Celebration Offers Educators Chance to Share and Learn

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With close to 10,000 people in attendance, the annual Celebration of Teaching and Learning (CTL) conference in New York City, March 18-19, featured lively plenary sessions and an impressive array of workshops on issues such as assessing teacher effectiveness, English language learners, family engagement in education, bullying and the use of technology in the classroom.

CTL photo by Bruce Gilbert

Conference participants stopped by the AFT exhibit booth to pick up resources materials and learn more about the union’s "Making a Difference Every Day" campaign.


Designed to provide participants with skills and resources they can use to improve teaching and learning, the conference brought together teachers, parents, school board members, business and community leaders, and others involved in educating our nation's schoolchildren.

AFT president Randi Weingarten was one of the panelists on a session titled "Building the Nations of the World," the focal point of which was the International Summit on the Teaching Profession, which preceded CTL. (See related story.)

A high-quality teaching force is a "national priority" for all countries Tony Mackay, chair of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, said. "Every country knows that learning is absolutely the main game."

Responding to a question about the shortcomings of American schools, Weingarten pointed out that there are good things happening in schools and school districts around the country. The problem, she said, is that "when we see good practices, we don't sustain them and we don't scale them up."

Inequitable funding may be the single biggest obstacle to improving schools, especially those attended by disadvantaged students, Stanford University professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond said. "We send kids living in poverty to schools that have fewer resources to meet their needs."

"Why Finland works"

Ritva Semi, special assistant to the Trade Union of Education in Finland, was the lead presenter during a session on Finnish education. In her country, she said, teachers control the curriculum, there is no emphasis on standardized tests, and "no one is inspecting [teachers'] work."

photo by Bruce Gilbert

Finland’s approach to education has made teaching an attractive profession, Finnish union leader Ritva Semi said.


"The Finnish education system belongs to the teachers," asserted Semi, who also participated in the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. "That's why the profession is so attractive," she added, noting that only the best Finnish college students are allowed to become teachers.

The discussion of Finnish education was moderated by Weingarten, who traveled to Finland last fall to visit schools and meet with educators. The AFT president said she came away impressed by the "tremendous amount of autonomy" and respect given to teachers there. In Finland, she observed rigorous peer and self-evaluation, and not a "top-down evaluation system." Teacher "professionalism means something" in Finland, Weingarten told those gathered for the "Why Finland Works" session.

The conference's closing session featured Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, who was interviewed by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. When Booker was asked about his relationship with the city's teacher union, he noted that he and Newark Teachers Union president Joe Del Grosso meet regularly and have found "common ground" around a number of issues, including making sure teachers have a voice in the process of improving schools.

The AFT, along with the NEA, New York State United Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers and WNET, were among the major sponsors of the CTL conference. Workshops hosted by the AFT covered topics such as bullying, motivating reluctant learners and common core standards. [Roger Glass/photos by Bruce Gilbert]

March 23, 2011