Learning through Change, Interaction

Harvard's Robert Kegan conducts Stetson's Faculty Community Day 2016.
Harvard’s Robert Kegan conducts Stetson’s Faculty Community Day 2016.

If adaptability in today’s world is the name of the game, then Robert Kegan, Ph.D., holds the tools to the rules.

“Dr. Kegan’s expertise is with adult learners,” explained Resche Hines, Ph.D., assistant vice president of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Stetson University. “He has helped hundreds of institutions deal with change. And his personality is one of modeling in a very non-threatening way.”

Kegan is the William and Miriam Meehan Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development, educational chair at the Institute for Management and Leadership in Education, and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University. He was chosen to be the facilitator for this year’s Faculty Learning Community Day at Stetson, thanks to the university’s new Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence. This event has taken place for the past four years on the Friday before the spring semester begins as a way of reflecting and discussing big issues that impact the university’s mission and learning community.

“Beth [Beth Paul, Ph.D., executive vice president and provost at Stetson] started the event because she wanted to give the faculty time to enjoy thinking together – across the whole university,” said Stetson University President Wendy B. Libby, Ph.D. “We invite thought leaders to come and think with us.”

Paul said she felt personally honored to have Kegan, a transformational learning specialist, on campus for this learner-centered discussion and workshop since she has known and respected his work for decades.

“Today we learned a new way to ask ourselves, ‘How do we help our students grow? What is eating away at their time unnecessarily to prevent them from reaching their goals and potential?’ We also look at the continuing growth of Stetson as an organization,” said Paul. “We’ve undergone lots of changes in recent years. And I think today’s workshop is a fabulous way to make us realize how special this place really is.”

Faculty and staff learned through interaction with each other. (Photos by Lisa Yetter)
Faculty and staff learned through interaction with each other. (Photos by Lisa Yetter)

Through group exercises facilitated by Kegan, the Stetson faculty, staff and administrators could ask themselves if their systems of self-protection are enough to support and achieve goals. “Self-deception is a very powerful force,” noted Kegan. “We need to ask ourselves if we examine that enough. We need to look below the surface of the water as well as above it.”

“There are a lot of pressures on higher education that force us to dance as fast as we can to sustain our level of teaching here. This workshop is timely in light of recent events to find and grab the future we want in a positive manner,” explained Paul. “Today was a journey in which we spent time with one another and indulged ourselves in a reflective manner. We need to care about ourselves because we do something so important at Stetson University, which in turn does something important in this world.”

Matthew Schrager, Ph.D., associate professor of integrative health science, said that attending the workshop was an opportunity to reflect on the important issues that have been difficult to resolve. “Dr. Kegan taught me how to examine major assumptions that are not serving me well as a way to address long-standing problems,” he noted.

Assistant Provost for Student Success Lua Hancock, Ed.D., said she thought Kegan’s research about why humans desire new behaviors in their lives, but struggle to make the changes needed, was fascinating. “I was able to really dig into one of my goals and think deeply about what is the true root behind why I don’t achieve it,” she added. “The workshop was great for my personal development and also helped me think about how we best empower students to manage change so that they can graduate ready to solve complex problems in the world.”

“On a collective scale, I hope that everyone who participated today now feels empowered to ‘break the mold’ and that a ‘we-can-do-this’ mentality comes forward,” added Kegan. “I hope that they made a number of discoveries, but mostly for the professors to discover for themselves that they can surprise themselves, that they are still growing and developing themselves, and that they still have ‘unwritten’ chapters.”

At the end of the day, participants were asked to rate the workshop. “The feedback response shows that 82 percent of the faculty and staff reported an ‘excellent’ to ‘good’ experience,” explained Rosalie Richards, Ph.D., associate provost for Faculty Development and professor of education and chemistry. “The session challenged us to think about how we can transform individually and consequently, as an institution, to develop timely responses to change we are already experiencing and as we prepare for the future.”

By: Trish Wieland