Offering letters to our future selves

For those of us who were in school at the turn of the Millennium, creating time capsules was the highlight of the school year. Time capsules represent opportunities for us to think about who we were and are in the moment. My family remembers filling them for different significant moments in their elementary, middle, and high school careers, but their memory of them often came with lessons and fond memories–not simply the item they included. One of my favorite pop starlets (hey, Britney!) in the movie Crossroads used a time capsule as a catalyst for achieving a dream that she never thought she’d get a chance to live. While a class time capsule would be a wonderful exercise, they aren’t the likeliest activities in our post-secondary classrooms. Instead, we can do something much simpler: have students write a letter to their future selves.

For the letter, have students use lessons from class for the term to offer advice to their future selves. This advice can and should be an encouragement and an opportunity for students to think about their growth (I love advocating for growth mindset practices!). And we should give them time to do this to show how important it is to celebrate the wins and to be able to express how what they learned can impact their futures. I would give students at least ten minutes for this activity; during that time, they should write without restrictions.

I would also write one to yourself. Teaching is deeply personal, and we don’t often celebrate the successes. Instead, we focus more on the challenges and what went wrong. That’s not what this exercise should be about for your students or you. Give yourself a chance to feel the love and advise future you on handling it too.

You could have students put the letter in an envelope and have them address it. From there, you can have your department or school send them out a few weeks later. Or you could simply let the students take the letters home as a gift of immediate self-love.

If your classroom culture allows it, you can use these letters as a chance to discuss as a whole class what stuck with students that term and how they will implement that lesson into their lives. However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, this exercise can and should be personal, and students should get to live in that space comfortably.

One thing I can promise: it will be worth it–including for you.

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