Norman Atkins

Photo: Kelly Campbell

Norman Atkins

Human Condition
23rd Heinz Awards - 2018

Norman Atkins received the 23rd Heinz Award in the Human Condition category for changing how teachers are taught and improving learning outcomes among low-income students.

A former journalist with a life-long passion for addressing the issues of race, class and poverty, Mr. Atkins chose to focus his career on helping children and families break the cycle of intergenerational poverty through education. He founded Uncommon Schools, an organization that establishes and manages urban schools that prepare low-income children for college, but saw a disconnect between what schools of education are teaching and what teachers need to know to be successful in managing their classrooms. To address this gap, he co-founded the Relay Graduate School of Education, referring to the idea that it takes a relay of highly effective teachers to put a child on a positive academic and life trajectory.

The Relay approach represents the first major redesign of teacher preparation in the United States in decades, and is devoted to developing teachers and school leaders that are equipped to foster in students from all backgrounds the academic skills and strength of character needed to succeed in college and life. Relay differs from traditional teacher education in that it thoughtfully integrates theory and practice, immersing aspiring and early career teachers in PreK-12 classrooms and providing them with intensive practice and feedback. Relay has its own curriculum, and relies on a faculty of current and former classroom teachers and principals, each with a track record of successfully raising achievement in their own classrooms. To graduate, Relay students must deliver measurable results in the classroom and prove they’ve helped their students master the year’s academic content.

At a time when enrollment in teacher preparatory programs is declining—a factor in teacher shortages nationwide—Relay is marking a 40 percent increase year-over-year in its teacher and principal training programs, and is also highly successful in attracting a diverse teacher workforce.

Note: This profile was written at the time of the awards’ presentation.

There are no panaceas in public education. We tend to look for the silver bullet — whether it’s the glories of the market or the techno-utopian aspirations of education technology —when in fact improving educational outcomes is a hard, messy, complicated process. … Simply opening the floodgates to more education entrepreneurs doesn’t disrupt education. It’s just plain disruptive.”

— Norman Atkins


Norman Atkins, Education Reformer Who Pioneered New Teacher Training Models - Heinz Awardee

Norman Atkins, Heinz Awardee speech, 2018 Heinz Awards presentation, Point Park University