Member Voices: Learning to Navigate New Spaces at Washington Week

AACTE Consultant Jane E. West and the author at the Holmes Summer Policy Institute in Washington, DC

I often ask myself, “How can I use my work as an emerging researcher and scholar to help inform educational policy and practice?” Sadly, the implications section of the manuscripts I have produced and even read often feels distant and unattainable, especially without an audience that is empowered to take action. Thankfully, this month’s AACTE Holmes Summer Policy Institute helped me see how I could navigate a new space and translate my work to impact change.

During the sessions, I realized the importance of building relationships, knowing the agenda, and sharing my work in multiple mediums. I learned the importance of branding and using social media to promote the work I am doing and also to inform my community in ways that are accessible. While that may feel foreign to some, including me, I know I can post a section of a paper I am working on or some key data that might get some people to think twice about an education-related topic.

I also learned that timing is important when discussing policy. While I think it’s important to share your work, a more strategic approach is to stay informed and talk about the topics on the congressional agenda with other constituents and policy officials.

During Day on the Hill, I had the opportunity to meet with legislative aides and a policy adviser to discuss the PROSPER Act. I talked about teacher preparedness as it relates to my experiences as a former teacher of English learners with dis/abilities and my current work with an urban STEM teacher retention program. I felt I had to share my lived experiences and why this topic is important to me and my community, because defunding teacher preparation programs disproportionality impacts students of color – but not everyone knows this.

AACTE’s Washington Week also helped me realize that I have to use my power and privilege as a doctoral student and Holmes Scholar to speak for those who aren’t always heard. I had the ear of policy officials, and I could talk with them again. Now I understand the importance of building rapport and staying in contact with congressional staffers, and also making a concerted effort to attend public events. Because as we learned during one of the sessions, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

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Melissa Cuba

Holmes Scholar, Virginia Commonwealth University