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Janelle Silva


Highlighting SPSSI Teaching Award Winners

“Dear Students”: One Professor’s Reflections on Lessons Learned During Covid-19

Janelle Silva, Associate Professor of Community Psychology, University of Washington Bothell

Reflection is a central component to my collaborative, action-based courses. To me, students must pause and reflect on the work they have done; the changes they have made, the struggles, the mini wins, and difficult dialogues, and their personal growth. At the end of each course, I ask my students to write a final reflective letter about their experience. “Dear Professor Silva” has become a popular assignment among my students, and one of my favorite assignments to read.

When I assign the reflective letter, I talk with my students about the value of reflection in our work. As a social-community psychologist, I believe that person-environment fit is essential; meaning that to help individuals thrive, we must reflect and strategize on how we can shift the environment to meet their needs. Action projects such as my Practical Activism assignment illustrate this point, as do smaller collaborative assignments I have developed for other courses. I find it important to emphasize that reflection also means sitting with your discomfort; you cannot just focus on the good if you want to understand where you have been and where you might go.

As many educators have been doing, I too have been reflecting on what it means to be a teacher as we slowly emerge from Covid and emergency remote learning. Our classrooms are not the same, nor are those who enter that space. Many of us have lost loved ones, are negotiating anxieties, and are mourning the loss of time with loved ones who are still here but are aging at a rapid pace. Birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations, and holidays were shifted to Zoom or not celebrated at all. At the University of Washington Bothell, many of our faculty have returned to in-person teaching. Yet, the return is not a return to normal; our hallways and shared spaces feel vacant, our classrooms are full of masked faculty and students, and signs telling you to stay home if you feel sick are the first welcoming you see when you walk onto campus.

As an educator, I am not the same, and I will not be approaching my classroom in the same manner. I wanted to convey this message to my students as we returned to in-person teaching this past Autumn and decided to write my own reflective letter to the class. In “Dear Students,” I reflected on the teacher that I am now. “I have always considered my teaching to be based on centering you-your growth, both intellectually and individually. And, while it still is, I now know that teaching is more than centering you. It requires empathy, compassion, and slowing down. It means pivoting when we need to. It means checking in with each of you. It means that you should be able to see yourself in your coursework in our class when possible. It also means that I need to ensure the coursework is workable for me. Ours is a reciprocal relationship that I will honor during our time together and I hope you do the same”. May we each provide one another the space needed to pause and reflect as we return to our classrooms and our communities.

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