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Ways to avoid an identity crisis when you take on a teaching role

Reflecting on teaching and learningThis article is abridged from the chapter on “Reflecting on teaching and learning” by

Sue C Jones and Barry Jubraj, within the newly published book ‘Facilitating Learning in Healthcare’ (2012), edited by Sarah Carter. 

The book is available from Pharmaceutical Press

Many individuals who are new to teaching in healthcare come from a professional background. As such, they will be experienced as, say, clinical practitioners yet as new teachers they will be moving out of their comfort zone. It is important not to assume that an expert in the field will automatically be an effective teacher.

A small identity crisis can occur as you develop an educational role while maintaining or even moving away from your original profession. For some teachers in healthcare the balance may shift so that they begin to view themselves primarily as educators. One way to spot this is

to look at your continuing professional development records. What is the balance of your records? Do more of them cover teaching and training rather than your original profession?

It is not a problem if the balance shifts, but it can be a valuable prompt for reflection on the balance of your professional responsibilities. Teachers in healthcare need to maintain their development in both teaching and their professional practice.

A shift in roles may also be accompanied by a shift in perceptions. As you move towards an academic role by teaching, training or tutoring, you may be perceived differently by yourself and others, including patients, clients, colleagues or students. It is worth reviewing regularly how up to date you are in your profession as you balance your responsibilities. If you find yourself struggling to reconcile your two distinct roles, try asking yourself who you think you are, primarily, as a professional. Are you comfortable with your answer? Why might you feel that way? You might also consider finding someone else in your situation to see whether he or she has any helpful insights for you.

As a new teacher it can be quite difficult to judge how good or competent you are unless someone or something encourages you to reflect, learn and change.

Is “reflection” a dirty word?

Reflection can be perceived as a “touchy-feely” subject, or less relevant than other evaluation strategies. Moreover, students with science backgrounds can find it unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and they can be poor at expressing themselves in writing.

Professionals in all fields think about what they are doing, respond to feedback and make changes for the future. In other words: they reflect. Those in teaching roles can use reflective practice as a means of thinking critically about the principles and practices underlying their work and about how they modify their teaching in response to feedback. Reflection can encourage and support teachers to make use of peer review and student feedback, and to think about the efficiency and effectiveness of their teaching strategies.

Using your own experience is one of the best ways to improve. Reflection can help you to learn from your successes, as well as from your mistakes. By reflecting on previous experiences you can plan for similar situations in the future, and decide on what worked and what to do differently.

Getting started

Many people when they try to reflect find it very hard to get going, let alone to come up with anything useful. These exercises may help get you started:

  • What comes to mind when you think of the word “reflection”?
  • When do you have your greatest ideas? At a certain time of day? Or when you are doing a particular activity such as walking to work or lying in bed?
  • If you have had a previous teaching experience did you think about it afterwards? Did you look through the evaluation forms immediately?
  • Did you focus on the positive or the negative comments?
  • Do you ever have useful thoughts about your work that you subsequently forget? Can you think of ways to record them for reflection later on? Some people keep a notebook with them or email themselves a message. What might work for you?

Perceptions count

Whatever your profession, your experience will differ from the experience of others whose primary professional training was as a teacher. Your perceptions of teaching may also be different from those of others.

For example, some teachers in healthcare may attach less importance to the underpinning educational theory than those whose initial professional training was as a teacher. In addition, some teachers in healthcare may teach primarily from their own experience, which can differ between individuals.

Some may feel the pressure of having to keep up to date in both their professional role and their job as a teacher. As such, there are potential pitfalls for the new teacher in healthcare, and it is important to think about how you arrived in this dual role, and your motivations, perceptions and concerns.

Consider how you feel about teaching as a role, how you perform as a teacher, and how you might be perceived as a teacher.

  • What is the greatest reward you get from teaching?
  • What is your greatest fear when you teach?
  • Is there something that you could change about your teaching to maximise the reward or minimise the fear?
  • Some say that the best person to teach is an expert. Others disagree. What do you think about these views and why?
  • List some of the words or phrases that you think your students or colleagues would use to describe you as a teacher. Now compare these words and phrases with the evaluations you have actually had of your teaching. Are your perceptions similar to those of your students?

Reflection enables teachers to learn from their teaching experiences. It is worth noting that there are often consequences of not being reflective, such as teaching out-of-date information.

Yet, even if you are unsure about something, communicating this honestly and confidently will lead to trust and respect. Teaching with confidence is vital for your own well-being and development as a teacher, as well as for ensuring that your students can trust the information you give them, with all the attendant consequences for patient care.

Top tips

  • If you are not used to reflecting, start simply. Reflect on something you did today. Just get started.
  • Don’t forget to focus on the positive aspects, not just the negative — what went well today?
  • As well as taking the time to reflect alone, remember that you can also reflect with others in your team — discussion with your peers, your boss, your staff and your other stakeholders can provide very useful insights.
  • Do not assume that because you know your subject well, you can teach it well. Always be prepared to improve.

Citation: Clinical Pharmacist URI: 11092848

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