The latest insights on narrative, storytelling and leadership in higher education.

What should we expect in the new academic year?


What values will we choose to shape 2020-21?

Tweeting with staff developers and coaches, we lift the lid on what leadership, stories and purpose are being called for in the new academic year.

As we step into a new academic year, we asked staff developers and coaches what values are being discussed in their institutions? How is their sense of purpose – at individual and organisational level – changing, if at all? What do we need to support people – emotionally, psychologically, physically?

In collaboration with the Staff Development Forum, we sought to take the lid off what people’s expectations and hopes are for 2020-21. The unique perspectives of staff developers and coaches – whose roles are to connect with people’s needs and who shape the future by supporting their skills – illuminate what’s on people’s minds across the sector. Here’s what they told us:

How are people connecting their values and their practices right now?

We’re asking more questions of ourselves and our values.”

Wellbeing and welfare is at the heart of how people are bridging values and practice. “Doing what we can” through finding new and safe spaces to talk – to connect – is helping people to feel valued. This is supported practically and emotionally – it’s made possible by adapting processes, but is fundamentally driven by a shift in focus: that people and their wellbeing is paramount.

There’s challenge too. We’re asking more questions of ourselves and our values. People are examining “what their real values are, what really matters to them”. Undoubtedly, as we explore these questions we may find we need to radically adapt and change what we do and how we do it.

What are the values people are talking about most for 2020-21?

Care, kindness, compassion; “everyone is learning something new…and will get it wrong at some point”. Supporting others and working in collaboration: “staff have really pulled together to deliver but also to support each other”.

Commitment, doing the best we can. Patience.

Unreservedly, and unconditionally, human values. These are the cornerstones of 2020-21. 

How are you helping leaders to tell the future story of 2020-21?

The stories we need for the new academic year, are for many, fundamentally shaped by understanding and learning from what’s come before. Both the successes, and acutely, failure too. This is as much about what we do in our work as it is about what we’re learning about ourselves as well.

A little bravery, based on experience and a belief in trying, should be possible.”

If we embrace this knowledge and share it with others, we will not only learn from the past to change the future but we can build greater trust too. There’s a frisson in air that we should “try new things”, “take risks” and be innovative and creative about how we approach the challenges of the new year. A little bravery, based on experience and a belief in trying, should be possible.

One institution talked about how they create and share stories about people’s experiences, helping them to keep connected but also rooted in their values. One way in which they do this is through recognition events, where any staff member can be nominated for having lived their shared values.

What sense do you have that universities are thinking differently about their purpose? 

We’ll need to think differently about the purpose of our organisations”

Competing priorities are, and remain, one of the biggest challenges for universities. This year, reduced income for many, but the need to support and develop staff and students is just one example. We’ll need to think differently about the purpose of our organisations – in light of the very real tensions on resources – but also (and more profoundly) in light of the unique contribution that every institution makes. The difference we effect on local communities. The impact of research. The unlocking of potential in the future leaders, shakers, movers and makers. How universities define their purpose, unique from other sectors and from each other, alongside their sustainability and adaptability will be key.

We’d like to thank the Staff Development Forum and community for their generosity, openness and examples to illuminate what the needs, challenges and opportunities are that lie ahead. Amongst all the answers and contributions, is the need for humanity and bravery in how we lead and work together in the new year.

This Twitter chat ‘Preparing for the new academic year: stories, leadership and purpose’ was held on Monday 3 August 2020. You can read the stimulus blog here.

Photo by Maria Bobrova on Unsplash

By Louise Clifton

Louise is the Director of Marketing, Communications and Operations at Invisible Grail. Louise’s passion is to help people bring alive the stories that show the wider world who they are and why what they do matters.

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