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August 2018
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Push for Change: 2018 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit

This past June, TESOL International Association held its annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, which brought more than 90 TESOL professionals from all over the United States, including representatives from 26 affiliates, to Washington, DC, for 3 full days of learning, networking, and advocating on Capitol Hill. This year’s summit was supported in part by TESOL’s strategic partner, the American Federation of Teachers.

With the goal 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 saw attendees spend the first 2 days learning from policy experts, networking with other TESOL professionals, and understanding effective advocacy techniques and strategies. The summit concluded with attendees holding more than 150 meetings with senators, representatives, and staffers on Capitol Hill.

Jennifer Slinkard (left) of AZ TESOL and John Segota

Preparing for Effective Advocacy

Following opening remarks from TESOL International Association President Luciana C. de Oliveira and Executive Director Christopher Powers, both of whom stressed the importance of collective advocacy, the summit began with a detailed legislative update from TESOL’s John Segota, Associate Executive Director for Public Policy and Professional Relations, and David Cutler, Policy and Communications Manager. Touching on significant issues facing all ELs, the speakers provided attendees with a wealth of policy information from the very start. Both Segota and Cutler detailed the Fiscal Year 2018 federal budget for major education programs, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); spoke about the numerous bill in Congress that aim to address undocumented students, such as the Dream Act and BRIDGE Act; and also discussed the possibility of reorganizing the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) within the U.S. Department of Education. Following this in-depth update, participants gathered for a general session led by Roger Rosenthal of the Migrant Legal Action Program, who discussed the rights of immigrant children and ELs in public schools.

Learning Strategies and Building Background Knowledge

After a productive networking lunch, the afternoon offered a general session presented by Anne Marie Foerster Luu and Lori Dodson, two of the editors of Teachers as Allies: Transformative Practices for Teaching DREAMers and Undocumented Students, and Sandra Duval, a chapter author, which focused on strategies for advocating for ELs based on real stories from the classroom. The speakers focused on the following:

  • The importance of using your story as an ally and of highlighting students’ stories to personalize your message.
  • The importance of using counter-stories to help legislators really understand the challenges faced by our students and their families and how they can help us meet our mandate to educate.

The busy first day concluded with a general session that introduced various advocacy techniques, skills, tips, and other helpful information to attendees as they prepared for their meetings on Capitol Hill.

The summit opened its second day on Tuesday with a general session that provided attendees with updates from the U.S. Department of Education. José Viana, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the OELA, 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 held a breakout session and provided helpful information on his office’s current initiatives and the implementation of WIOA across the United States. The morning continued packed full of breakout sessions from the Migration Policy Institute, National Skills Coalition, and American Federation of Teachers.

A Congressional Speaker: Encouragement and Advice

Before breaking for lunch, participants welcomed the first-ever member of Congress to speak at the summit, Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), who discussed his recently introduced bill, the Reaching English Learners Act (HR 4838). The bill would create a new funding stream within Title II of the Higher Education Act to help better prepare future English language teachers by providing grants to create partnerships between teacher education programs and local schools, allowing for future teachers to work with ELs earlier and more frequently in their training. As participants prepared to ask their members of Congress to become cosponsors of this important bill, the congressman offered words of encouragement and advice for this year’s advocates, emphasizing the importance of advocating for ELs and their teachers.

(Left to right) Christopher Powers, John Segota,
and David Cutler with (bottom) Rep. Langevin

Following Rep. Langevin’s visit, attendees spent the afternoon preparing for their meetings on Capitol Hill, where they learned about current legislation in Congress affecting ELs and TESOL educators, as well as 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.

Visiting Capitol Hill: A Fruitful Endeavor

On Wednesday, 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, on issues such as passing the Dream Act, securing funding for Titles I and II of ESSA, and passing the Reaching English Learners Act. After crisscrossing the Capitol grounds, participants gathered for one last dinner, where they shared their experiences after a long day of advocating.

Noting the importance of teamwork when advocating for her students, Cherri Washington of Georgia noted, “If it wasn’t for being able to meet with my team members from Georgia, I wouldn’t have been able to stand my ground.” Other participants also had positive reflections after their meetings, including Judy O’Loughlin of California, who said, “All of the representatives we met with really listened to us and our issues.” Finally, Efrain Soto Santiago of Puerto Rico applauded the summit, saying, “I couldn’t miss out on the genuine messages being sent out here. Next year, I can’t come alone, I need to bring more people with me!”

Rep. Moore (D-WI; left) with Lori Menning, WITESOL

In the aftermath of this year’s summit, participants saw their hard work pay off almost immediately—which is truly remarkable. A major accomplishment that can be directly attributed to the advocacy work of summit attendees was the several members of Congress who agreed to become cosponsors of the Reaching English Learners Act, including the bill’s first Republican cosponsor, making it a bipartisan piece of legislation. Members of Congress who agreed to cosponsor this bill after meeting with TESOL advocates include Rep. Moore (D-WI), Rep. Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Rep. Hurd (R-TX).

Support Your Students: Become an Advocate

If you weren’t able to attend the 2018 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, that doesn’t mean you can’t advocate for your ELs. Emphasizing what she experienced during the summit and the need to focus on continuous advocacy efforts, TESOL President de Oliveira said, “Being advocates is a yearlong activity. I think we can bring back what we learned here to our affiliates, schools and students.”

To get started advocating, check out TESOL’s Advocacy Resources page, which includes

To go to the source and schedule a meeting with your congress member, begin with this helpful infographic: 6-Step Guide to Scheduling Congressional Meetings

Information about the 2019 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit, including the dates and location, will be announced in early 2019.


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Teaching Pragmatics Through Theater
Push for Change: 2018 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit
Connected Speech in Real-World Spoken English for ELs: Part 1
Exploring Community Through Writing: Class Activities
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