Ignition Moments

by Dr. Paul T. Criss, Dean – Memphis/DeSoto

Students are coming to your classroom each night internally asking a lot of questions. Questions like: What is important for me? What are my immediate needs? What will be my future needs? Which call do I answer (passion)? How do I do good (purpose)? How do I engage in personal development? What is the right trajectory for me? What are my personal goals?

One of the ways we can begin to address their questions is to develop a strong culture on our campuses. A Harvard Study discovered that building a strong culture increases success by 765 percent over a ten year period. Daniel Coyle in The Culture Code stated, “Real power of the interaction is located in two-way emotional signaling. It creates an atmosphere of connections that surrounds the conversations.” Dr. Rick Upchurch sums this idea up in stating “all of life boils down to relationships.” To accomplish these connections and conversations, we have to be intentional. We have to allow students to become emotionally invested to spark a personal desire to change habits.

Dr. Mark Kay Park illustrated this with an account of what became the Community Led Total Sanitation Program in Bangladesh. The leaders had provided villages with new stainless latrines, but the inhabitants were not using them. CLTS realized that they need to spark a desire in the culture to change habits. The needed what they called an “ignition moment” to allow the community to take responsibility. To accomplish this they needed every member of the community to become emotionally invested in the goal. The send sent facilitators into each of the villages who had members of the community draw a map on the dirt ground. They then had them use yellow chalk dust to mark on the map the communal defecation area. They asked them where they defecated when it was inconvenient to go to the communal area, when they could not make it to the area, or when they were simply ill. Eventually the entire map was covered with yellow dust. They asked the villagers if they had ever seen flies in the communal area and if flies had ever landed on their food. They helped them to make the connection between flies spreading disease and members of the community contracting disease. The villagers emotional response to being the ones responsible for the spreading of disease in the community motivated them to follow sanitary procedures and utilized the latrines. It was their “ignition moment” to work for change. No new information was presented, yet it changed their behavior because it connected to their emotions.

The same idea can help our students persevere to the end. What will their “ignition moment” be? How will you introduce it to them? We need to think about problems that no one want to discuss and to help others see the truth. That “ignition moment” may not only the change the trajectory of their life and career, it may also change their family’s legacy. The most powerful change happens when our students discover the truth for themselves. Magical moments like these can change a student’s personal perspective.

To provide these “peak” – “ignition” – “magical moments,” we will need to cultivate a strong culture in our classrooms. Three basic actions that we can take to cultivate this kind of culture are to build safety, share vulnerability, and establish purpose. A safe community allows academic freedom to discuss these hard issues balanced by the Christian Worldview and this will generate bonds of belonging. Those who share vulnerability bump up performance by 24% and this explains how the habits of mutual risk together drive trusting cooperation. Finally, establishing purpose within the classroom drives everyone to go in the same direction together. This can be engendered in the classroom by encapsulating purpose into stories that drive shared values and shared goals. It is appropriate to be motivational in the classroom and to share inspirational stories. Be encouraging.

Dr. Park closed the 2018 CAHEA Conference with two insightful Illustrations. The first was about Dr. Alfred Tomatis who developed the Tomatis Method. He was an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor whose theory stated that many vocal problems were really hearing problems. An opera singer came to him who had lost their voice. He did not believe that it was a vocal cord issue. He performed a different kind of check-up and discovered that inside the opera singer’s skull, the ears were experiencing 140 decibel sound – louder than a military fighter jet – and that the singer was being deafened by his own voice. He theorized on the reason for selective deafness and selective muteness – the voice can only produce what the ear can hear.

The second illustration was about Krakatoa – a volcano that erupted in the Indonesian Island Arc. In 1883, rancher in Australia heard the boom some 2800 miles away. The volcanic island erupted at 310 decibels and caused 120 feet tall tidal waves. It was felt around the world, even in the opposite point of the world, Colombia, South America.

From these two illustrations, we can derive a few points of reflection for those of us teaching in the adult studies classroom. First, do we experience a spiritual Tomatis Effect – are we deafened by our own voice? Or is God’s voice the loudest in our life? Are we passing on what we hear from Him? I have always been fascinated by the account of Elijah after his personal “pity” party. The account states, The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.” (1 Kings 12:11-12, New International Version) The ambient sound at your local Starbucks is 70 decibels (ambient sound makes your creative juices flow), but a whisper is 15 decibels. I think the reason God whispers is because it causes us to lean in and be close to Him. We need this proximity to hear and understand the word He would have us share with our students. The second from Krakatoa is to be sensitive to what God is igniting in the hearts of your students that may one day be felt around the world. What does God want to share through you that will spark that “ignition moment?”

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