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August 2019
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2019 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit Brings More Than 100 Advocates to Capitol Hill

This past June, TESOL International Association held its annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, which brought more than 100 TESOL professionals from all over the United States, including representatives from 25 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), as well as 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 175 meetings with senators, representatives, and staffers on Capitol Hill.

2019 summit materials

Day 1: Policy Primer

Following opening remarks from TESOL International Association President Deborah Healey and Executive Director Christopher Powers, both of whom discussed the importance of everyday advocacy and collective action on Capitol Hill, the summit began with a detailed legislative update from TESOL’s John Segota, Associate Executive Director, and David Cutler, Policy and Communications Manager. Focusing on significant issues facing all ELs, attendees were provided with a wealth of policy information from the very start. Both Segota and Cutler detailed the proposed FY 2020 federal budget for major education programs, such as the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Workforce Improvement and Opportunity Act; spoke about the numerous bills in Congress that aim to address undocumented students, such as the American Dream and Promise Act; and also spent time addressing TESOL’s primary policy focus during the summit: passing the Reaching English Learners Act. 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.

Advocacy and The 6 Principles©

After a productive networking lunch, the summit’s first breakout sessions featured speakers from the American Federation of Teachers and Migration Policy Institute. To conclude a very eventful first day, participants were led by TESOL President-Elect Deborah Short through the first half of their advocacy training, starting with an introduction of The 6 Principles© and The Principles’ connection to advocacy. Following Short’s presentation, participants reviewed TESOL’s key U.S. policy priorities and logistics for their meetings on Capitol Hill and spent time meeting with other participants from the same state in order to strategize for their meetings.

The TESOL Advocacy Action Center

During the afternoon session, participants were also given a special first look at TESOL’s brand-new Advocacy Action Center. Launched during the summit, the new TESOL Advocacy Action Center is a free resource for all advocates, TESOL members and nonmembers alike, to find and contact their members of Congress. Also in the action center, advocates will find calls to action from TESOL, where they can send prewritten messages to their members of Congress on important issues TESOL is tracking, such as the Reaching English Learners Act.

Day 2: Policy Deep Dive and Meeting Prep

Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of OELA Jose Viana

The summit opened its second day on Tuesday with a morning keynote that provided attendees with updates from the U.S. Department of Education. José Viana, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), gave participants a full update on current OELA initiatives and progress reports for ELs across the nation. After the morning keynote, 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 the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act across the United States. The morning continued, packed full of breakout sessions from the Migration Policy Institute, National Skills Coalition, and Center for Applied Linguistics.

After returning from lunch, participants welcomed two legislative aides who currently serve members of Congress. Kerry McKittrick from the office of Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Bridget Kelleher from the office of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) discussed the Reaching English Learners Act. 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, both McKittrick and Kelleher offered words of advice for this year’s advocates, providing great insider tips for speaking with members of Congress and their staff about policy issues.

Summitt attendees policy mapping

Following the panel of congressional aides, attendees spent the afternoon further preparing for their meetings on Capitol Hill. Starting out with an activity to map out their advocacy strategies for when they return home, participants ended their day working in small groups, often with peers from the same state, where they finalized their strategies and talking points for their meetings on the Hill.

Day 3: Capitol Hill Day

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. After traversing the Capitol grounds, participants gathered for a closing dinner, where they shared their experiences after a long day of advocating.

Advocates Reflect

Emphasizing the need to focus on continuous advocacy efforts, Arlene Costello of Florida noted, “If I don’t continue to educate [members of Congress], one day they’ll stop and say ‘well you didn’t tell me about any of that.’” Giving a great overview about his experiences acting as a resource on Capitol Hill, returning summit attendee Alan Seaman of Illinois said, “We had good conversations with two new staffers and they were asking me all kinds of questions, so it was a perfect opportunity to be a resource.” First-time advocacy summit attendee Larissa Lopez of Puerto Rico closed the evening by saying, “I was so impressed with the way that everyone conducted themselves. We got such a warm reception, and I was not expecting that. I had an amazing experience.”

Joanne Clyde, Maria Alanis, and Gina Johnson-Wells
with Senator Sherrod Brown

Remarkable Results

In the days following the 2019 summit, participants saw their hard work pay off very quickly (which is truly remarkable). A major accomplishment that can be directly attributed to the advocacy work of summit attendees are the eight members of Congress who agreed to become cosponsors of the Reaching English Learners Act, including one member who cosponsored just hours after meeting with a TESOL advocate! Summit participants left Washington, DC, energized, empowered, and excited to continue their hard work and advocacy efforts back home!


For more video testimonials, see the the Highlights from the 2019 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit page.

Information about the 2020 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit, including the dates and location, will be announced in early 2020.


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Strategies for Mixed-Level Classes
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2019 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit
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New Resource

Advocacy Action Center

TESOL announces the launch of its brand-new TESOL Advocacy Action Center, a free resource for all advocates, TESOL members and non-members alike, to find and contact their members of the U.S. Congress and state legislatures and to answer action alerts from TESOLon important issues TESOL is tracking.

Take action now! Go visit the TESOL Advocacy Action Center today or download the free mobile app!


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