Everyone belongs at the policy table 

By Elisabeth Yucis

Recently, I reread Brené Brown’s 2017 book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone. Viewed through a 2022 lens, Brown’s insights about community, connection, trust and self-knowledge are more relevant now than ever. The book’s central concept is that the feeling of authentic belonging—defined by Brown as “the innate desire to be part of something bigger than oneself”—can only be experienced when we are true to ourselves. As Brown says, “You will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself.”  

I’ve been thinking a lot about Brown’s definition of belonging and how it relates to my work. As NJEA’s policy liaison to the State Board of Education (SBOE), I analyze regulatory proposals and coordinate our official written testimony. I also work to collect and submit compilations of member testimony on selected issues.  

The SBOE is required to allot time for a public comment on any regulations or amendments to regulations under its consideration. The public comment period is intended to foster transparency and engage with stakeholders. The belief behind this process is that the regulations will be better when policymakers consider diverse perspectives. It is an acknowledgement that broad input is valuable and that everyone’s voice matters.  

When I consider NJEA’s response to regulatory proposals, in addition to drawing on the association’s organizational values and belief statements, I bring all my past experiences as a student, teacher, parent and community member: everything is relevant. Through this work, I have begun to dig into the power of bringing our whole selves to the table in conversations around policy. 

Even though we are all imperfect and move through life with blind spots, internal biases and a lifetime of anecdotal data, our experiences and insights have intrinsic value at the policy table. We all have a duty to educate ourselves by exploring different perspectives, and then use our voices to work collectively toward a more just and equitable world through the implementation of inclusive policy.  

This powerful outside work starts with us doing the inner work of knowing who we are, understanding the forces that shaped us, and being brave enough to speak and live our truths. Everyone’s perspective matters and can serve as a building block for consensus that drives positive change. 

On a broader level, the concept of belonging is crucial to our work as unionists and educators. All our past experiences, our gained wisdom, our constantly evolving worldviews and our personalities, make us unique and uniquely qualified to lead and serve from anywhere. Those who make the brave decision to show up as themselves in their union work strengthen their association by creating a culture of belonging that helps everyone to be better. Similarly, those who embrace their uniqueness at school help create a school culture that nurtures diversity and mutual respect.  

In a world where we face unrelenting pressure to fit in and be seen as utterly perfect, it’s scary to consider moving through the world as a uniquely flawed work in progress. This is generational work, because many of us grew up thinking we needed to fix things about ourselves, to fundamentally alter our personalities, in order to be happy and successful adults.  

It’s not easy, but I think it’s worth it. Brené Brown’s research shows us the way forward: we need to let our true selves step into the light. If we feel at home within ourselves, we will be at home anywhere—including the places where we speak our truths about
educational policy.  

Want to know more?

Do you want to learn more about the State Board of Education’s process for accepting public testimony? 

Go to nj.gov/education/sboe. Click on “meetings” and select “Public Testimony.” 

Elisabeth Yucis is an associate director in the NJEA Professional Development and Instructional Issues Division. She can be reached at eyucis@njea.org