"We must build back, better" - Mary Robinson at FÉILTE 2020

Tomás Ó Ruairc and Mary Robinson


FÉILTE - largest educational event in Ireland takes place online with 3,000 participants

“Teachers have an immensely important role encouraging young people to play their part in society where we all have to be global citizens, taking seriously the quality of government, avoiding populism, supporting diversity and inclusivity and focussing specifically on human rights, development goals and climate action.  That’s clearly a big task but it is one that all of us in society together and in the co-operative spirit of Meitheal can address for our mutual wellbeing in humanity,” said former president Mary Robinson as she addressed FÉILTE - the largest educational event in Ireland - taking place online today with 3,000 participants, organised by the Teaching Council.

Mrs. Robinson's attendance at the event was warmly appreciated by delegates, with some comments by attendees included at the end of this release. Today’s event has also trended #1 in Ireland on Twitter.

Today is the eighth national FÉILTE (Festival of Education in Learning and Teaching Excellence) giving teachers the opportunity to collaborate and share their work with each other and the wider public. The annual event celebrates best practice and innovation with expert speakers, workshops and showcases sharing experiences, insights and research for the overall benefit of teaching and learning in Ireland.

FÉILTE’s theme of ‘Collaborating to Connect: Empathy with our Communities’ is more relevant than ever. One of the remarkable features of humanity is the ability to adapt and adjust – which was achieved by FÉILTE as it pivoted online today. Teachers showed this during the event through showcases, workshops and lockdown stories to name a few, with wonderful questions, support and comments evident of the enjoyment and engagement by attendees throughout the day.

In a tribute to school children, the event started with Butterfly Lockdown Stories by pupils of Harcourt Terrace Educate Together NS, who recounted their experience of nursing caterpillars at home, through the chrysalis stage and releasing the emerging butterflies to nature. It can be viewed at: Butterfly Lockdown Stories

In a delightful musical interlude during the event, delegates enjoyed a specially recorded rendition of Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids, sung in a collated multi-video format by schools and communities across the country  and in collaboration with Paul Harrington who won Eurovision 1994 with Charlie McGettigan and the song composed by Brendan Graham. The performance was specially commissioned to pay tribute to young people and school communities nationwide. It can be viewed at: Rock 'n' Roll Kids Video

Addressing delegates live by video-link, Mary Robinson said “Globally, we started the year with an ambition to address climate and sustainability issues but this wasn’t necessarily being pursued with a sense of collective purpose. The current pandemic has demonstrated that ‘business as usual’ was not bringing us or our children to a safer world. We must seek to come out of Covid with a realisation that we all need to take steps, individually and societally, towards achieving more sustainable ways of living. We must build back better.

“The Government of Ireland is very strongly committed to climate action and this must be used as a continuing opportunity for our schools to educate for a more sustainable future. The Green Schools initiative provides an excellent example of educators supporting learning around issues of sustainability and, in turn, children educating their parents, families and communities on the potential for local action to create benefits for humanity, nature and our environment on a global basis.

“Covid has had a dreadful impact on human rights and it has brought home to us all the fragility of humanity and the world. It has also served to highlight inequality on a global basis where traditionally disadvantaged peoples are suffering more, including women and girls whose education and prospects are threatened in less enlightened and less developed regions of the world.

Mrs Robinson urged all teachers, pupils and parents to make the climate issue personal in their lives.

“The future we need to be hurrying towards is a healthier one, with cleaner air and less pollution, and a world where we have green jobs, broadband connectivity, working remotely and well from different places. We can only have better lives if we develop ownership and responsibility around the individual and collective actions that can be taken and also challenge those in positions of greater responsibility including governments, businesses, the investment world and the fossil fuels industry to create a better future underpinned by the principles of sustainability and climate justice for all.”

“I am deeply inspired by our children and young people who have an innate sense of justice and who also know the urgency for action.  I appreciate the value and vocation of teachers within our society, including the influence they bring to bear in educating and guiding our young people around the challenge and necessity of ensuring equity and social justice for all. We need to learn more in Ireland about diversity and equality and ingraining it across every sphere of power and influence in our society where much of this process can be, and is being,  promoted and achieved through the positive influence of our schools.

Urging people to maintain resilience in the face of horror, Mrs. Robinson concluded her comments by reciting the poem ‘Everything is going to be all right’ by the late Poet, Derek Mahon, who passed away on Thursday.

Speaking at the event, Education Minister Norma Foley said “FÉILTE is a wonderful event with a new and innovative format that is representative of the immense contribution and adaptability of the teaching profession. It is a credit to the hard work and goodwill of everyone concerned that this event has gone ahead so impressively with some 3,000 delegates.

“As the professional standards body for the teaching profession, the Teaching Council’s FÉILTE event creates opportunities to celebrate teaching and all the aspects it encompasses.  When schools closed in March the scale of the work that needed to be done was impossible to envisage.  The country entered full lockdown and the task to ensure the continued provision of education became a formidable challenge.  The response to this challenge from the entire education sector was absolutely inspiring. The willingness on the part of so many to find new ways to work and to overcome the many obstacles the pandemic presented was testament to the incredible professionalism and generosity of all to work together for the greater good.  The task of reopening schools required significant preparation and sheer hard work to make the school environment a safe place both for teachers and students.

“The timely reopening of our schools is testament again to the absolute commitment of teachers and principals to work collaboratively with the Department and broader education sector to achieve a common goal for all, and for this I thank the teaching profession most sincerely.

