Five ways to embrace a non-traditional end to a non-traditional year

The overhaul of higher education as a result of Covid-19, alongside its wider effects, has made 2020 a very challenging year for university staff. Wendy Zajack offers some advice on how faculty can put the Christmas break to good use and emerge feeling refreshed for 2021

Wendy Zajack 's avatar
Georgetown University
24 December 2020
Step away from your screen over the Christmas break
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We can all agree 2020 has been the year we put every hyperbolic word to the test and they still seemed to fall short of fully expressing how things really felt. While globally we have all experienced the pandemic together, our emotions and reactions have varied wildly based on our personalities, where we live, and how our jobs were affected. It is important to recognise that our experience of the pandemic may also affect what we should do (or attempt to do) over the winter break. This is true for students and staff alike.  

I currently lead an integrated marketing communications course and a design management communications course as part of a master’s programme at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. Our students have needed different kinds of Covid support to some of their undergraduate counterparts. We have not had to deal with the disappointment of missing out on a “normal” college experience, but we have had to deal with other complexities including job instability, additional childcare responsibilities and of course the mental strain of living through a pandemic coupled with the social unrest in the US.   

So, as you make your plans for the holiday season, consider your own mental health first and be kind as you make your holiday “to do” list. We are entering 2021 with more hope for the future, but the normal life we crave may be still many months away. It is important to give yourself, your staff and your students grace. Here are a few things you can consider as we close this challenging year:  

1. Reflect and recharge: Use the winter break to think about the things that you liked about 2020 (I know it is seems hard to imagine but maybe there were a few) and the things you look forward to doing in 2021. A new year is always a great time to reset and set a new intention, but especially this year. With a vaccine on the horizon, start to think about what “normal” will look like. Both our teaching and our habits have changed – what should we keep and what are we ready to forget?

2. Technology reboot: We relied on technology in our teaching more than ever in 2020. If you were new to online teaching (and even if you weren’t) we learned a lot of lessons about what worked well and what didn’t. Take some time to infuse your teaching with some of these great lessons learned and maybe if you are feeling particularly motivated explore some things you saw your colleagues or guest speakers take advantage of this semester. At Georgetown one of our guest speakers did a great job of using Zoom polls in his talk to keep the students engaged, so I want to figure out how to include more polling in my online lectures. I also have been playing around with Miro (design-thinking software) so I want to think about how that could become a part of some future student brainstorming sessions.  

3. Chart a new course: I teach marketing and communications so 2020 has been a gold mine of examples of what and what not to do. Think about new assignments and activities that will help your students feel more empowered in 2021. One of the foundational courses of the programme I lead is called IMC Campaign Planning. Students spend their semester learning how to put together an integrated marketing campaign. This spring my faculty have decided to focus on an extremely relevant subject: how to convince the public to get a vaccine. I think that finding ways for students to actively apply their skills and energy to feel empowered in bringing about positive change is a great way to kick off 2021.

4. Take stock of your students and your network: There have been many moments in 2020 where I felt like I was going through the motions and just surviving. I think this is true for most of us. But if you have any reserve energy as the semester comes to a close, make sure to check in on students (or even staff) who have seemed to drift further away throughout the semester. Sometimes just a small note of care or appreciation or directing someone to the right resources can make all the difference. 

5. Do things that make you happy: If you only accomplish one thing from this list, make it this one. We have to recognise that even if we missed major trauma in 2020, we still experienced a profound departure from normal life. This year was mentally exhausting. Do the things you love this holiday season – if that means ordering out every night, going for hikes or binge-watching cheesy holiday classics – DO IT.  Don’t feel guilty about treating yourself to a day in bed (or whatever makes you happy). The best gift you can give yourself and your students is a rejuvenated you.  

Wendy Zajack is faculty director and assistant professor of the practice at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

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