stress factors and separate your children from negativity and violence outside of the class”

“There are no limits to the imagination and creativity of a Leader teacher”

“We must protect their smiles”

“Plan well, be organised and be inventive”

“How does a teacher transform the images of violence and aggression outside of the class into hope?”

“Facilitate and teach through cooperative learning- team work, dialogue, tolerance and respect”

“The free teacher is the one who creates leadership”

Hanan Al-Hroub teaches us many things. Two of which prominently resonate with us at Madrassah, especially given the current difficulties that Muslims in North America are facing. Firstly, that political and military oppression, no matter how severe, cannot withstand the power of love and knowledge. And secondly that a Leader teacher filled with love and care for his or her children is never hindered by lack of resources, rather they invent and create and set an example of hope and strength for the future generation.