By Mary Frost
Everyone who was anyone in the field of education made a point of being at the New York Hilton this past weekend.
Chelsea Clinton was there, moderating a panel about retaining great teachers; Sal Khan was there, speaking about his wildly popular online Khan Academy. Other luminaries in the house included author Wes Moore; “Science Guy” Steve Spangler; NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; AFT President Randi Weingarten— and the Fonz, Henry Winkler, now a children’s author.
But the real stars of the 2012 Celebration of Teaching and Learning — a massive education conference presented by Thirteen/WNET and WLIW21 – were the more than 10,000 teachers and administrators who gathered for inspiration, education and information.
The Hilton’s halls, ballrooms and break out rooms buzzed with energy as educators tried out new teaching products, learned about the latest technology, attended hands-on workshops and book-signings, and heard hundreds of world-class speakers, movers and shakers.
“The scale of the event was staggering,” said Mary D’Emic, School Counselor at St. Saviour High School in Park Slope. Ms. Demic was one of 25 Brooklyn teachers and administrators who attended the conference courtesy of the Friends of Thirteen in partnership with the Brooklyn Eagle. The Celebration “offered the perfect blend of the theoretical and the practical,” she said.
“For me, the highlight was Michael Sandel’s presentation on Justice; thought-provoking and challenging. He highlighted the need to ground our questions about educational practices in sound moral principles. I came right out and bought his book! The ideas tossed around on Saturday will stay with me for a long time.”
“Inspiring above all else was the sheer number of people who turned up to this weekend event. I came away excited and energized. I really enjoyed the conference and I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend,” she added.
St Saviour history teacher Eileen Postler said that one of the highlights for her was the “fabulous, informal conversation” she had over lunch with three long-time public school teachers. The candid exchange of experiences was exhilarating, she said; as a teacher of history she felt that she learned an enormous amount from their years of accumulated knowledge.
Dorothy Pacella, executive director of the Friends of Thirteen, told this paper,” The 2012 Celebration of Teaching and Learning was another spectacular conference – WNET does it again! It was great to hear the buzz among the teachers around Michael Sandel and Henry Winkler’s presentation. With the array of speakers on a host of topics meant there was something for everyone. I am sure the excitement and exhilaration of the teachers will spill over into the schools and classroom this week and I hope in the weeks to come.”
Brooklyn in the House
Teachers from across Brooklyn packed the workshops and demonstrations. Laurence Provette, Director of Early Childhood Education at the Stagg Street Center for Children in East Williamsburg praised a workshop he attended on the New York State Common Core Standards, “which now include standards for pre-K,” he said. “I’ve been advocating for years that education starts at birth.”
Richard Oppenheimer, Director of Family Day Care at Nuestros Ninos Child Development Center in Williamsburg and Vice President of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators told this paper, “I like the fact that every year Channel 13 creates an inclusive educational environment for educators from around the world. I’m very moved by that. It’s our chance to be together and interact.”
Miriam Cruz, the Executive Director of Nuestros Ninos said she especially enjoyed “sharing different ideas with different people. There’s a lot of diversity here.”
And Green Goop
Hundreds of exhibitors, from technology companies like SMART and Teq (intelligent project boards) to businesses selling butterfly habitats showed off their products in the two exhibition halls.
Maura Leppo, Yadana Desmond and Ruth Ramirez from the New York Hall of Science sunk their hands in a goopy green mixture of cornstarch, water and food coloring called “Oobleck” (from Dr. Seuss’s “Bartholomew’s Oobleck”) which, it turns out, is an example of a “non-Newtonian fluid” containing “linear and branch polymers.”
“With younger children, it draws attention to sensory experience,” Leppo said. “Observe how it behaves when you touch it gently versus when you use more force.”
Eric’s Reptile Adventures (led by the intrepid Eric Callender, wearing a pith helmet) demonstrated several of the lizards, snakes, turtles and toads his organization brings into schools. Ian Wallace offered for petting a colorful lizard called a panther chameleon from Madagascar.
An International Summit
During the two days before the Celebration, WNET partnered with the U.S. Department of Education, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other organizations to host the second International Summit on the Teaching Profession.
On Friday, Jane Williams, host of Bloomberg EDU moderated a panel discussion with Summit participants including Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Marguerite Izzo, former New York State Teacher of the Year; Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers and others.
Weingarten said it was “powerful” to see students in Singapore respect their teachers. “In Singapore and Finland in particular, there’s a climate of community aligned around teaching children.” She added, “There’s a spirit of collaboration, not confrontation.”
Gene Wilhoit, President, Council of Chief State School Officers, said that his realization of the “very contentious environment” in the U.S. was reinforced by what he saw in other countries. “It is the system, stupid,” he said. “It’s not fair to train someone, put them in an organization that not functional, give them no support and then blame them when things go wrong.”
In the end, teachers said they couldn’t wait for next year. “I think we all came away with a renewed realization of our common purpose as educators,” said St. Saviour’s Ms. D’Emic.
The Brooklyn Eagle is a proud supporter of this annual conference.