Who Tells Your Story?

Affirming the Absolute Importance of Public Education

Who Tells Your Story? Affirming the Absolute Importance of Public Education

Dr. Jeff Hawkins, Executive Director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, recently sent the following in an email to regional staff. It’s so great, we asked to share it with our readers.

His response: “What’s ours is yours because we’re all in this together.”


For decades, public education has been part of the fabric of our communities and our lives.

If asked to imagine a photograph that embodied public education, many people would suggest a picture of students and teachers gathered around a flagpole with a school and yellow buses in the background. That picture encapsulates much of the public’s mental image of “school” since the 1950’s and is a view that has been basically unchanged since.

If asked to imagine a picture of “school” next year or five years from now, would the majority of people see the same image? Would there be students gathered together in one place at the same time? Would there be a brick and mortar building? Would there be yellow school buses? Would there be teachers?

Public education has reached a tipping point accelerated by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The pandemic causes all of us to view the world through a different lens and from a different perspective. Public perception is shifting — and perception is reality.

Public Education is not invulnerable to public perception.

Public Education is just that — public. It is funded by taxpayers (the vast majority of whom do not have school age children) and governed by elected officials who adhere to the interests of the majority opinion of the voting public. Public Education can be dramatically impacted by community perception. If public education is not perceived as absolutely essential to the collective quality of life and building a viable future, we run the risk of seeing public education devolve into a system that does not advance equity or equality for all learners.

In recent years it seems that external forces have waged an attack on the foundations of public education. They have sought to wear down and tear down the system and erode public sentiment.

Covid-19 has brought forth a whole new range of threats to public education – private schools, on-line schools, online curricula for home school, learning pods, decreased revenue, increased costs, representational organizations taking positions that seem disconnected from their constituency, well-intended individuals and organizations working to re-vision schooling in a framework that often leaves out the human connection, and on and on and on…

These external threats are not what we should be most fearful of. We should be most afraid of what we do to ourselves, our profession and our very livelihood.

Educators are, for the most part, residents of the communities they serve.

They are active and engaged in those communities. They are seen. They are heard. Their attitude toward their work and their school is observed and weighed in the balance by neighbors and strangers alike. Educators are the public face of the profession.

Social Media has become a significant platform that shapes public opinion. We are surrounded by citizen journalists capable of transmitting photos and video instantly to a worldwide audience and able to offer real-time commentary that can create a lasting viewpoint.

Many educators have a social-media presence. They share their experiences, state their opinions, and discuss their positions on all manner of topics. Social Media is a powerful medium. It can and does lift up ideals. It can and does create discord and doubt.

Educators, all of us, have the ability to shape the story of a classroom, a school, a district and our profession through face-to-face interactions and through the digital community.

A friend once told me that there is a world of difference between a storyteller and a liar. A liar works hard to hide the truth. A storyteller lifts the truth up so that others may learn and grow stronger. Educators are and have always been storytellers.

As school districts move toward reopening it seems increasingly important that educators lift up their role and boldly share stories that illustrate the absolute importance of public education. No matter the form or date of reopening, educators must promote stories that demonstrate: commitment to students, tireless efforts to serve learners, building trusting relationships, purpose, passion, pride, confidence, hope and the resolved truth that teachers are essential to the lives of children and youth.

We must exploit the inevitable — it is inevitable that stories about school and school reopening will be told. We can shape that narrative as a positive one and grounded in an abundance mentality rather than one of scarcity.

It has been said that we are the stories we tell about ourselves. It has also been said that if we don’t tell our own story someone else will. Finally — “If we don’t tell our future story, it may be told without us in the picture.”

The Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) is a non-profit 501c3 educational service agency established in 1969 by 8 small school districts. Today, we serve more than 55,000 students and 3,000 educators within our 23-member districts in rural eastern Kentucky. These districts are in some of the most distressed counties in America in terms of poverty, education, and employment. Learn more about KVEC at KentuckyValley.org. Follow Dr. Jeff Hawkins on Twitter


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