Opinion: Utah legislators need to be in the classroom. Educators need to let them in.

Our state can be an exemplar of a cooperative partnership.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students raise their hands in full classroom of 32 students in a Spanish class at South Jordan Middle School.

Last month, Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies and Civic Thought and Leadership Initiative hosted a phenomenal conference focused on the partnership between classrooms and the home. Fantastic educators, parents and other leadership groups put forward examples and reminders of the positive and beautiful necessity for a collaboration between schools and student families. Panels and presenters reinforced that consistent communication between teachers and parents support student achievement. This communication maintains openness about what is being taught within the classroom and for learning to continue beyond the schoolhouse walls.

It was reaffirming when data from a 2021 Sutherland Institute survey of Utah families showed that around 70% Utah parents rated the quality of Utah educators as high. This was encouraging because 2021 was a rough year in schools due to the political bantering involving mask mandates, classrooms returning back to school full-time and other items that placed public education in the political crosshairs.

As I left the conference after having many great conversations with both educators and parents from across the state, I realized that I did not see any legislators at this conference. This absence stood out because — while the three main stakeholder groups in education of parents, teachers and the community were all in attendance — I feel that members of the Legislature, specifically those within the education committees, could have benefited from hearing the positivity and cooperative spirit that was shared at this beneficial conference.

In hopes of continuing the momentum this conference created, I want to issue a challenge to both lawmakers and educators: Let’s also communicate before the legislative session begins.

Legislators, please visit and sit in Utah classrooms. Immerse yourselves in the engaging lessons that our professional educators are sharing, and observe the skills that they are instilling in our phenomenal youth. It would also benefit elected officials by participating in school and community councils on all levels of schools.

Get to know the challenges and celebrations that are experienced daily within schools in your constituency. Visit classrooms, speak with teachers and administrators and you will see that the combination of electronic grade book access, Canvas parent access, teacher emails and more that education has never been more transparent.

I hope and ask lawmakers that before debating and discussing curriculum, policy and other education-impacting proposals, gather evidence directly from our classrooms and schools.

But we educators and school employees need to be involved, as well.

Faculty and staff within our schools, please reach out and communicate with law and policymakers. Invite them into your classrooms and school activities. Voice your perspectives and experiences directly with the elected leaders when new proposals are introduced. Let your elected officials know about your and your community’s amazing achievements.

If and when there are situations where questions or concerns arise, building those lines of communication will allow for the best dissemination of information. Establishing direct connections with elected officials supports each of us as educators and most importantly the students that we serve.

The UVU conference highlighted the upward momentum that is occurring between Utah classrooms and homes. I hope that this positive path continues. By adding on and establishing direct communication between public education employees and lawmakers, our state can be an exemplar of the wonderful cooperative partnership that will support each student truly achieving their very best.

William Shields

William Shields is a social studies teacher-leader who inspires and motivates students to be engaged learners and extend their learning into our communities. He currently is a Hope Street Group — Utah Teacher fellow and advocates for cross content civic education, connecting with stakeholders and building networks of support with law and policy makers. Follow William on X at @TheMrShields.

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