By Melinda George
Judy Newhouse, executive director of Learning Forward Virginia, is a passionate advocate for the power of professional learning on schools and students. When she was recently invited to a conference, she saw an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. Representative Bobby Scott (VA-3), Ranking Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee, was going to be presenting. Newhouse knew that this was her chance to thank him for his support of Title II, the $2 billion professional development program that the President and the House unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate last year. She thought this would also be a great opportunity to share data about the positive impact of Title II funding in his district in Virginia and to offer Learning Forward Virginia as a resource as he continued his support for this critical federal program.
She immediately emailed her Learning Forward colleagues to discuss her outreach and to have us identify the lead education staffer in Representative Scott’s office. And then she was off to work. Step by step she took these actions:
- She gathered impact data from school systems in Representative Scott’s district in Virginia;
- She reached out to his education staffer by phone and email and introduced herself;
- She let the staffer know that she would be attending the same conference as Representative Scott and that she would like to meet with him while there; and
- She made a backup plan with the education staffer to meet if he wasn’t available at the conference.
When she reached the conference, all of her prep work paid off. Newhouse waited until after Representative Scott spoke before moving to where he was greeting other conference attendees. When it was her turn, she introduced herself and let him know that she had been in touch with his education staffer. Then she clearly and succinctly shared with him the highlights of the information she had gathered, making sure to underscore the impact Title II has had on the schools in his district. Finally, to ensure that this would signal the start of a relationship and not the end, she offered herself and Learning Forward Virginia as resources for all things related to professional development. At the end of this exciting 10-minute conversation, which included stories, questions, and real interest from the Representative, Newhouse knew that she had established a relationship with a key education leader in the House of Representatives.
After the conversation, Newhouse told me that she was surprised by how smoothly the meeting went and how easy it was to talk to an important and powerful Congressional leader. Indeed, she found Representative Scott to be approachable, knowledgeable, and appreciative that she had made the effort to share her support and expertise.
Newhouse’s ability to recognize this opportunity and to take the necessary steps to act on it is a textbook example of direct, constituent-to-Congressperson advocacy from which we can all learn a lesson. Moreover, her actions will augment our inside-the-Beltway efforts to protect and increase Title II funding going forward. Everyone can look for opportunities to do what Newhouse did.
Here’s how you can take your own actions:
- Watch for opportunities and jump on them;
- Have your impact data at the ready when a great opportunity arises;
- Use Learning Forward and/or your affiliate as an advocacy resource; and
- Share the opportunity to get involved with colleagues in your networks.
Learning Forward is grateful to every educator who takes these steps to speak up on behalf of educators and students. We know it can seem intimidating and we’re here to support you. Your experiences and stories are our most effective tools in sustaining long-term support for professional learning.