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Executive Insights

Kerri Schelling

How will we remember 2020?

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2020

By Kerri Schelling
KSBA Executive Director

Years from now, when the pandemic is behind us, what will we remember most vividly about 2020? Will our memories turn to the countless Kentucky families impacted by coronavirus; tens of thousands infected and more than a thousand lives lost? Will we think about the severe economic strain? Perhaps it will be the seemingly endless inconvenience of facemasks and grocery shortages. Or will our memories zero in on the countless acts of kindness that we extended to others? The patience shown to us by strangers. Will we remember that we came together in crisis and emerged stronger than before?

For those in public education, and for families of school-aged children, will the mention of 2020 trigger resentment over the loss of in-person instruction? Will we be haunted by missed graduations, recitals and sporting events? Or will we reflect on 2020 as the year we saw the amazing resiliency of children? Will we think of those who gave us their best efforts to make things more manageable? Will we most distinctly remember that, despite frustration and difficulties, we made it through?  

Memory research shows we are significantly more likely to remember our negative emotions and experiences. That doesn’t mean the positive memories aren’t there, it just means that we have to be more intentional and focused on creating them now so we can more readily access them in the future. We have that ability, but it is not easy – especially in the face of adversity.

This year has brought unimaginable challenges and new levels of complexity to what was otherwise a tried-and-true process. The reality in which we find ourselves has forced us to work from a different set of assumptions and to quickly change in dramatic ways. I have always believed that people and systems only change for one of two reasons: they want to, or they have to. In many ways our public education system is being reinvented before our eyes. This level of change can be gut-wrenching, particularly when it is not on our own terms. But is that necessarily all bad?

You’ll get no argument from me that the changes facing public education are as difficult and painful as most of us have ever experienced, but I believe that we are up to the task. Despite my optimistic outlook that we will find those silver linings, the journey we must go through to get to the other side is rife with pitfalls, missteps, confusion and frustration. There are countless choices to be made, competing priorities, and so many conflicting opinions and viewpoints that the clamor can be overwhelming. Given the inevitable chaos, what will people remember about this moment in public education history? Will it be the vitriol and bitterness that came with disagreement on pandemic responses? The divisiveness – all too common in election years – that seeped its way into the education conversation? The sharp rhetoric and distrust commonly played out in sound bites and on social media?

There is no doubt in my mind that every public education stakeholder wants the same things: we all want to provide the young people of our Commonwealth with access to quality education. We all consider student and staff safety a top priority. We all want to position our educators to thrive.

This pandemic will eventually end and when it does, our common endgame should be for Kentucky’s common school system to emerge as a reinvigorated, reimagined and more relevant version of what it was before. Let’s make that what people remember most vividly about 2020.

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