Thursday, July 08, 2010

Teachers Institute at the Capitol

In the July edition of The Interim, the legislative newsletter, there's an article on the first annual Teachers Institute. I participated with other legislators in some panel discussions, and got, as the article says, rave reviews!

Here's the story from The Interim (online at http://leg.mt.gov/content/Publications/Interim-Newsletter/2009-Interim-Newsletter/7-10-interim-newsletter.pdf)

First Teachers Institute on Rep. Democracy Draws 28 Participants, Gets Rave Reviews

Twenty-eight teachers from every corner of Montana came to the state Capitol June 14 for the first Teachers Institute on Representative Democracy and the Legislative Process. They went home two days later raving about the experience and the knowledge they gained.

Photo: Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, at right, discusses the role of the citizen legislator during a panel discussion at the Teachers Institute on Representative Democracy and the Legislative Process. Other panelists were, from left to right, Rep. Diane Sands (just outside photo frame), Sen. Bob Story, Rep. Jesse O’Hara, Sen. Trudi Schmidt, and Rep. JP Pomnichowski.

“It was excellent in every way,” said one participant. “It was well organized, all of the speakers, legislators, and presenters were wonderful, the keynote speaker was excellent. There was literally nothing that was not done well.”

The Legislative Council was one of the primary sponsors of the event, which attracted mostly middle school and high school teachers of government, history, and social studies. The educators attended presentations by legislative staff on redistricting and budgeting, as well as a session on voting and elections by Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. They also participated in a realistic mock committee hearing with legislative staff after being assigned roles as senators, lobbyists, and citizen opponents and proponents.

McCulloch introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Alan Rosenthal, at a dinner June 14. Rosenthal is a professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University. His visit was sponsored by the National Conference of State
Legislatures.

Photo: Dr. Alan Rosenthal, professor of public policy and political science at Rutgers University, impresses teachers with the importance of teaching their students about representative democracy.

Rosenthal discussed efforts by NCSL and partnering civic education organizations to improve the teaching of civic education in the schools. He provided the teachers with a set of lesson plans he has developed to teach an appreciation of representative democracy, how legislators make decisions, and “what makes lawmakers tick.”

Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, in town for an interim meeting, also attended the dinner and got a chance to visit with the teachers.

Perhaps the highlight of the legislative portion of the institute was a pair of panel discussions with Montana legislators that offered a glimpse into their motivations and perspectives. The panelists, who volunteered their time, were Sen. Bob Story, Sen. Trudi Schmidt, Rep. Dennis Himmelberger, Rep. Jesse O’Hara, Rep. JP Pomnichowski, and Rep. Diane Sands. They discussed their views on the topics “What Does It Mean to Be a Citizen Legislature?” and “How Does a Legislator Represent Constituents?”

Rosenthal, who attended the first discussion, said he thought it was the best legislator panel he has seen in his 40-year career of working with state legislatures.

The legislative panel discussions and other aspects of the institute are being broadcast periodically on TVMT, the state government public-access television network. You can find your local TVMT channel at leg.mt.gov/tvmt.

Other sponsors of the event were Humanities Montana, Project Citizen, Teaching Representative Democracy in America, and the Secretary of State’s Office. For more information, contact Gayle Shirley, legislative information officer, at 406-444-2957 or gshirley@mt.gov.

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