2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

 In Advocacy

On June 21-23, 2015, as the Advocacy Representative of TexTESOL V, I joined approximately 90 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association (TESOL) in Washington, DC, for the 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured a full day of issue briefings and activities around education legislation and advocacy, followed by a day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.

The Summit offered the representatives from approximately 30 US affiliates opportunities to learn more about federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and English learners and to enjoy an interactive learning experience in elements of advocacy. By the end of the event, we had visited the offices of over 100 Senators and Representatives.

To fully prepare for the Summit, participants were required to do several things in advance. For example, we had to set up our own individual meetings with our Congressional representatives. For many of us, this was our first! To assist with this, TESOL provided directions, guidance, and a list of specific Representatives and Senators to contact. Additionally, TESOL connected members from the same state to promote collective advocacy; as a result, members from TexTESOL II, IV, and V collaborated throughout the summit. It was such an enjoyable experience! It gave me and the other members an opportunity to share experiences about our own affiliates.

Participants received background information on key policy issues so that we could begin to familiarize ourselves in advance. To help make our Congressional meetings more effective, we were also encouraged to find examples from our own programs to illustrate the key points we would use in our meetings. As a TexTESOL Team, we collaborated on presenting personal Texas stories and sharing TESOL information; TESOL provided us a portfolio of documents, which served as a great resource of professional and factual information.

The Summit featured a keynote from Dr. Libby Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition at the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, each representative from the Office for Civil Rights and the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education and the Student & Exchange Visitor Program at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security presented updates from his/her office. The Summit also included presentations from the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and author Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, who included information from her book Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators.

The briefings with the speakers were invaluable. They provided national connections that would be difficult for us to make on an individual basis. We took time to talk with these individuals after their sessions to thank them for their presentations. It was a tremendous experience. There were opportunities to take photos. Following these briefings, the Summit shifted its focus to advocacy with preparations for meetings with members of Congress. The tips were invaluable. We were better prepared when we met with the aides. We felt confident during our visits because we were familiar with the locations of their offices, protocols, and security procedures.

To maximize the impact of the Summit, key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were identified for meetings. In addition, participants from the same state were teamed up, so we could meet with the legislators in small groups. This year, the Texas team met with the legislative staffers from the offices of Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Congressmen Randy Webber, Ruben Hinojosa, and Joaquin Castro.

On June 23, we went to Capitol Hill to have meetings with members of Congress and staff. Maneuvering through the Metro and being in fast paced Washington, DC, surrounded by monuments and federal buildings, was exciting and educational. After the tightly scheduled back to back meetings, we had an opportunity to tour the Capitol building with an aide from Congressman Castro’s office. We were briefly able to watch a live session of the House of Representatives in session.

At the end of the day, we shared our experiences and what we learned over dinner. It was interesting to hear what others experienced on their visits. It emphasized the uniqueness of ELL programs in other states. It gave us a wider scope of what is actually happening throughout the country. Overall, all of us agreed this event was a very positive experience for us and for TESOL International Association.

Additional information about the 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit can be found at http://www.tesol.org/AdvocacySummit.

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