Moving into a Compelling Future

Moving into a Compelling Future

It is no grand revelation to note that we are creatures of habit—as anyone who has made a New Year’s resolution knows, only to revert back to old practices by, say, the fifteenth. Habits are stubborn things! We find deep within us, however, a relentless drive for a brighter, more richly satisfying future, so the next New Year’s Day we perform the same ritual.

What is true for individuals is also true of institutions. Replace New Year’s resolutions with strategic plans and…you get the idea. We long to see the place of our employment grow and become more compelling, more effective, more relevant and we plan accordingly; yet, we often see our best efforts lead to only marginal advances. Yes, habits are stubborn things for institutions as well.

Fortunately, we are not left to guess how institutions grow. The theorists who study these processes conclude that the key to transformation is finding a powerful enough motivation to overcome the many-fold resistances to change. The present is known and comfortable, and even if it isn’t entirely satisfying, it is safe. Growth requires two distinct elements to overcome this resistance to change: a profound disaffection with the present and a compelling future.

What causes dissatisfaction with the present? The transformation learning theorist Jack Mezirow suggests that transformation starts with a “disorientating dilemma”—either a crisis or a compelling sense of urgency to be or do something different. Something isn’t working and the current situation becomes untenable!

What motivates a compelling future? A clear sense of what might be that transcends a dissatisfying present and a plausible path towards that goal. A future so compelling we ache for its presence.

This dynamic is profoundly illustrated in the encounter of the disciples with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The disciples had witnessed the death of their Lord (disorienting to be sure) and now heard the risen Christ unfold the Scriptures to them and lay out the plan of salvation. As they began to imagine the future and their role in it, the account ends with the revelation: “didn’t our hearts burn within us…”. It was this dynamic that ignited their, and their fellow witnesses’, hearts as they gathered and purposed to do kingdom work. From this tiny band of brothers and sisters grew the church that served and changed the world.

The School of Education often faces such disorientation, and often at what seems to be at the most inopportune time. Many of our programming innovations come after we’ve been “thrown for a loop” by some change at the state or federal level or critical financial challenge. Our Master of Arts in Teaching degree would not exist if it were not for changes in federal student aid that required quick, decisive action. Our reading program came back from the brink of closure thanks, in part, to the innovative thinking of a division chair in response to a chance encounter in a classroom between a program graduate and an administrator. Our administrative services program turned what could have been a “lethal” change in program standards into the cornerstone of its success through some innovative ways to find student financial support.

The university is facing even more serious challenges, which means conditions are right for transformation. First, our current societal conditions are untenable—our world cannot stay as it is! One could easily check off a list of pressing societal challenges: inequalities of all kinds, conflict, ignorance, intolerance and so on. Additionally, as an institution, we need to address financial challenges born out of a most disorientating pandemic. In no small way, we need to grow in order to survive. Both external and internal sense of disorientation.

Yet there is hope! Long before the Coronavirus, FPU purposed to live into our mission by “engaging the culture and serving the cities.” We have been asked to “lean into our identity” and contribute out of our traditions and resources to innovative solutions to the grand challenges of our day. We have connections and strategies that can make our institution a compelling place for new students to attend.

We are invited by Scripture to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we can be the kinds of people our Lord desires us to be, to do the work he asks us to do. Similar dispositional changes are necessary to transform institutions. When we take sober inventory of our world and our current institutional crisis, all of us who care about the world and FPU are, no doubt, troubled. When we look to our Lord and the resources placed in our hands, we can imagine a better future, one achieved by awareness, dedication, hope and a confidence that our Lord energizes and rewards those who singularly seek kingdom goals.

Connections
Gary Gramenz, Ph.D.

Gary Gramenz, Ph.D.

Dean, School of Education