A week ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The forum was run by The Varkey Foundation, whose message is "Changing Lives through Education." Sonny Varkey, owner, believes in a "great teacher for every child." And he truly works to get that message through.
In 2015, I was a top 50 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. I then became an ambassador for the Global Teacher Prize, although I will be the first to admit, I have been a lousy ambassador. I wasn't really sure of the Varkey Foundation, feeling that what they really wanted was media coverage for their organization. I have since learned differently.
You see, the Varkey Foundation believes that teachers are important, they matter. They want the world to know how important teachers are to the lives of children and the success of our world. So they set up this Global Teacher Prize to be like winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The award ceremony and conference were beyond amazing - top speakers, heads of state and country, famous media people - all became part of the show. And all there to honor teachers. Here are some of my exciting events throughout my four days of the conference.
1. I got to speak with, work with, hang out with, laugh with some of the most amazing teachers from around the world. There were 120 finalists at the summit preceding the conference, teachers who were already chosen as the best in the world, who were brought to Dubai to do powerful work around helping other teachers become Global Teachers. I met teachers who have started schools in areas where most children don't go to school. I met teachers who are using every tool they know to bring different cultures into their students' world. I met teachers who work in the most remote areas of the world and teachers who work in the busiest cities in the world. And all of these teachers are in a group I am honored to be part of. I hope to grow up to be just like them someday.
2. I made new friends. Like Janet Hayward, from Wales, who is me with an accent. She is "lovely." Like Ray Chambers, one of the top ten finalists, from the UK, who is the tallest person I have ever known and has the funnest wife ever. Like Andrews Nchessie, from Malawi, who speaks Chichewan, a language used in Laugh with the Moon, which I am reading to my fifth graders. Like Santhi Karamcheti, from Bangalore, who runs a school for children with special needs so they don't have to stay home and not receive an education. Like Mareike Ha from Germany, who pushed me right out of my comfort zone. Like, like, like. So many to think about. So many to connect with. My life has changed for meeting all of these amazing people.
3. I heard talks from Thomas Friedman, Bear Grylls, Sudhguru, girls who escaped from the Boko Haram, Andreas Schleicher, Arne Duncan, Geoffrey Canada, etc. So many great speakers. So much to learn and think about.
4. The food was incredible. The little serving dishes they used to pass around food was so cute. The gold covered chocolate strawberries were over the top, The Michelin star Italian chef who ran the Italian Soiree night gave us all amazingly tasty food. It never seemed to end. We had breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, dessert at every course. Whew. I wanted to try everything and I think I did.
5. The celebration of teachers was spectacular. The night of the award ceremony, we began by being serenaded by Andrea Bocelli. Then Bear Grylls parachuted onto the beach and ran onto the stage to introduce the astronaut from the International Space Station who, through video, revealed the winner. Congratulations to Maggie MacDonnell. Then we were walked out onto the red carpet that was lined with children and their parents chanting,"Teachers Matter." They were high fiving us and taking selfies with us. I never felt so appreciated. The night ended with an amazing band and dj playing great music while we ate and ate and ate.
This was truly the highlight of the week. Here in America, teachers are so vilified, so hated. To be appreciated with such verve was too much to handle. I cried my way through the red carpet.
I might never have an experience like this again. But I am proud to be part of the ambassador program. The Varkey Foundation does amazing things for children around the world. And there really are people in the world who think teachers are important. It's easy to forget that back home.