Yvonne Ben Aaman encountered strangers at the 2011 Celebration of Teaching and Learning. And she loved it. "One of the best parts of this event is meeting other teachers at lunch and talking to them about their school," said Ben Aaman, a literacy coach at PS 243 in Brooklyn and a member of the United Federation of Teachers, NYSUT's local representing New York City public school teachers.
She also appreciated the mix of celebration speakers, from health care experts, to political activists, to cultural icons. "The diversity of the workshops is really eye opening, and that's important in the age we live in now … events like the Celebration give us a chance to broaden our definition of education."
Ben Aaman's experience demonstrates the innovation sparked by last month's Celebration of Teaching and Learning, now in its sixth year. NYSUT is a sponsor of the event hosted by PBS. It brings together thousands of educators from across the country for workshops ranging from geocaching in the K-12 classroom, to motivating reluctant learners, to using Sid the Science Kid as a resource for young students.
Speakers at the two-day celebration included NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams; Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show;" political activist Leymah Roberta Gbowee; and Gary Knell, president and CEO of Sesame Workshop.
A program highlight was the Adobe Youth Voices panel featuring student participants from several New York state schools. Introduced by NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi, and moderated by Williams, panelists shared their perspectives on school, peers, family and their future.
NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue introduced a workshop exploring arts in the current high-stakes testing environment. "NYSUT truly believes that arts are at the heart of education," said Donahue. "The question is, as today's educators face increased pressure from standardized testing and budgetary constraints: How can we better allocate time for the arts?"
Goodness Okoro, a senior honor student at Albany High School, participated in the student panel and later attended the workshop led by Donahue. Okoro emphasized that her academic success was related to her involvement with the arts, which gave her an even sharper focus on the rest of her education.
Other participants at the arts session included Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education; Ramon Gonzalez, principal of The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology, an award-winning Bronx middle school with a stellar arts program; and Roger Tilles, chair of the state Board of Regents' cultural education committee.
Another panel showcased two locals involved in NYSUT's Innovation Initiative, a comprehensive teacher development and evaluation system funded by a grant from the American Federation of Teachers. Discussion centered on improving student success through positive collaboration between educators and administrators. Participants included Cathy Corbo, president of the Albany Public School Teachers Association; Joe Pesavento, president of the Marlboro Faculty Association; and district administrators.
Iannuzzi introduced Jeff Peneston, the 2011 New York State Teacher of the Year who is a high school earth science teacher at Liverpool High School near Syracuse.
"His work as an educator and as a professional exemplifies the valuable role teachers play in helping New York state children not merely achieve, but succeed, in our world today," said Iannuzzi.
A member of the United Liverpool Faculty Association, Peneston uses field experiences and hands-on science exploration to motivate students.
In addition to a booth hosted by NYSUT's professional development division — the Education and Learning Trust — the statewide union presented workshops focused on measuring student growth, national board certification, using nanotechnology in the classroom, cyber-bullying and helping English language learners succeed.