Reflective Spotlight: Valrie Chambers, School of Business Administration

When Professors are Integrative Learners

by Valrie Chambers

A faculty member recently remarked that we, faculty, should have to take a class every so often just to remember what is like on the other side of the podium. I believe that’s true, but what course to take, and how do we find the time? Then last spring, the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence at Stetson University sponsored my participation in  Harvard University’s online course, “Including Ourselves in the Change Equation”. The course, developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, was life-changing!

The premise of the course is that most of us have stubborn life goals for which we make little sustained progress. The course had us identify a large, important goal that we’ve noted is stubbornly resistant to progress and challenged us to make a visible commitment to change. This process required that we become strongly motivated to change. Without that motivation, minor change issues would overshadow the core major issues that require change.
For example, if an individual wanted to prevent her children from having to support her in old age, she might commit to increasing her net worth by saving now.  From there, she might list what she is doing (or not doing) that may sabotage or slow her progress to achieving the goal of independence during retirement. For example, she might identify over-spending as a major obstacle to saving. However, Kegan and Laskow argue that these obstacles are probably not random. Rather, barriers of this nature actually help an individual achieve another hidden goal. Perhaps hidden is her desire to spare her children now of any feelings of economic insecurity. That is, her resistance to the big goal is part of a hidden “immunity to change” that, like physical immunities,  protects her from even worse emotional damage.

In other words, by examining what we are doing or not doing, we can identify the hidden competing commitments we are harboring. Only then can we examine the big assumptions that underlie those commitments. It is possible that these assumptions are only partially true. As such, we should test our assumptions in small, safe ways. As we reign  in assumptions, we begin to reign in our resistance to stubborn goals. However, to the extent that our assumptions remain true, our immunity to emotional damage remains intact as well.

The impact of this course was profound! At a personal level, the course has shattered my long-held views of how people, in aggregate, feel and react. On a professional level, I now have more empathy for those who cannot bring themselves to get (or keep) their financial lives in order. I have long known that lack of money was an emotionally-scarring experience, but I did not have a framework for providing structured advice to others on how to begin healing from that experience.

I took this course as a semester-long, online extension of the on-campus Faculty Learning Community Day workshop facilitated by Dr. Kegan. The course was rigorous, but the timing of the weekly assignments was flexible, allowing me to complete them  even with my own demanding work schedule. I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested.

Thank you, thank you, thank you again for your sponsoring of my participation in this course!

About the Author

Valrie Chambers, Ph.D., CPA, is associate professor of accounting at Stetson University.  At Stetson, Dr. Chambers enjoys designing innovative courses to scaffold learning. She teaches mostly graduate tax courses and a few upper-level undergraduate courses. Chambers also teaches in the Executive MBA program and recently designed an online tax course for managers to be offered for the first time in summer 2017.

Prior to joining Stetson’s faculty in 2014, Dr. Chambers worked for a private corporation and then founded her own CPA business which she ran for over a decade before returning to school to obtain a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. Chambers received multiple awards including the Texas Society of CPAs Outstanding Accounting Educator Award in 2012, the Bobby Bizzell Southwestern Deans’ 2006 Innovative Achievement Award. She  is also a multiple recipient of the Texas A&M System Student Recognition Award for Teaching Excellence service activities, for extensive peer-reviewed publication record in journals such as the Journal of Economic Psychology, Tax Notes, The Tax Adviser, citations by two different federal courts, and a report by the National Taxpayer Advocate of the IRS.