by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center
In a recent workshop on the importance of relationships in undergraduate education, Peter Felten and Charles Schroeder invited us to think briefly about how we perceive our work (and workplace) and to consider the ways in which our perceptions shape our behaviors. Citing the work of O’Meara et al. (2008) on faculty careers and growth, they introduced us to the idea of “narratives of constraint” and “narratives of growth.”
Narratives of constraint involve us telling the story of ourselves, our work, our working environments, with an emphasis on limitations and barriers. Narratives of growth, on the other hand, allow us to acknowledge constraints while privileging the agency and opportunities for growth that exist within any situation that may challenge us. Ultimately, the story we tell about ourselves and our work is shaped by this distinction: whether we focus on constraint or whether we allow constraint to fuel something new for ourselves. Choosing a narrative of growth doesn’t mean constraints aren’t real, or that we pretend they don’t exist. Choosing a narrative of growth means orienting ourselves to future possibilities, perhaps even ones we could not have seen without the constraint.
As another academic year winds down (and particularly one that has been challenging for our institution as it has been for so many college campuses), I invite you to reflect on what has challenged or constrained you this year, and what opportunities for growth may inhere in those experiences.
Many of you will be reflecting on how your courses went, on what did and did not work well for you and for your students. Even before you receive student ratings, you probably already know of some small tweaks you want to make in a course, or perhaps you’re looking ahead to a full course redesign. As you reflect, here are a few questions that might help you to uncover a new sense of possibility.
What kind of “story” are you telling yourself about this academic year? About yourself as a teacher? About your students? Is it a “narrative of constraint” or a “narrative of growth”?
What constraints did you face as a teacher this year? What constraints did your students face?
What opportunities for growth might you find in those constraints? How might you do more to help students make the shift from constraint narratives to growth narratives?
Felten, P. & Schroeder, C. (2018). Relationships Matter: Enhancing What Matters Most in Undergraduate Education. Workshop for faculty, staff, and graduate students at Saint Louis University. May 8, 2018. [LINK to event page.]
O’Meara, K., Terosky, A.L. & Neumann, A. (2008). Faculty careers and work lives: A professional growth perspective. ASHE Higher Education Report, 34 (3). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. [LINK to PDF]