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Fall 2021 Is Shaping Up To Be More Emotionally Challenging Than Last Year

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at August 15, 2021

One year ago, higher education was rapidly responding to unprecedented everything. From new virtual teaching and learning requirements to building confidence in remote business operations, all steps past, present and future required a solid foundation of and increased investment in technology.

Where we were last year was likely less technically equipped, but certainly more emotionally determined and energetic. We need to understand – we are still in the throes of crisis response and the heavy impact of the past year cannot be ignored.

From a financial perspective, the Covid-19 pandemic crippled much of higher education. Between low enrollment and unplanned-yet-required tech investment to support a newly hybrid normal, it may take decades for many institutions to recover.

The promise of a Roaring 20’s -esque return to normalcy has not been delivered yet to our campuses, as proven by today’s university general ledger.

And on mental wellness, one year ago the nation was in survival mode and a new spirit of ‘we’re all on this together’ made the hard work feel important. We were all forced to move to primarily remote teaching and learning, which made the technology fairly simplistic and transactional in nature. While hybrid was a preference, it was manageable as an exception in an environment of gratefulness for those fleeting moments when it actually worked.

Today is far less forgiving. We have been living in this new abnormal for a year. Expectations are much higher and, with the waffly nature of our national health, the ability to deliver teaching and learning in all the ways – with excellence – feels foundational this fall. And, newsflash, hybrid excellence, while doable, is not at excellence level for most.

We are all exhausted. The phrase ‘sick and tired’ has never been more applicable than in late summer 2021. And campuses don’t feel a certainty that additional dramatic pivots aren’t looming in our near-to-distant future.

One year ago we preached the importance of grace and, as a population, mostly exuded appreciation and respect. We know that hurt people hurt people and people are tired. The pressure is somehow higher today.

How do we push through?

Nothing is normal

Now is the time to fully embrace today’s reality and rock it. Even if we have a normalcy to return to at some point, it is healthier to accept today may very well be our normal. It’s time to push past basic survival and get back to thoughts of growth, improvement, transformation.

Priorities and forgiveness

Today’s fiscal reality will require prioritization now more than ever. We all have our most important thing. The sooner everyone understands their most important thing might not be the university’s most important thing, the better. This is where, once again, communication and transparent dialogue will reign supreme.

Campus partners need to be okay with hard prioritization and remain collegial while pushing for other priorities.

Kindness still matters

Above everything, campuses need to stay kind. Stress is a given. Don’t add to it with an undercurrent of aggression, pessimism and negativity. In a world where we all feel helpless, kindness is something we can all control.

On the bright side

The mission of higher education – teaching, learning, research – is clear. A campus is teeming with individuals driven to supporting that mission. As long as faculty, students and staff remain dedicated to teaching, learning and research, the next few semesters will be successful. Will there be discomfort? Sure. Will things feel different? Absolutely. Will there be unanticipated struggles, inconveniences and difficulties? Daily. But the good news is the mission is the important part. And what landscape is better positioned to get creative than a college campus? None.

Nothing about today’s reality should be a surprise. However, our world is craving normalcy. And when anything or anyone pushes those boundaries of what is considered normalcy, there will be outrage. And identifying that outrage before it happens is where the magic lies. Call it out. Discuss it.

One year ago it was written “Now is the time to to wholly understand that we are all in today, together.” Well, we are still all on this together. Education still provides a pathway up and out for many of our nation’s underserved while serving as an integral building block for tomorrow’s founders, artists and leaders.

Let’s work together to ensure that, despite today’s temporary tumult, we continue to infuse this nation with teaching, critical thinking and experiential learning despite a global pandemic throwing barriers our way.

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