Doing Advocacy Work to Influence Policy


I was in DC last week for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s Washington Week. This year’s theme was “Educating the Future: Policy and Advocacy as Levers of Change.”A group of higher ed faculty and administrators from Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) across the country came together in DC to learn how to advocate for education and teacher preparation.

The sessions focused on some of today’s most critical issues in education and teacher preparation:

  • Censorship
  • Educator shortage
  • Educator diversity

AACTE identifies itself as “the leading voice on educator preparation” and represents more than 800 postsecondary institutions with EPPs. I’ve been working with AACTE since we launched Wheelock College at BU in June 2018 and I am a Co-PI on our participation in the Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers Networked Improvement Community but this was the first time I had attended AACTE’s annual Washington Week – mostly because, due to the pandemic, it was the first time Washington Week had happened in a few years. 

I have found that AACTE is this really nice professional association space that sits at the intersection of Higher Ed and PK-12, where college teacher education programs or Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) are located.  

The core legislative priorities for AACTE this year are:

  • Investing in and strengthening the profession of teaching
  • Keeping PK-12 public funds in public education
  • Revolutionizing educational systems and practices to better serve all learners ensuring social justice and equity for all students, especially students of color, those with disabilities, immigrant students, and LGBTQIA+ students
  • Increasing the federal investment in education from preschool through graduate school

So, what did AACTE’s Washington Week include?

We started with advocacy training. 

There was an opening welcome from Lynn Gangone, AACTE President and CEO, thanking us and inspiring us to do this work. That was followed by a Plenary Session on legislative priorities led by Mike Rose, AACTE’s Senior Director of Government Relations.  Part of his message was about helping us think about how to establish ourselves as resources for members of congress. Not surprisingly, AACTE was focused on policies related to increasing funding and reducing financial burdens in the educator preparation programs.  

We were given tips for having successful meetings with our legislators and the top tips included: 

  • Thank the staffer for meeting with you
  • Introduce yourself, your institution and department
  • Tell them about the challenges that educator preparation is facing
  • Ask them about their education priorities
  • Offer to be a resource for their office
  • Follow up with an email thank you and a brief summary of what was discussed
  • Invite them to campus to see you in action. 

Like many of our professional associations, AACTE has a slew of resources available, including their  Advocacy Center and Advocacy Toolkit

In the afternoon, I attended a session on Strategic Coalition Building.  This session focused on connecting with your state partners, especially the state level department of education, state teacher and administrator organizations, state house and senate education leaders, and the state secretary of education. The message was similar: know the key players, be prepared, follow up on any requests, provide a one-pager outlining key elements of your advocacy issue and your contact details. 

On the second day, a group of us headed to the Department of Education for a signing of the Educator Preparation Programs for Digital Equity and Transformation Pledge. It was exciting to be there and, because of the pandemic,  it was one of the first in-person DOE events in a couple of years. We worked with members of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and The Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) in breakout sessions to share some of the challenges we had faced in our districts. I shared the work of Boston’s Human Rights Commission on the lack of equitable broadband access in Boston and its impact during periods of remote learning. 

The pledge is pretty straightforward and includes the following:

  • Prepare teachers to thrive in digital learning environments. 
  • Prepare teachers to use technology to pursue ongoing professional learning. 
  • Prepare teachers to apply frameworks to accelerate transformative digital learning.
  • Equip all faculty to continuously improve expertise in technology for learning.
  • Collaborate with school leaders to identify shared digital teaching competencies. 

Obviously COVID and the necessity of utilizing remote/hybrid/virtual learning has made the components of this pledge even more urgent. 

After the signing, we headed back to the hotel for more training, including learning about strategies for direct advocacy with policymakers and organizing effective in-person advocacy campaigns. The event closed with a heart-warming and affirming keynote from Cindy Marten, Deputy Secretary of Education and former superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District and classroom teacher. 

The next day, my colleague and I headed to BU’s Federal Relations office in DC to meet staff, get a tour of the space, and brainstorm ideas for advocacy training for faculty, staff, and students in our college. 

Towards the end of the day, I was able to run over to the Hirschhorn with a friend to experience the Laurie Anderson exhibit before I had to head back to the hotel and then on to the airport for my late flight back to Boston. It was fantastic and I recommend it for an amazing 80s nostalgia trip. 

I left inspired, reminded of a time when I loved going to DC and with a to-do list that included so many of the possible ways  for increasing advocacy work in our college. Readers – I’m curious, do you work with faculty and students to get them ready for testifying at the local, state, or federal level? If you are a faculty member or student, do you do this work yourself? Were you trained? When did it begin? in graduate school? through your professional association? 

Mary Churchill is the former chief of policy and planning for Mayor Kim Janey in the city of Boston and current associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement and director of the higher education administration program at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis. She is on Twitter @mary_churchill and can be reached by email at [email protected]



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