Supporting Student Well-Being
Student well-being is an important part of academic success. In addition to learning challenges faced by students, students might also be bringing non-academic difficulties with them into the classroom that may impact their learning experience and overall well-being. Health and well-being are critical components of students’ ability to learn and contribute to the campus community, and we must work together to establish environments where we can optimize these essential elements of student success (American College Health Association, 2019).
Non-Academic Influences on Engagement
Mental Health – Many students experience challenges with their mental health as they work to balance academics with other priorities in their lives. Experiences such as stress, anxiety, disappointment, loneliness, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, difficulties with sleeping and concentrating, and other manifestations of mental health concerns are also especially common during a pandemic, and for many marginalized students, as they deal with compounding social and economic issues around the world.
Physical Health and Safety – Some students may be dealing with conflict at home, living in pandemic hot spots, navigating other circumstances that impact their physical healthy, or be immunocompromised or living with someone who is. Students with marginalized identities may also be facing bias or living in non-affirming environments.
Access to resources and suitable learning environments– Access issues including availability of technology, disability accommodations, privacy to engage in classes, and usual care networks. Many students are also dealing with food, financial, and housing insecurity during these difficult times, and online courses may have a great number of students also spread across varying time zones.
Promoting Student Well-Being
Model and prioritize student well-being in the classroom
- Get to know your students. The best way to be able to know if your student might be having a hard time is by getting to know their baseline, so you are able to identify changes or challenges. They are also more likely to share their experiences with you if you demonstrate your openness to hearing from them.
- Model and promote community care by checking in with students regularly as a group, and reach out to students who might be struggling.
- Affirm students’ identities by using correct pronouns.
- Be intentional about building community by encouraging students to engage with each other beyond the virtual classroom. Many students are experiencing loneliness and isolation due to social distancing recommendations, and this may be even more challenging for students with existing mental health challenges.
- Maintain boundaries such as minimizing sending/answering emails at night or on weekends unless necessary. Boundaries like these model self-care and taking breaks.
- Normalize challenges that students might be experiencing and encourage help-seeking.
- Refrain from using stigmatizing language about emotional health or other barriers students might face.
- Be conscious of financial, time, and space constraints, and be flexible with participation expectations and assignments with those considerations in mind, if and when possible.
- Let students know that you are open and available to support them.
Learn the signs of a student who might need more support.
Struggles can manifest in different ways for different people, but these are some common ones:
- Direct statements indicating problems. Many students are open about their situations and are open to seeking help.
- Significant and persistent changes in behavior, appearance, class participation, hygiene, or attendance
- Nonsensical or hard-to-follow thoughts in written work, class discussion, emails, or personal conversations
- Severe demonstrations of emotion, or words or behavior that create a hostile or threatening environment for other students or staff
- Inappropriate behavior that has previously been addressed but persists or worsens
Start the conversation.
Talking about a student’s personal challenges or delivering disappointing news about academics can be daunting. In general, these types of conversations are best navigated by:
- Discussing sensitive topics over Zoom or video whenever possible, and ideally not on a Friday or late in the day, so that support resources are available
- Using direct, concise and unambiguous language
- Asking the student how they are doing after the discussion of a difficult topic
- Trying not to take it personally if the student becomes upset or is reluctant to receiving help
- Being prepared to make a referral to an appropriate support office
Ultimately, entering the conversation from a place of care and support, and allowing that to set the tone for the interaction provides the best results for all involved.
Know your resources and make referrals.
The New School has an extensive network of trained professionals who are able to work directly with students who might need extra support and who are also able to offer advice and intervention strategies to faculty and staff who suspect that a student has a problem. In conversations you may have with a student about various resources and support options available, always emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength.
- Student Support & Advocacy – firstname.lastname@example.org | 646-909-3965
- Student Health Services – email@example.com
- Student Success Advising – Students’ advisors can be found on Starfish
- Program Directors and School Student Affairs Offices are great resources and can provide guidance on tough situations.
FERPA and Confidentiality
All university employees are required to report concerns they may have about a student’s health or safety, and FERPA expressly permits this if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individual. Seek guidance from Student Support if you have any doubts.
As members of The New School community, each of us has a role to play in supporting students. We can promote general health and well-being by encouraging students to get involved and take advantage of the many available resources.