Social connections have been shown to help increase academic motivation (Walton et al., 2012), maintain student retention rates (Allen et al., 2008) in addition to bettering academic performance, mental health and well-being, and decreased health behaviors that are considered "high-risk" (Bond et al., 2007). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), social connectedness also helps with overall stress and coping (WHO, 2005). This sense of connectedness can happen between faculty and students or among students themselves. Check out some tips below:
- Have students exchange contact information with at least one other student the first day of class. By exchanging details with a classmate, they have a contact for class information or help, if needed.
- Get to know your students through a survey and use this information to best fit the course material and class structure. Using examples or scenarios that relate to them personally may help connect them to the course, the work and/or each other.
- Share personal anecdotes from your time in school — what were areas that you struggled with? Don’t be afraid to let them see you as a real person that has dealt with setbacks and succeeded.
- End class with something positive — what did students learn? What are they looking forward to learning more about? This need not be academic but gives them a time to share experiences.
High levels of stress can have adverse effects on the body and hinder students’ ability to learn material and connect with faculty and other students. While some stress is inevitable and necessary in the higher education experience, Robotham and Julian (2006) found that excessive stress can be detrimental to academic success. High levels of stress may also lead students to become disengaged and may result in them withdrawing from the university altogether (Cotton et al., 2002; Whitman, Spendlove & Clark, 1986). Many students may have competing responsibilities outside of academics that hinder their ability to engage with their coursework. Cotton and colleagues (2002) found that in classrooms with high pressure, low levels of control and difficulty in finding support from students and faculty, students experienced psychological distress, supporting the notion that classroom environments are fundamental in shaping students’ mental health and well-being. If the classroom can be viewed as a space for students to easily engage and find support among peers, then perhaps it could also serve as a healthy coping mechanism for other stressors they may experience and further promote their academic success.
- Help organize learning opportunities outside the classroom.
- Promote "brain breaks" and take their minds off of the course material; consider a mindful/meditation moment at the start of each meeting.
- Encourage discussions instead of calling on individual students to participate (this allows students to speak up when they are comfortable to do so).
- Clearly communicate course expectations and grading criteria before assignments are due; provide several different avenues to provide clarifications or answer questions.
- Mindset Mentors
- Stress management resources
- Stress relieving exercises and tips from the University Counseling Center (UCC)
- Mental Health Outreach Peer Educators (MHOPE)
- Stress reduction tips
All students deserve equal opportunity to access learning. It’s important to have support services in place to help students reach their optimal academic potential. Waitoller and Artiles (2013) stated that inclusivity should be viewed as multidimensional, not just through gender or disability status. Being more inclusive helps to raise the health and well-being of all members of a community (or in this case a classroom). Reports from the WHO (2005) and a study from Cooke and colleagues (2011) have advocated for inclusivity as it helps promote resilience and health outcomes among the community at large.
- Take into consideration student’s needs as far as seating arrangements, additional equipment for hearing and visual needs, communication methods, testing accommodations, etc.
- Be mindful of using inclusive language and have your students agree to use it as well (e.g., ask students their pronouns/preferred names at the beginning of the semester).
- Openly talk about mental health and other aspects of well-being to destigmatize these topics and allow students to share their experiences.
- Use a variety of activities and methods to allow students the opportunity to engage and shine.
- Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) syllabus statement
- Creating a classroom that affirms all gender identities
- Diversity and inclusion syllabus statements
- Multicultural Resource Center (MRC)
The college years are a time for tremendous personal and professional growth. Having a "growth mindset" is associated with better academic performance (Bostwick et al., 2017; Dweck, 2006). Discussions about life purpose among students and promoting spaces that facilitate free-sharing among peers has many positive benefits including: happiness (Debats, van der Lubbe, & Wezeman, 1993), hope (Mascaro & Rosen, 2005), and overall life satisfaction (Chamberlain & Zika, 1988). Hammond (2004) notes that since students spend a considerable amount of time in a classroom, this setting is crucial in civic and professional development and engaging students in how they can apply what they have learned outside of the classroom. Ways to achieve this may include:
- Let students identify goals to strive for throughout the course; check-in with them frequently and offer support. Have students reflect on their progress at the end of the course and how they have achieved their goals or the ways in which their goals changed.
- Encourage students to reflect on personal failures and identify how these can be used for future growth.
- Share with students how you have struggled with the material, a concept in class or as part of your professional career. Discuss approaches to the problem(s).
- Include experiential learning opportunities including capstones, seminars, co-op opportunities, internships when feasible; afford students the opportunity to engage with community/industry partners when appropriate.
- Have past students and alumni come and speak with current students, encourage a question and answer session with alumni.
- Have the campus career center/professional services come in and speak at class meetings, encourage students to reach out and access these resources.
- Request a classroom presentation from the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development
- Faculty/staff resources to mentor students in career exploration and professional development
- Student Success Services
Resiliency is defined by Rouse (2001) as the "ability to thrive, mature, and increase competence in the face of adverse circumstances or obstacles" (461). Students who are more resilient have better coping styles, a sense of life purpose (Smith et al., 2013), have better mental health and more academic success (Johnson et al., 2014) and happiness and overall well-being (Fredrickson, 2004). Allowing students to grow from past experiences and encouraging learning and reflection will help them in future endeavors outside of academia also.
- Focus on overcoming failures in class and in personal life; share personal experiences and strategies .
- Use assignments as ways to focus on resilience — how can students use these assignments to improve for next time? What other methods can you use to measure learning and comprehension?
- Consider letting students redo their assignments.
- Encourage self-reflection for students and focus on their achievements.
Defined as "a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life" (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Lyubomirsky, 2007), expressing gratitude has positive effects on both mental and physical health (e.g., Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Neff 2011). Additionally, demonstrating and practicing gratitude can be a long term initiative allowing students to be more optimistic and develop relationships that are more meaningful (Emmons & McCullough, 2003; Lyubomirsky, 2007; McCullough, Emmons & Tsang, 2002).
- Reflect on the past week by going through the class and discussing "highs" and "lows" and asking what students are looking forward to in the upcoming week.
- Be more optimistic in class, focus on the positives — what was done well? What did students get correct?
- Share what you are grateful for with the class, practicing what you are trying to implement with students will help show its importance.
- Emphasize the benefits of both giving and receiving compliments. Practice giving and receiving!
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This report was modeled after:
Simon Fraser University Health Promotion. (2015). Embedding Conditions for Well-Being in Academic Settings (Rep). Retrieved 2020, from http://www.sfu.ca/content/dam/sfu/healthycampuscommunity/2018/Embedding%20Conditions%20for%20Well-being%20in%20Academic%20Settings.pdf
Simon Fraser University Health Promotion (2015). Rationale for Embedding Conditions for Well-being in Academic Settings. Retrieved 2020, from http://www/sfu/ca/healthycampuscommunity/academic-settings
University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. (2019). Texas Well-being Guidebook: Promoting Well-being in UT Learning Environments (Rep.). Retrieved 2020, from https://cmhc.utexas.edu/wellbeing/images/guidebook.pdf