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Persistence and Payoff at AACTE Day on the Hill

More than 100 teacher educators, students, and partners convened in Washington, DC, last week for AACTE’s Day on the Hill, bringing the voice of the profession to members of Congress. The event was held June 10-11 as part of AACTE’s Washington Week.

Day on the Hill began with a half-day orientation that explored participants’ role in advocating and advancing the profession. To prepare attendees for engaging with members of Congress and their staff, the afternoon started with an update on education-related activity on Capitol Hill from Deborah Koolbeck, AACTE’s director of government relations. Koolbeck also reviewed talking points provided by AACTE and discussed strategies for choosing the most effective talking points to use in various meetings with policy makers.

Highlighting the importance of collaboration in advocacy work, Koolbeck then moderated a panel of colleagues from the Higher Education Task Force on Teacher Preparation, which AACTE convenes and she leads. Panelists included key government relations staff handling teacher preparation from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Panelists illuminated how they work together to advance teacher preparation on Capitol Hill as well as with the U.S. Department of Education—even if they disagree in other policy areas. In addition, as each participant is from an organization representing presidents, they discussed how to build relationships to better position teacher preparation within the home institution and include teacher preparation in its federal advocacy agenda. Panelists also shared perspectives on the future of the proposed federal regulations on teacher preparation programs as well as the critical role each attendee could play in helping prevent the regulations from being enacted. The panel concluded with a round of questions and answers with participants.

Debra Colley, Nadene Davidson, Trish Parrish, and Ena Shelly speak at Day on the Hill

Later, a member policy panel offered advocacy tips and shared lessons from their past meetings with legislators. Moderator Debra Colley (Niagara University, NY) was joined by Nadene Davidson (University of Northern Iowa), Trish Parrish (Saint Leo University, FL), and Ena Shelley (Butler University, IN) on this engaging panel.

Asked to describe her worst advocacy moment, Shelley explained the importance of placing advocacy above awkwardness. “I was not going to let this man for one minute think that he could intimidate people,” she said of dealing with an uncooperative state superintendent. “I just kept showing up,” she said—and it worked. Her dedication gained her influence in the legislation in her state.

Davidson explained that relationship building is key to maintaining a platform in the legislation world. She noted that finding the right information and wording for legislators takes time but is worth the effort. “It does pay off,” she said. In her state, the Iowa Day on the Hill now provides teacher educators and teacher candidates with the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships while exposing them to the legislation that affects their careers.

Simply informing legislators of your program’s successes and challenges is important, too, as many legislators do not accurately understand the world of teacher educators. “Going in and telling them they’re wrong isn’t a way to move anything forward,” Parrish noted. Offering them a window on their constituents’ work is a powerful way to help guide their policy decisions, and staying in touch (starting with a simple thank-you e-mail after a visit) keeps your expertise and resources visible and available to legislators. You might also consider inviting legislators to visit your campus or partner schools.

After the panels ended, participants then worked together in state delegations to not only organize who would attend which of the next day’s meetings, but also to practice their talking points and discuss strategies moving forward. The orientation closed with a reception where attendees could network amongst themselves and with invited guests, including other partner organizations in teacher preparation.

Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) speaks at the Capitol Hill Breakfast

On Thursday, participants were off to Capitol Hill to put their orientation lessons to use in their congressional visits. The day began with a breakfast on Capitol Hill, where participants heard from Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) about his own experiences as a teacher and his advocacy for an equal education for every child. His inspiring words launched a busy day of meetings and relationship building for teacher educators. Participants met with their representatives and/or legislative staff throughout the day. For those that could, AACTE convened a debrief and happy hour where attendees could share their experiences, compare notes, and discuss actions moving forward with each other and with AACTE staff.

Do you have a Day on the Hill experience to share? Please let us know!

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Kayla Campbell

AACTE Media Coordinator Intern