By Matthew Mingle
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “If only members of Congress really knew what it was like in classrooms today . . .” while reading the latest news about education policy? I have, and ASCD’s Leadership Institute for Legislative Advocacy (LILA) has provided me with an avenue to make my voice heard on Capitol Hill each year since 2012.
The first year I attended LILA I had unclear expectations. Was this a conference or a field trip? Would I actually be talking to members of Congress? What could I possibly offer to them? But by the end of the opening reception, I knew I had found my people. I was surrounded by educators from all types of schools and districts across the country who shared a common goal to ensure that policymakers in Washington understood the effects of their decisions on educators and students.
By the time my feet touched the marble floors of the congressional office buildings two days later, I was better informed than I had ever been as a high school social studies teacher about how things get done in Washington, and I was prepared to tell my story to my elected representatives (or more likely their staff members). After a long, eye-opening day in the congressional offices, I knew I was hooked.
I keep returning to LILA because it refreshes me. Each January, I have an opportunity to connect with colleagues who bring passion and perspective to national issues. I sit in a room with leading commentators and staffers and learn the inside baseball that leads to gridlock or, this year—for the first time in a long time—legislation that will influence my work back at home. Instead of standing on the sidelines, I get to contribute in some small way to the future of education in the United States.
The skill-building sessions at LILA pay dividends long after the conference and congressional visits end. Learning how to tell a story that connects varied audiences to the daily realities of public schools is important as I work with students, parents, other educators, and policymakers at all levels. Knowing that there is a band of similarly minded professionals working hard each and every day to reach the same goals gives me that extra inspiration to take another step forward in my own personal advocacy back at home.
Even though I know I remain one small part of a much larger puzzle, I return every year from LILA proud that I have taken the time and given the effort to contribute something positive to the national dialogue around education. If more of us engaged the same way, imagine the influence we could have!
Matthew Mingle is the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Madison Public Schools in Madison, N.J.