My Experience Testifying Before the Legislature

Mark Pogliano's picture

Written by Mark Pogliano, Principal at Jackson Area Career Center and the CTE Representative on the MASSP Board of Directors

I was recently invited to speak to the House Workforce and Talent Development Committee to share my thoughts and experience related to the Career Pathways Alliance initiatives, which are a shared effort from the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Department of Talent and Economic Development (TED). I considered it a great honor and privilege to receive this invitation, and wanted to make sure that I could articulate the benefits of this initiative. However, I also have to admit I was pretty nervous about the whole process and how my message would be received.

Since I have never done this before, one of my first calls was to MASSP's Bob Kefgen to ask for some advice. Bob started our conversation by describing the process and who would possibly be at the meeting. This was important information since it helped me understand where the audience was from and how I could develop key talking points that would appeal to the legislators and their constituents. Recognizing that the legislators would have a basic understanding of the Career Pathways Alliance, I started to formulate my message. The key position I wanted to share was to demonstrate how the proposals would positively impact career and technical education (CTE) across the state, and how my building, the Jackson Area Career Center, has already implemented many of the recommendations.

After listening to Bob's advice, my next step was to contact a few of my peer CTE directors who have had the opportunity to speak to legislators. While they reinforced Bob's analysis, they also pointed out to keep the conversation simple and focused. It was mentioned that the legislators would have limited knowledge, so it was important that I coach/guide them to a better understanding.

While some people prefer to type out their speeches, I find it best to write my key points down and group them into major topics. My final presentation notes looked more like a brainstorming sketch than a prepared statement, but it works for me when I need to speak in front of a group. Since Bob had mentioned that I would likely only get short time to speak, I wanted to make the best of it.

I drafted my talking points similar to how I would create a lesson plan. I wanted to make sure that there was a clear objective and purpose to my presentation, and explain how CTE administrators were ultimately supportive of the Career Pathways Alliance. Since I would be speaking as the CTE Representative for MASSP, I also wanted to make sure that I was accurately representing the views of the association.

While listening to the other presenters – Superintendent Brian Whiston (MDE) and Director Roger Curtis (TED) – and the questions that were asked of them, it was evident that my speaking points would need to be brief but effective. It was a good thing my notes were organized in a graphic fashion, so I was able to quickly adapt to really key on the key points. When it was my turn to talk, I quickly tried to summarize the three key points (i.e., technical, academic, and employability) that are my building's goals, and how these fit with the Career Pathways Initiatives. I closed with thanking the leadership of Superintendent Whiston and Director Curtis for these initiatives, and the legislators for moving forward with the proposals.

If I could give advice to those who may speak to legislators in the future, here are a couple of key points. One, when speaking to legislators, or other groups, make sure that you have their attention and focus on your key points. Secondly, be cognizant that the groups you are speaking to may not have your in-depth knowledge, so try to help them understand. Finally, be prepared for some questions. Although I was disappointed that there was not enough time for some questions, I was prepared to give more specifics related to the topic.

Moving forward, if you ever get the chance to speak in front of the Legislature, I would highly recommend that you take advantage of the opportunity. As educators, we have the best examples of the impact of legislation within the educational environment, and we need to share whenever the opportunities are made available.