By Emily K. Frederick, PharmD, BCPS; Sarah Raake, PharmD, BCACP, LDE
As I sit somewhere past junior, but not yet senior faculty, I feel compelled to deepen my reflection. This means taking a hard look at personal opportunities; those lost, those in front of me, and how experience and learning will shape them. For meaningful development to occur, self-reflection is critical. Noted by John Dewey as far back as the 1930’s, reflection has been established as a tool in a faculty member’s arsenal that they can use to transform their own instruction from instructor-centered teaching to a more learner-centered approach.1 Reflection can be a means for continuous improvement, which can lead to a trickle down effect on learner comprehension.2,3 There are a number of ways to reflect as well as increase your capacity, appreciation, and application of reflection. It comes in many shapes and sizes: formal, informal, internal, and external.4
Sharing is Caring
Much like how many only share a carefully curated view of their lives on social media, a common theme within academia is self-promotion. Faculty mainly focus on sharing their classroom “wins” and actively avoid sharing the struggles that so many of us face, but are reluctant to admit. While I am not advocating publishing (all) flops in academia, learning about someone else’s struggles and their growth from that experience can be helpful and motivating. At a minimum these divulgences may help decrease intellectual self-doubt and reduce the stigma that critical reflection is reserved for the promotion process. As part of the critical reflection process, many people have been asked to pen a letter to themselves to read later. It can provide insight to growth as well as documentation of hopes and anxieties when entering a new position, phase, or opportunity. By writing a letter, the author can share lessons learned that may contribute to a greater body of wisdom and experience.3 Not surprisingly, this has been an established reflective practice within medicine for centuries.5 Part of the draw with this approach is that there is no “write” or wrong way to do it. The instructions for the assignment are simple: write and reflect. Even though there is no substantive literature available on “best practices” for writing letters to oneself, they can be a mechanism for facilitating intentional reflection and serve as a venue to answer some of the following questions:
- What do I wish I had known when I was just starting? When I felt like an imposter? When I was coordinating a class for the first time? When I failed a student for the first time? etc.
- What advice would I give my past, present, or future self?
- What WOULD I have done differently? And what WILL I do differently next time?
- Where am I now? Where did I think I was going to be? Why are these maybe not the same? (Also…how did I get here?)
- And most importantly, where am I going? And how will I get there?
It took several years into my career before I became more intentional and honest in introspection and reflective practice. Working through the dossier process was an impetus for thoughtful reflection and a catalyst for me to encourage others to embark on this reflective journey sooner rather than later. As I continue to engage in continuous professional and personal development and delve into the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), I wrote this letter below to a new faculty member *cough*, myself. I hope that it serves as an example for others navigating these beginning stages more smoothly than I did.
Continuous personal and professional improvement should never end and my journey in SOTL is just beginning with this blog post. I plan to read the old letter and write a new one annually, although the need for this type of reflection may ebb and wane in my career. The final point I want to make in this article is to share your reflection(s) with colleagues or mentees who are or will be facing some of the same challenges. The more we know about each other’s journeys, the better we will be at helping each other grow. Regardless of the final content of your letter the practice of contemplation is powerful and that letter could be the catalyst for personal development. At the very least, writing a letter to oneself presents a meaningful opportunity for reflection both now and years ahead when you see how far you have come.
What would you include in a letter to yourself?
- Dewey, J. (1933). How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: Heath.
- Blumberg P. How Critical Reflection Benefits Faculty as They Implement Learner-Centered Teaching. New Directions Teach Learn. (2015);2015(144):87-97.
- Benade, L. (2015). Teacher’s Critical Reflective Practice in the Context of Twenty-first Century Learning. Open Rev Educ Res. (2015);2(1),42-54.
- Shandomo, H. The Role of Critical Reflection in Teacher Education. School-University Partnerships. 2010;4(1),101-113.
- Koven S. Letter to a young female physician. N Engl J Med. 2017;376(20):1907-1908.
Emily Frederick is an Assistant Professor at Sullivan University College of Pharmacy in Louisville, Kentucky. Educational scholarship interests include literature evaluation skills and problem-based learning. In her free time Emily enjoys spending time with her family, exercising, and baking.
Sarah Raake is an Assistant Professor at Sullivan University College of Pharmacy in Louisville, Kentucky. Educational scholarship interests include authentic assessments and instructional design and technology. In her free time, Sarah enjoys traveling, scuba-diving, cooking/baking, and farming.
Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning