* This article first appeared in the Teacher teacher July 8, 2019 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
Much attention is currently being paid to the mental health of college students. In recent years, the frequency and severity of mental health problems reported on college campuses have increased dramatically. In a recent survey, 64 percent of respondents identified mental health issues as a reason for no longer attending university. Students reported stress and anxiety as the two main factors affecting individual student academic performance (American College Health Association, 2017).
Universities are wondering how to respond to this serious health problem. What is needed is a comprehensive strategy that calls on all members of the university community to commit to a common vision, a vision that supports student learning and well-being. This brings me to the question I would like to explore: Are there some practices that teachers can implement in their lessons that support this vision? Although many instructors may feel that this is not their responsibility and that they do not have the training to serve as de facto advisers, there are teaching strategies, most of which are easy to implement, that can promote student learning and well-being.
Create a supportive learning environment
The climate of a course can influence learning experiences and outcomes. Therefore, the instructor should create an environment conducive to learning – a space where students feel safe and supported and are encouraged to discuss issues and ask questions.
Adopting a student-centered teaching philosophy is essential to create an environment that promotes student learning and well-being. It means creating experiences of active engagement, where the needs, curiosities and interests of students guide instruction. The instructor becomes a facilitator, co-creating the learning experience with the students, who share responsibility for the learning.
Supportive learning environments foster positive relationships between faculty and students and among students. While teaching freshmen, I realized how important it is for students to discover that there are people in school who care about their lives and their futures, teachers who care. the academic success of their students and their personal well-being. .
Faculty can convey this concern in a number of ways: by listening, by showing mutual respect and empathy. If students perceive that a teacher cares about them, they are more likely to take that teacher’s advice on campus support resources such as learning centers and counseling services. They can listen more attentively when caring teachers encourage their participation in health and fitness activities, clubs and organizations, as well as regular visits with their counselor. Teachers can invite support staff to the classroom to introduce themselves and provide students with information about their services. Peer mentors can also contribute to a supportive learning environment. Research provides evidence of the important role peer mentors can play in helping students overcome the many challenges they may face in college.
Use pedagogies that promote learning and well-being
In addition to the learning environment, teaching strategies shape course experiences and learning outcomes. Several teaching methods engage students in the school learning process while meeting their personal and social needs.
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) is a prime example. It uses the diverse cultural backgrounds of students to enhance the learning experience. Strategies for engaging in CBP aim to encourage students to share their personal stories and to integrate learning into students’ lives outside of school. Providing opportunities for social engagement is another example of how teachers can promote student development and well-being. Social interactions among peers can increase learning through the exchange of ideas and foster a sense of community and belonging.
In a study I conducted during my first year seminar, students identified forming friendships with classmates as the most important factor that helped them develop a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging among students can be encouraged in class by including community building activities, using homework that requires students to attend campus events with their classmates, forming groups of students. ‘studying and working on group and service learning projects. Students in the study said that forming friendships with classmates helped them expand their networks of friends, made them feel like they “fit in” and increased their participation in campus life.
Implementing teaching practices that promote student learning and well-being benefits students, faculty, and the institution. At the individual level, students’ learning experiences can translate into positive relationships with their instructors and peers. These relationships can provide students with a sense of support that reduces anxiety and stress and contributes to their academic success. At the faculty level, taking a holistic approach to teaching and learning enables instructors to make a significant contribution to mental health issues and helps to help students succeed in college and beyond. At the institutional level, by taking a holistic integrated approach and providing the necessary resources to support the initiative, universities can demonstrate a strong commitment to tackling this serious health problem.
While the practice of teaching is only one of many factors that influence student well-being, courses can serve as important sites to help students feel connected to each other and to the academic community. Responding effectively to this health crisis requires a change in mentality. It requires all members of the academic community to work together to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attributes necessary to be healthy, intellectually and civically engaged citizens.
Michele C. Everett, PhD, was recently Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Coastal Carolina University. His responsibilities included teaching and coordinating the first year experience and peer mentoring programs. His research focuses on teaching and learning in higher education, with a particular interest in student engagement strategies, well-being and interdisciplinary ways of knowing.
American Association of Academic Health. (2017). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Executive Summary of the Reference Group Fall 2016. Hanover, MD: American College Health Association. Recovered from https://www.acha.org/documents/ncha/NCHA-II_FALL_2016_REFERENCE_GROUP_EXECUTIVE_SUMMARY.pdf
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