“With FÉILTE, the Teaching Council provides teachers with an opportunity to celebrate their profession and to share their insights on new ways of working. This is of particular importance this year in the safe reopening of our schools, the changed environment in which we must all operate and the inherent challenges presented in the context of living with COVID-19.”

Chair of The Teaching Council Seán McMahon said “Now more than ever we need to support quality teaching and learning. FÉILTE is a celebration of what is best about the teaching profession, but it is simultaneously a reflective and thoughtful event that gives us the opportunity to share knowledge, innovation, learning and insights around best practice.

“As Chair of the Teaching Council I express my admiration for the manner in which the teaching profession has risen most innovatively to the unprecedented challenges which Covid 19 has presented. The national context has now further evolved with the Return to School for our students and educators. While there are ongoing concerns and challenges inherent in this process, we again see the conscientious professionalism of teachers.

“Since its inception, FÉILTE has evolved as a truly sharing and collaborative event, characterised by energy, enthusiasm and empowerment. While we are physically apart, we are in fact together – in our communities, in our commitment and dedication, in our passion for teaching and learning. Perhaps most importantly, we are together in recognising and acknowledging the collective professional contribution of teachers to our wonderful young people, our communities, our society and our country.

Teaching Council Director, Tomás Ó Ruairc said “We opened a most unusual FÉILTE today, in these most unusual of times, with a simple yet powerful reminder of how, no matter what happens, life will always find a way.

“We have waded through the last few months. We all have stories of moments during that time – stories of fear, anxiety, heartbreak, grief, stress. And we have stories of moments of joy, love, relief, conversation, video calls, mountain walks,

“Today, and this afternoon, the teaching profession, through the Teaching Council, is acknowledging and recognising the moments of stress and fear. And we are also celebrating the stories of joy, connection and love.

“As a father, teacher, CEO of the Teaching Council, I want to say how proud I am of the teaching profession, of our school communities – for all that they have done to be there for each other, and for our children, young people and adult learners. FÉILTE brings teachers, school communities and the public together to celebrate the role and contribution of teaching, learning and education in our society.  It also creates very thoughtful discussion, insight and learning around the continuing evolution of excellence in teaching practice. The real magic of the event takes place when people take on board new ideas and concepts and bring them forward within their own school communities in a wider scaling effect. In spite of the great stresses presented by the current pandemic crisis, the teaching profession and school communities have shown that they are there for each other, for our children,  for young people and for our adult learners where the role of education in the current and future wellbeing and society is of paramount importance at this most difficult time for our country.”

Innovation within teaching and learning is core to the FÉILTE experience. The Teaching Council has taken the physical elements of FÉILTE and placed them on a virtual platform, allowing attendees to enjoy all aspects of the festival, including the ability to network with each other in a digital lobby.

The popular ‘meets’ – collaborative sessions focusing on certain themes and topics – took place in an online format this year. Sessions included ResearchMeet, LeadershipMeet (facilitated by the Centre for School Leadership), and TeachMeet. Additionally, a panel discussion took place between school leaders and Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) in StudentMeet, providing advice for student teachers.

Forty-five individual showcases – which display a multitude of projects by teachers covering a range of themes including wellbeing, cross-curricular, STEM, inclusion, collaborative practice and more –were made available online in a virtual format via a tailor-made Expo area.

A panel discussion was also held on the topic of ‘Teaching and learning during a pandemic: opportunities and challenges’, probing learnings from this most turbulent year and discussing the new reality of the new academic year under Covid-19.

The Teaching Council is the professional standards body for the teaching profession, which promotes and regulates professional standards in teaching.


Some comments by attendees at FÉILTE 2020:

Thank you to the Minister for recognising the hard work of the teaching profession especially during the last number of months from school closure to reopening with all the many challenges therein and continuing as we move forward.

Mary Robinson is such a beautiful speaker, very inspirational.

Congratulations to Mary Robinson on her thoughts and positivity on the impact of COVID-19

Great insight and thought provoking comments from our Iar-Uachtarán

So many nuggets of wisdom & important insights from Mary Robinson. So inspiring!

I love those words by Mary Robinson 'The Power of Listening’

Inspirational lady. Listening to her is making my day

Listening is the key skill for all teachers

Such relevance and what a privilege to listen to her this morning.

Listening is the most powerful tool we can use in life and of course in teaching. Mary Robinson is inspirational and Tomás Ó Ruairc is an excellent interviewer.

Listening to Mary Robinson, I am once again reminded of the importance of global citizenship education as it is manifest across all of the 'new' junior cycle specifications, and specifically in subjects like CSPE and senior cycle Politics and Society.

What a beautiful morning. Inspirational stuff.

Listening to students and colleagues is vital in school.

Very inspirational keynote address

There are lots of Nelson Mandelas in the making but they come in all shades and need the opportunity and platform to serve. Diversity is much needed in the teaching profession in Ireland.

Two of the best interviews I have watched in the last week were from Mary McAleese and now Mary Robinson. Amazing activists, leaders and role models. True inspirations.

Kindness and humour....such necessary leadership skills especially in these times

So inspiring that there is much focus on environmental issues in Irish schools, so vital

A hugely inspirational person with a highly educated mind. She really promotes the Reflective process in our lives.

This interview be made available to be shown to students, there are so many positive life affirming messages here!

Mary Robinson is an absolute inspiration. WWGS and CSPE are great platforms for teaching about Climate and inequalities. #collectivity #reflectivity #listening #responsibility

Mary Robinson, her talk is very impressive....i liked every bit of it. Especially when she said,"make the climate issue personal."


You can see videos and content from FÉILTE here.