Leading up to Temple University’s annual Wellness Week (March 8th - 12th), we at the CAT would like to share some classroom strategies that instructors can adopt to support student mental and physical health. These strategies revolve around four central pillars adapted from Rebecca Pope-Ruark that can help prevent burnout and energize students: Purpose, Compassion, Connection, and Balance. We invite you to peruse the strategies below and consider what approaches you might adopt now or start preparing to implement as we move forward in the semester.
So what? As the semester wears on and the number of assignments due grows across all their classes, students will begin to ask themselves “why should I give a damn?” Consider recording a video or speak to your students during synchronous sessions in ways that recontextualize the course and class activities and articulate their short and long-term value. Or, build an activity where students tease out why what they’re learning is of value to their personal and professional lives, or to the society in which they live.
Revisit course goals. Remind students of your course goals, i.e., you will be able to do all these awesome things by the end of the semester, and here’s how doing them will help you for the rest of your lives. Reconnect what they’re learning to the course goals you outlined at the start of the semester and note which ones the students have already achieved.
Check in with students. Mid-semester is a good time to check on how your students are doing. Ask them to do a short- write activity where they answer simple prompts like “How are you doing?” or “What help do you need?” Follow up with individual students who report struggles.
Anonymous and informal channels. Anonymous and informal channels can support students who feel pressure about speaking with instructors, or who have sensitive information to share. Zoom or Canvas offer anonymous response features if you’d like to collect feedback about particular assignments or the course. Additionally, you can provide opportunities for informal chats with you by arriving early to your Zoom course or staying after. Also, remind students regularly about your office hours and warmly invite them to visit.
Campus resources. Review the resources we have on campus for students who may be struggling academically, emotionally, and physically, and help students connect to those resources.
Guidelines for discourse. Help students create guidelines for civil discourse in your class or revisit them if you have already been using a set of guidelines. Remind them that these guidelines exist so you can learn together, making room for all voices in the room while finding productive ways to discuss difficult topics.
Create community. Build new and existing bonds among your students by making space for them to share interesting or unexpected parts of their lives outside of class.You can participate as well.
Share your own experiences with learning. Where did you struggle in your courses when you were a student? Share how you overcame your own struggles in learning so students understand its value in the learning process.
Record a mid-course re-introduction. This would look a lot like your initial introductory video for the course, but in it you would celebrate how far your students have come and outline your vision for the rest of the semester.
Ice-breaker activities. We usually use these at the start of the semester, but a fun activity that encourages social interaction can support the wellbeing of students any time of the year, and help deepen the exciting community you have all been developing.
Be alert. We know the midterm season can be stressful for students; how much more so with the additional daily effects of Zoom fatigue, isolation, and COVID-19? Be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of student burnout and withdrawal like uncharacteristic silence or lower energy. Ask students, privately, how they’re faring, and know the campus resources that may help.
Be wary of busy work. Ensure that you regularly explain to students the purposes for your assignments. Small, formative assessments are highly valuable; at the same time, revisit your assignments and ensure they are streamlined, remain relevant and aligned with course material, and leave enough time for effective grading and revisions as expected.
Be flexible with due dates. Due dates matter and teach self-regulation; at the same time, pandemic life calls for even more grace than may be typical. Approach late assignments by assessing student well-being to the best of your ability, offering extensions if helpful, and asking how you can further support them.
Revise towards flexibility. Revisit your course policies and workload. Are there places where you can build in choice and flexibility without lowering your standards? Students might choose from an array of possible final projects, or appreciate some shifted deadlines.
Please don’t try these suggestions all at once! You as the instructor are best qualified to judge which of these options will do the most good in your class. Whatever route you take to help the students find renewed purpose, experience compassion, reconnect with each other, and/or find their balance will help sustain them through the second half of the course. As always, the CAT is here to help if you want to talk through how these options might manifest in your class. Schedule a consultation or reach out to us at email@example.com<. The Wellness Resource Center also offers a variety of services and opportunities to support student mental and physical health.
Wellness week is about you, too! Stay tuned for our faculty wellness tips coming soon!
Kyle Vitale, Ph.D. is the Associate Director at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching
Jeff Rients, Ph.D. is the Senior Teaching and Learning Specialist at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching