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Our intentions for 2021 in education

January 5, 2021

Welcome to 2021 in education. Welcome to a new year of new possibilities and clear resolutions and.....sorry. It's an easy trap to fall into; the making of resolutions, the setting of goals and attempt to let go of things that do not serve us well, in favor of things that do. That was all very standard each new year, but that was when the world trundled along on a reasonably predictable axis.

We have had a chance to step back this year and reflect, and that gives us a huge opportunity to look at things differently and perhaps reevaluate. How are you feeling about setting resolutions and specific goals this year? Does it feel the same?

This article in Forbes magazine starts out with a really good idea of really reflecting on how you grew and what you learned in 2020 before even thinking about goal setting for 2021. That seems really healthy, as we need to take a moment to celebrate growth under difficult circumstances, and that will mean different things to different people.

Where the article might not fit so well with the realities of our current situation, in our opinion, is immediately following the reflective practice with talking about SMART goal setting in the same old way. "Be specific and measurable for each one. That means, including amounts and dates, such as, “I’ll be promoted to the Director level and receive a $15,000 raise by June 30th 2021”

You don't have to do that. There are other ways to look ahead and set goals and intentions in 2021 which actually acknowledge that there are situations we cannot control. By focusing on intentions, rather than "resolutions" this year, we think about how we want to be, rather than what we want to do. 2020 was a year of learning and change, and there are great opportunities for growth in 2021 for those who seek a journey and not a destination.

At NEO Academy, we are ready to show up for 2021 in education; for our team, partners, colleagues, and community. Here are our intentions.

2021 in education: Embracing change

"You gotta roll with it" said Oasis, and that's a mantra for 2021 that we can all get behind. As Erica Lockheimer of LinkedIn Learning said recently, "2020 has reinforced the importance of adaptability." This is crucial, and those of us looking for things to return to a familiar and consistent pattern will likely be disappointed.

Learners and learning guides in all levels and sectors of education had to shift to remote working in 2020, and we saw a period of what commentators, unhelpfully, referred to as "panicgogy" instead of pedagogy. Courses were quickly shifted online, and stories arose of teachers who had forgotten to put pants on (the US English kind!) and captioning software that made marriage proposals out of maths questions. Hype aside, it was a tough year for everyone, but we got through it by a shared understanding that we were all doing our best and "perfect" was just not possible.

That needs to continue, by embracing the change that is happening in education. The more we resist it and try to apply band-aid "solutions", the more we reinforce the idea that "normal" was working, and we let a golden opportunity slip from our grasp. Education has to change and the pandemic has presented us with an accelerated breakdown of existing norms and structures. If we can learn to become a bit more comfortable with the lack of stability, and take time to really focus on broadening and deepening the skills that will support a learning revolution, then we might just create something incredible from all of the upheaval. We can only do this if we manage expectations, think towards long term transformation instead of short term fixes, and embrace uncertainty as a necessary path to growth and change. That means traditional institutions becoming more agile, adaptive and open to the needs of a new generation of learners, and a world that is changing more quickly than we could have imagined. In 2021 we are going to "roll with it". We are prioritizing the learning of new skills and finding new ways to help our partners do the same. We also intend to continue our open conversations with partners and peers around the world, and make sure that whatever happens, we are ready to adapt and be where we are needed most. 2021 is not a level playing field in which we can see goals clearly and set markers along the way. The best we can do, is to be ready.

2021 in education: Collaboration and connection

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We are big on this one. We have always said that education is a circle, not a line, and that collaborative practice is the way we can grow together with a shared purpose of serving our learners and institutions.

The events of 2020 have made this more important than ever. Sharing knowledge and know-how has always been important for progress, but has not always come easy to those positioned in a competitive environment where we advance by outpacing others. There is a way we can all grow together.

We intend to keep collaborative practice at the centre of our approach to working within our own team, but also in the way we work with others. Solutions are found through dialogue, learning and listening.

Collaboration is built on connection, and the year of "social distancing" in 2020 really should have been "physical distancing". This year, we intend to work harder at building authentic relationships with our remote team, and with our partners. Something as simple as picking up the phone or sending a voice message instead of email, can make a huge difference to mitigate feelings of isolation.

We want to talk more with partners, innovators and thought leaders to share ideas and insights that can help us all. We will be reaching out to more of you to take part in our #NEOchats series, and we hope you'll join us. As always, feel free to reach out if there is something you want to share with our network.

2021 in education: A return to purpose

Leadership coach Sir Norman Drummond once opened his talk with a question to the audience: "Who are you? Why are you living and working in the way that you are?." This is a question worth asking ourselves as we start the year. Having a sense of purpose and making sure that what we do support that purpose and it aligns with our core values, is essential to good mental health and internal motivation.

Routines are not always a bad thing if they are used for the right things. Obama once famously said that he had a wardrobe of identical suits, so that there was one less decision in life that he had to make. A healthy routine and healthy work habits can automate (neurologically speaking) a lot of things, leaving us free to really focus mindfully on the bigger things.

How can we know if we are moving in the right direction, if we don't seek out the high ground when we can? Being eternally busy with decision fatigue, and ticking things off the to-do list can be mistaken for progress. In fact, often we are just treading water, and tiring ourselves out without really changing anything around us. This has to stop. It's time to rethink busyness versus business.

One of the main reasons NEO Academy has always focused so strongly on supporting education institutions to streamline and automate their processes, is for precisely that reason. Creating a space for purposeful work, growth and reflection, is something we need more than ever these days. We intend to continue and improve that service to others, because we know what a positive difference it makes to all stakeholders.

Purpose also means a connection to values. In a year of uncertainty, there are things we need to guide us in the decisions we make, and for us, that comes down to creativity, innovation, trust and integrity. In 2021, we want to find ways to strengthen the way we we connect with these core values, and how they filter into how we work, and who we work with.

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Setting resolutions in 2021 is, to paraphrase Aristotle, "like measuring a complex column with a yardstick." That's why we are focusing on intentions instead. 

We are entering unknown territory and we are positive about the challenges that brings. 2021 is not the absence of the familiar, but space that has been made available for new growth.

2021 in education will be unlearning systems, approaches, pedagogies and routines that were fit for a world that has shown us it's not about to wait for us to catch up. Underneath the lectures, assessments, lockstep cohorts and synchronous participation, what is it we are really trying to do? What is it that 2020 taught us about what learners really need?

The deconstruction of the old paradigm means space for something better. A learning environment where the joy of learning is prioritized, where the learner directs and constructs their own pathway to become the person they want to become, rather than the one who fits neatly into the Excel sheet of competences and learning outcomes.

There is a middle ground here, where we accept that learners have so many alternatives to the traditional way of doing things, and we need to listen to them if we are to remain relevant and relatable. We have already outlined some ideas on this and there are many more to come. 

Our intention for 2021 is to ensure that everything we do is aligned with our core purpose of helping institutions to serve learners in the best way possible, and being present, open and ready to do our bit for the future.

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