This is for the healthcare and public health professionals, leaders, educators, and health professions students living through COVID-19.
I see you, and this is one way I can offer support. Specifically, I’m hoping to help you untangle some things, or perhaps slow the train down a bit, when it comes to what you’re learning right now.
What I have to offer here is a way to help you make sense of your specific current situation–or notice what sense you’re already making of it.
This is just about you, and how you’re thinking about COVID.
It’s not too early to learn from COVID
You’re probably already aware that you’re learning from COVID. But what are you learning, and how are you learning it?
These questions are not always so easy to answer. But that doesn’t stop some folks. Plenty of people are already weighing in on “what we’ve learned from COVID.”
Those kinds of pieces can certainly be helpful, but I’m always a bit troubled by folks making such grand claims and weighty pronouncements. There are always assumptions (like, who’s “we” that’s doing the learning? Who are you to speak for the group?). People aren’t always forthcoming with their motivations, or why they reached some conclusions instead of others.
So I wrote this to make some space for you to figure out some of what you are learning from COVID. Learnings that may be helpful in and beyond your immediate context.
Let yourself off the hook
First, let yourself off the hook.
This virus and disease are related in complicated ways to other complex topics. Therefore, it can be tricky to follow the separate threads that run through our thoughts and experiences.
For instance, you’re forgiven if you’re having a tough time separating your thinking about COVID-19 from your thinking about the past, present, or future state of:
- Your family, friends, neighbors, community members, or complete strangers and their health and safety
- Your own health and safety
- Anything related to health systems
- Anything related to the economy
- Domestic or international politics and policies
Now that that’s said…
A few words about reflective practice
I’m a reflective practitioner. I’m glad people have found my earlier writings on reflective practice to be useful. They’re always among the top most-visited pages and podcasts. (And I’d be happy to do a virtual workshop for your organization on reflective practice.)
Reflective practice is a broad spectrum that covers many different understandings and approaches. Though there are conflicting interpretations and applications of the term ‘reflective practice,’ there are some similarities.
Most reflective practice models try to capture professionals’ thinking about past, present and future situations. Reflection is used to increase metacognition. It is sometimes invoked as a way to connect theory to practice, or to enhance communication.
In this case, I’m inviting you to reflect on what you’re learning, and how you’re learning it.
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Reflection on learning
You don’t have a choice but to be involved in this pandemic. But you can choose what you learn from this experience.
It’s popular to say ‘We learn from experience.’ But it might be more accurate to say ‘What we learn depends on how we think about our experiences.’
During our lives, we’re taught different ways to think about our experiences. Sometimes we know this is happening—like when we’re taught different approaches or philosophies in a professional program.
Sometimes we don’t notice this is happening—like through a lifetime of observing of our family members and how they talk and act. But we all have ways of thinking about our experiences.
As a professional, right now you’re being faced with a very complex scenario—one full of uncertainty, that may be unlike anything you’ve encountered before. Yet, you’re making sense of it as you go.
This is a kind of reflection-in-action.
Many reflective practitioners are influenced by Donald Schőn’s books. So I’ll turn to his 1988 Educating the Reflective Practitioner for some help here:
If we focus on the kinds of reflection-in-action through which practitioners sometimes make new sense of uncertain, unique or conflicted situations of practice, then we will assume neither that existing professional knowledge fits every case nor that every problem as a right answer. (p. 39)
Schőn invites you to consider that you as a practitioner may be making “new sense of uncertain, unique or conflicted situations of practice.” (I really like the implications at the end there, but that’s for another article.)
You are making sense of COVID as you go. But what kind of sense? Where are you at in your thinking about it now? Do you remember what you thought of it last week?
What I want to share here is a key tool in reflective practice: questioning or problem-posing as a way to begin to investigate your reflection-in-action.
I’m giving you fifteen prompts that you can ask yourself when you wish to engage in some critical reflection. These questions are designed to get at your thinking about COVID, and potentially some of the influences on that thinking.
You know by now there are no wrong or preferred answers. I’m not making recommendations about what you should be learning or how you should be answering these questions. This is just for you. It is possible that others can benefit from your learning, so I’ll encourage you to share your answers with some friends. (Hey, maybe write down your answers so you can see them later.)
And this is not just some game or exercise. This is about what our thinking has to do with our action. So, after each question, there always is a follow-up question: what implications does this have for your practice?
In other words, why might this matter to you and your work with patients?
(For sake of ease I’m going to use COVID as a stand in for both the virus and the disease it causes.)
- What are the biggest questions I have regarding COVID this week?
- What role am I playing right now in the response to COVID, if any? Am I playing any roles I do not typically play?
- How do I feel about the role I hold right now, this week?
- What am I learning about my role, or the work I do, as a result of the COVID crisis so far?
- How has my understanding of COVID evolved since I first heard about it?
- What questions did I have that I feel have been addressed?
- What topics connected to COVID do I understand fairly well? The least well?
- Looking back, what were some of my assumptions about COVID? How have these played out?
- What do I think are the real problems here?
- What is one thing it seems no one is talking about, that I think people should talk about?
- Who am I asking when I have questions? How do I feel about going to this source(s)? What sources have I found unhelpful, and why?
- Who am I learning the most from?
- How might national and international coverage of COVID on the news be shaping the way I am thinking about COVID or the larger crises around it?
- How does what is happening in my immediate location compare to what I am seeing on the news and social media? How do I feel about these similarities and differences?
- How does my own understanding of issues surrounding the virus and disease compare with official information I encounter?
- How relevant is my past experience to what is happening around me with COVID?
Again please consider writing down your responses so you can look at them later. Maybe share this (and your thoughts!) with friends, colleagues, or students.
This kind of work is often about questioning assumptions and challenging received wisdom. So yeah, that extends to questioning and challenging me–and everything I wrote here. I hope you poke at these questions, challenge ideas, and talk back to me on Twitter or Linked.