Learning to Champion for Your Learners: 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit

In June, TESOL hosted its ninth annual 2015 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington, DC. Attendance at this year’s summit was the highest TESOL has ever seen with approximately 90 association members, affiliate members, and other TESOL professionals attending the program. While the majority of participants came from across the United States, several traveled internationally to attend as well. The event was sponsored, in part, by the American Federation of Teachers, College Board, and Corwin Press.

Structured with policy updates, advocacy techniques, and Capitol Hill visits, respectively, the program is designed to develop effective and confident champions for policies that support their ELLs. Over the course of 3 days, attendees are briefed on key education policies, learn advocacy skills, network with peers, and share their expert opinions with congressional leaders. By the end of this year’s event, TESOL advocates had visited the offices of more than 120 senators and representatives.

The policy portion of the program kicked off with a panel presentation from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on the rights of ELLs and immigrant students. This year marked the first time that the OCR has presented a panel at the summit. Representing OCR were Jim Ferg-Cadima and Marcel Quinones, who presented on schools’ legal obligations to ELLs and provided new tools and resources for teachers and administrators to ensure their programs are in compliance.

Dr. Libi Gil, Assistant Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education, gave a keynote presentation that launched the second day of the event. Her presentation focused primarily on the value ELLs, the disparities that exist for them within the U.S. educational system, and the importance of advocating for these students. Dr. Gil asserted that ELLs are the responsibility of all educators and administrators, and that they shouldn't be put into a silo for the ESL teachers only. Moreover, she explained, they are national assets and investments—especially given the increasing demand for multilingual, culturally-competent global citizens.

(L-R) TESOL Exec. Dir. Rosa Aronson, TESOL President Andy Curtis, John Segota, Libi Gil, Firdavs Navruzov

Following the keynote, participants engaged in a series of activities to help them learn more about advocacy and prepare them to meet with their members of Congress. To maximize the impact of the summit, participants were also encouraged to meet with key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees, and participants from the same state were encouraged to meet with legislators in small groups.

To underscore the value of advocacy for ELLs, invited speaker and author of Advocating for English Learners: A Guide for Educators, Diane Staehr Fenner, encouraged advocates to think about where they can best affect change—whether on an individual, interpersonal, classroom, or district-wide level. The level of advocacy depends on the needs. She explained that English language advocacy is a gradual cycle through “I do, we do, you do” with the ultimate goal of empowering students.

Corwin Press provided a free copy of Staehr Fenner’s book to each attendee

Other presentations on policy and advocacy included the American Federation of Teachers on ELLs and the Common Core State Standards, the Student & Exchange Visitor Program update from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an update on programs for adult ELLs from the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the National Education Association on advocacy for ELLs, and legislative overview from TESOL staff and Washington Partners, LLC.

Lunchbox Networking Session
Attendees during the Box Lunch Networking where they were prompted to discuss a different topic surrounding advocacy at each tables

On Tuesday, the advocates went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and their staffers. After their meetings, the advocates shared their experiences.

Using the hashtag #TESOLadv15, advocates were able to live tweet and Instagram their visits: (TOP) Colleen Brice Affiliate Rep for MITESOL visiting US Senator Debbie Stabenow. (BOTTOM) TN TESOL Affiliate Rep and first time attendee Byron Booker and Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) the Chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee 

Katherine Carr said,

I learned about how accessible the democratic process is. It was surprising to me how easy it was to set up a meeting and to have someone listen to my concerns. This conference really left me with a positive impression of our political system, and although I often feel invisible as an ESL educator, this conference made me feel seen.

First time attendee Rosetta Coyne shared,

As an advocate for my students, I know that the heart of positive change begins with real dialogue. The opportunity to present real issues directly to our representatives and senators at the Capitol planted the seeds for better written policies that will provide realistic pathways for undocumented adults and children pursuing citizenship. My passion for advocacy was supported by the information provided at the Summit.

For more highlights from the event, and resources, take a look at the 2015 TESOL Advocacy and Policy summary page.


*Editor's Note: The published version of this article in the original e-mail edition of TESOL Connections attributed this to the incorrect author. The article was written by TESOL staff.

Previous Article Next Article
Table of Contents
TC Homepage
Teaching Interaction
10 Activities That Create a Positive Learning Environment
Tackling Unintentional Plagiarism
TESOL's 50th Anniversary
TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit 2015
Free TQ Article: Reading Comprehension in Test Prep Classes
Association News
Job Link
Certified TEFL/TESOL Teachers (Full Time, Long Term), Nanjing Russell Education, Jiangsu province, Nanjing, China

Principal, The Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School, Washington, DC, USA

ESL Faculty Positions, University of Delaware English Language Institute, Newark, Delaware, USA

Online English Coach,, Worldwide

ESL Lecturer, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Want to post your open positions to Job Link? Click here.

To browse all of TESOL's job postings, check out the TESOL Career Center.


Member Updates
TESOL charter member Edward Mason Anthony Jr. passed away 12 July 2015 at the age of 92. Read the full obituary.
TESOL Community

TC Monthly Giveaway


TESOL Bookstore
Newsletter Tools
Forward to a Friend

RSS Feeds


Follow us on Twitter Like us on Facebook Follow us on LinkedIn