10 Things to Take Away
From the TESOL Advocacy
and Policy Summit

Sep 29th, 2015 | By | Category: Advocacy, News, TESOL
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By BETTE EMPOL and JUDITH O’LOUGHLIN

—We were CATESOL representatives at the 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit held June 20-21, 2015, in Washington, DC. John Segota, associate executive director for Public Policy & Professional Relations, TESOL International Association (TIA), and director of the annual Advocacy and Policy Summit, asked us to write a blog about our experiences. The CATESOL Ex-Com and the CATESOL Education Foundation are supporting John as a featured speaker at the CATESOL Annual Conference in Anaheim, November 12-15, 2015.

Here are our 10 takeaways from the summit. (Part of this blog was featured on the TESOL website at http://blog.tesol.org/3-takeaways-from-the-tesol-advocacy-policy-summit/#more-5991).

1. Here’s why you should attend the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit.

Bette Empol (left) and Judith O'Loughlin at the 2015 summit

Bette Empol (left) and Judith O’Loughlin at the 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit

It is important to have advocacy in all areas of education. The delegates to the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit are the voice of ELLs from all over the state. The more advocacy, the louder the voice, and the louder the voice, the more we are heard. Get involved! Whether it is your senator or your congressional representative, he or she represents your vote. Are you tired of hearing how your representatives voted and wondering why? This is your chance to have a session with a legislative representative and be heard.

2. Learn about legislation that may affect your program and your students.

It is important to know where funding comes from, whether it is state or federal. There have been many budget cuts and redirecting of funds in the past few years. Many programs across the country depend on the federal funding from the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity (formerly WIA) Act. Legislators need to be made aware of how important these bills are and how their vote can affect your school program.

3. The summit provides you the necessary tools for advocacy.

The TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit provides you with the background information that you need to be an effective advocate for your cause. Presentations from federal offices teach you about various existing laws for ELs. You will learn how the government works and how a bill becomes a law.

4. Meet your colleagues from other states.

Take advantage of meetings with other advocates from around the country and in some cases, from around the world. Compare and contrast what is going on in your classroom and your state. It is interesting to see how other states provide EL education.

5. Bring materials to your congressional meetings.

If you are representing your affiliate—CATESOL, for example—provide your member of Congress with materials that show what your affiliate is doing to support English learners and their teachers in your state. These could include mission statements, goals, brochures, newsletters, conference programs, and any other artifacts. If you are teaching in a K-12 school, you can also share some things from your school’s ESL program, perhaps pictures of projects your students have worked on.

6. Know your talking points: Be prepared.

It is very important to prepare beyond the on-the-ground training you receive at the Advocacy and Policy Summit. Many of your legislative aides are looking to you for solid information and why you think that a bill should be passed or should be changed. Some of the congressional  aides are very knowledgeable and will ask you questions about a bill or parts of a bill and you need to be ready with your answers. If you don’t know, it’s best to say so and ask for their thoughts.

A few websites can provide you with some background information you can use for your talking points.

  • NEA has a new resource called ALL IN! How Educators Can Advocate for English Language Learners. It can be found here: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/17440_AdvocacyGuide2015_web.pdf
  • Tools and resources (English Learner Tool Kit, Office of Civil Rights) from the Office of English Language Acquisition and the U.S. Department of Education: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/ellresources.html
  • www.lep.gov (Limited English Proficiency: A Federal Interagency Website)
  • http://sealofbiliteracy.org Guidelines for developing a Seal of Biliteracy program—advocating and informing about students who are biliterate and qualify for the seal.
  • Specific state data can be found on the Alliance for Excellent Education website www.all4ed.org. This information will help you with talking points about the state of education in your state. You can also find webinars and Federal Flash series of videos on important developments in education policy.

7. Connect to a personal experience you’ve had with ELLs or their teachers.

Telling a story about a student’s experience learning English or about observing teachers working with students can send a powerful message to your congressional representative or his or her legislative aide. Did your school develop a special program for ELs because of funding from Title III? Did this program help your student(s) improve their skills, improve their grades, pass exit exams, graduate from high school? Members of Congress want to hear these stories because it tells them how much their funding has improved the education of English learners.

Think about the teachers who work with English learners either in ESL classrooms or in mainstream classrooms. A story about a teacher who helps her students in ways that support ESL instruction is as powerful as a student vignette. On the other hand, describing a situation in which a teacher has received no professional development to help English learners succeed in his or her classroom also sends a message about the need for funding professional development for all teachers working with ELs. Statistics indicate that one in four students in every classroom will be an English learner in the next few years.

8. Create connections with your member of Congress.

You can develop relationships with your member of Congress by signing up for his or her newsletter and also attending local events. Frequently a member will have a local legislative aide handling education whom you can meet with in the member’s district office. It is important to keep the dialogue going, even after the bill is passed or reauthorized. You can go to http://contactingthecongress.org/ and find out who your representative is and where to find his or her local office. Members are in their districts quite often and you can make an appointment to meet with them and/or their staff. They like to hear from constituents, and their vote should depend on the people they are representing. Remember, they work for us! Invite them to visit your school and your classes. There should be a link to request a visit on their official websites.

9. You’re invited! Keep the relationship going.

To help your member of Congress better understand the educational needs of English learners, invite him or her to your school to observe your students “in action.” Seeing how students are learning helps your member to understand the need for funding programs to help ELs. It dispels many of the myths around English learners—their motivation to learn, the time it takes to become proficient in English, and the need for preparing all teachers to work with English learners.

What if you are not teaching right now?

  • Arrange to visit schools in your area with the member of Congress. Speak with local school administrators about their programs and that you, as a TESOL/affiliate representative, would like to visit the school’s ESL program. The visit could include two-three classrooms with varying levels of English development.
  • Invite your member of Congress to a conference or workshop sponsored by your affiliate organization. Ask him or her as an honorary guest to briefly speak, but also to attend workshops that will best help him or her to understand what teachers are learning about teaching ELs and what all teachers need to learn.

10. Share your experience at the affiliate level.

You return home to your home state and TESOL affiliate and are bursting with thoughts about your experience and learning how to be an advocate for English learners. You want to tell the world about this experience—what you learned, what you shared, and what you hope your member of Congress heard in your passion for supporting the need for appropriate high-quality education for English learners in your state. What do you do next?

  • Write a newsletter article for your affiliate newsletter (CATESOL News).
  • Ask the affiliate Board of Directors for time on its meeting agendas to share your experience and talk about what the affiliate can do next to support ELs.
  • Create a proposal for the next annual or regional conference to educate members on how to become advocates at the state and federal levels.
  • Invite TESOL International Association to speak/present a workshop at your conference.

 

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