Stand Up and Speak Out – Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Brian Barnum

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Brian Barnum, school counselor at Kearns High School in Granite School District

Did you wake up this morning thinking, “I really want to advocate today?” Most educators do not start their careers thinking that a day at the capitol for a legislative session or advocating for school counseling positions at a state school board meeting is a part of their job description. I am sure many of us are even unaware of the great impact we can have by making an impression in a committee hearing or with a state representative. However, doing these things is integral to how we, as educators, do our job.

Many times, well-intentioned legislators take on a bill not knowing every facet of the bill or how it impacts the way that we meet the needs of our students. Often, boots on the ground are quick to blame when something goes awry, but how many are solution-focused with suggestions and support? Legislators are not always educational experts, so they are tasked with building a small circle of trusted advisers who are experts in the field. This makes it necessary that we network, build relationships and become the trusted experts they turn to when they need to understand the context and impact of any bill crossing their desks.

Reaching out to your representatives may seem scary and intimidating at first, but after doing it a few times, I realized that they are just people, like me, who want to do a great job and better the lives of those they serve. Sound familiar? Advocating for students and our value as partners in education validates that representatives really do want to hear from their constituents and want more information on what they can do to help people in the State of Utah. If you are uncomfortable talking to your legislators by yourself, find an advocacy buddy. Brainstorm ways to reach out, proof each other’s emails for content and support one another if you reach out to talk to a representative. If you don’t know who to ask, send me an email. I’d love to be your partner in effective change! I am encouraging you all to think about becoming a UEA Policy Ambassador or joining UEA for their Educator Day on the Hill. These are also great steps to finding those supports that will help you feel more comfortably engaged.

At the start of my journey as a UEA Policy Ambassador, I was sure I would not follow through with meeting or having any discussions with my representatives, because I get major anxiety when I am talking to people that I perceive to have more power. However, in my role as the president-elect of the Utah School Counselor Association (USCA) I was tasked by my president to meet with legislators as your representative. I quickly realized that I was not speaking for me, but channeling the collective voice of our profession.

I continue to reach out now, inspired by you, our profession and our students. Once I realized that our representatives were just people who are inspired to serve and do a great job, I quickly realized that one of those representatives could be me!  Today, I am contemplating adding my name as a candidate to fill a vacant seat on our Utah State Board of Education or running for election in 2022. Thank you for allowing me to represent you and I will continue to look for ways to promote our profession, so that the educational experience of every student in Utah is enhanced by having incredible access to their school counselor.