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August 2017
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2017 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit

This past June, TESOL International Association held its annual TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, bringing a record crowd of 110 TESOL professionals from all over the United States, including representatives from 31 affiliates, to Washington, DC. This year’s summit was supported in part by TESOL’s strategic partner, the American Federation of Teachers.

With the purpose of equipping TESOL professionals with the tools to become influential advocates on behalf of English learners (ELs) and embedding the knowledge of key education policies, the summit provided attendees with 3 days to learn from policy experts, network with other TESOL professionals, and understand effective advocacy techniques and strategies. The summit culminated in more than 140 meetings with senators, representatives, and staffers on Capitol Hill.

The first day of the summit concentrated on policy updates and breakout sessions from a number of key organizations, including TESOL International Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Migrant Legal Action Program. Following opening remarks from TESOL International Association President Ester de Jong and Executive Director Christopher Powers, both of whom stressed the importance of collective advocacy, the summit began with a detailed legislative update. The update touched on significant legislative issues facing all ELs, such as the fiscal year 2018 federal budget proposal and its effects on the Every Student Succeeds Act and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, providing attendees with a wealth of policy information from the very start.

Following a productive networking lunch, where attendees from 30 states engaged in lively policy discussions, the afternoon offered a series of breakout sessions focused on the rights of immigrant students, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Summit on the Future of the TESOL Profession, and lessons learned from state-level advocacy efforts in Florida. The busy first day concluded with a general session that introduced various advocacy techniques, skills, tips, and other helpful information to attendees.

The summit continued bright and early on Monday with general sessions committed to providing attendees with updates from the U.S. Department of Education. Recently appointed Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director José Viana and Deputy Director Supreet Anand of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education gave participants a full update on current OELA initiatives and progress reports for ELs across the nation. Additionally, Deputy Director Chris Coro of the Office of Career, Adult, and Technical Education provided helpful information on his office’s current initiatives and the implementation of Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act across the United States.

The morning continued, packed full of breakout sessions from the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s Student Exchange and Visitor Program, the Migration Policy Institute, the National Skills Coalition, and American Federation of Teachers. To conclude the summit’s policy sessions, Diane Staehr Fenner, author of Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, gave a luncheon keynote highlighting the leadership skills needed to advocate for ELs during challenging times.
Following Staehr Fenner’s keynote, attendees spent Monday afternoon preparing for their meetings on Capitol Hill, where they learned about current legislation in Congress affecting ELs and TESOL educators, and tips on how to effectively hold meetings and discuss EL issues with members of Congress and their staffers. Throughout the afternoon, participants worked in small groups, often with peers from the same state, where they strategized for their meetings on the Hill.

On Tuesday, summit participants descended on Capitol Hill, meeting with their representatives in the House and Senate. Many participants from the same state met with their representatives as a group, in a concerted effort to advocate on behalf of ELs and fellow educators from their home state. After crisscrossing the Capitol grounds and logging several miles while walking throughout the hallways of the House and Senate office buildings, participants gathered for one last dinner, where they shared their experiences after a long day of advocating.

Recounting her experiences from meeting with her California representatives in Congress, Danielle Pelletier enthusiastically said,

I’m hooked! I’ll be back next year….I was amazed at how accessible Congressional offices are. This whole experience made me feel like I was being really helpful and participating in our democracy by sharing my story with [my elected officials].

Continuing the theme of civic responsibility, Brian Lemos of Colorado noted, “Walking away today gave me a renewed sense of hope in our country’s participatory government and its system of checks and balances.” Other participants had equally positive experiences after their meetings, including Alan Seaman of Illinois, who noted, “I really got the sense that the staff really cared about the issues.” Finally, Leslie Kirshner-Morris of Pennsylvania commended the summit training and information she received for her successful meetings. “It was the preparation that made the job easier,” she said.

For more highlights, photos, and videos from the summit, be sure to visit the 2017 TESOL Advocacy and Policy summary page. Information about the 2018 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, including the dates and location, will be announced soon!

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