03/22/2012

AFT shines at International Summit, Celebration of Teaching and Learning

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The AFT had a major presence at two mid-March events in New York City—the second annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession and the 2012 Celebration of Teaching & Learning (CTL) conference.

The union was one of the hosts of the two-day summit, March 14-15, which brought together education ministers, union leaders and teachers from 23 high-performing countries to share best practices for training and supporting teachers and schools leaders. 

CTL summitAFT president Randi Weingarten addresses a general session at the 2012 CTL.

In most high-performing countries, AFT president Randi Weingarten noted, teachers are well-trained and supported, are allowed to exercise their professional judgment and are given the opportunity to teach students how to analyze and problem solve—and not just how to take tests. 

“There is a real disconnect between what we see successful countries doing to lift every child compared with what we see school districts in the U.S. doing,” Weingarten would later tell a CTL general session addressing the summit. 

Convened by the U.S. Department of Education in partnership with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Education International, the summit provided “thoughtful insight on effective ways to prepare and develop skilled teachers and schools leaders, reaffirming the critical role they play in successfully implementing systematic reform,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. 

The international summit was followed by CTL, March 16-17. Attended by nearly 10,000 educators, the conference featured presentations on a wide range of topics, including teacher evaluation, integrating arts education into the curriculum, Common Core State Standards, and the use of new technology, such as iPads, in the classroom. 

Recently back from a visit to Singapore, AFT president Randi Weingarten helped lead a discussion of the Asian country's education and teacher preparation systems. Weingarten, who visited schools there as well as the country's National Institute of Education (NIE), said she was impressed by Singapore's collaborative, shared-responsibility approach to educating its children. 

"The importance of education and respect for teachers," she noted, is deeply embedded in the country's culture.

Weingarten was joined on the panel by NIE director Lee Sing Kong, who hosted the AFT president and delegation during their February visit to Singapore. 

In 2009, Singapore undertook a comprehensive review of its teacher education and preparation system with the goal of ensuring that teachers were being trained to equip students with 21st-century skills, Kong said. "The mission of teachers is to nurture and mold the future of our nation." He said the sharing of best practices and the mentoring of new teachers are a priority in Singapore. 

Reconnecting McDowell: ‘The power to change lives’

Community partnerships and the landmark Reconnecting McDowell initiative the AFT is spearheading in McDowell County, W.Va., were the focus of a panel discussion featuring Weingarten, West Virginia Board of Education vice president Gayle Manchin, McDowell County high school senior Trey Lockhart, and Annie Bogenschutz, the resource coordinator at a community school in Cincinnati.

Launched last December, Reconnecting McDowell brings more than 40 partners together on an ambitious plan to address the profound economic, education and health problems affecting students and families in the southern West Virginia county. 

The public-private partnership is taking its lead from the residents of McDowell, Weingarten stressed. "What we're trying to do in McDowell is aligned to what the community needs." 

CTL panel discussionCincinnati’s Annie Bogenschutz, right, speaks at a panel discussion that included (L to R) Weingarten, West Va. Board of Ed. vice pres. Gayle Manchin and McDowell County student Trey Lockhart.

Manchin, the former first lady of West Virginia, said Reconnecting McDowell "has the power to change lives across West Virginia and elsewhere in rural America." 

While improving the quality of education in McDowell County is a major piece of the initiative, Manchin, Weingarten and others made it clear that the county and its residents need much more than that, including better housing, increased access to technology, improvements in the transportation system and good jobs.

"It's about the classroom, but it's also about what happens outside of the classroom," Lockhart, the high school senior, said.

What's happening in McDowell County is not unlike the community building that has coincided with the Community Learning Center initiative in Cincinnati, Bogenschutz noted. "There are common themes to what is needed in rural McDowell and what's needed in urban Cincinnati. 

As a result of the Community Learning Center initiative, most schools in the Ohio city are now community schools, Bogenschutz added, and offer programs in areas such as healthcare, parent engagement and outreach to volunteers from the community. 

The AFT hosted several workshops during the conference, two of which focused on Common Core State Standards and another that addressed the impact of high-stakes testing on black, Latino and Native American boys. 

This is the third year the AFT has been a major sponsor of the annual conference, which is organized by WNET, a public broadcasting station serving the New York City metropolitan area. The New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers are also major sponsors. [Roger Glass/photos by Bruce Gilbert]

March 22, 2012