Teaching Resources

Promoting Student Well-Being in Learning Environments

Resource Overview

Resources for course design, syllabus language, and class activities that support well-being

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Shaina Rowell

Assistant Director, Educational Development

srowell@wustl.edu

As part of WashU’s commitment to student well-being, the Center for Teaching & Learning and Habif Health & Wellness have developed a guidebook for instructors called Promoting Student Well-Being in Learning Environments. The guidebook is based on the idea that we can help students meet our high standards and engage in the complex learning and exploration that we expect of them by creating learning environments that promote well-being. Even small shifts can make a major difference for students. Think of the guidebook as you would a menu. It provides a variety of evidence-based strategies and resources to choose from depending on the needs of your course. There are ideas you can use in course design, in developing your syllabus, in the first weeks of class, and throughout the semester.

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About the Guidebook

The strategies and resources in the guidebook are centered around four keys to well-being:

wellbeing logo
  • Social Connection: Build a welcoming environment by creating opportunities for connection with you and their peers.
  • Compassion and Stress Reduction: Actively listen to your students, acknowledge their perspectives, and use course policies and teaching practices that help reduce stress.
  • Belonging and Growth Mindset: Show students that mistakes are part of the learning process and help them work through challenges in a way that encourages self-compassion and promotes a sense of belonging.
  • Gratitude and Purpose: Help students appreciate positive experiences and explore links between their coursework and their sense of purpose in life.

Supporting Students in Distress: In addition to providing strategies for supporting student well-being in your classes, this guidebook also offers suggestions for handling situations where you think a student may be experiencing psychological distress. As instructors, we can fulfill our role in the University’s network of support by recognizing warning signs, listening to students, and making referrals to mental health services when needed.

Background

In the U.S. in 2019, 40% of students at colleges and universities reported having a significant mental health problem (Eisenberg et al., 2019). Additionally, from 2012 to 2019, the percent of students with positive mental health and well-being dropped from 57% to 40%.

These figures, alarming in and of themselves, should be particularly troubling for us as educators because of the role of well-being in student learning. Students with poorer mental health and well-being, whether they have a diagnosed mental illness or not, are more likely to experience academic difficulties (Eisenberg et al., 2009; Keyes et al., 2012; Mojtabai et al., 2015). A survey of Washington University students in 2020 confirms this connection: students reported that stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties were among the top factors negatively impacting their academics with 38% saying that stress significantly affected their performance (ACHA-NCHA III). In short, prioritizing student learning also requires prioritizing student well-being. Well-being includes “the presence of positive emotions and moods (e.g., contentment, happiness), the absence of negative emotions (e.g., depression, anxiety), satisfaction with life, fulfillment and positive functioning” (CDC, 2018). Critically, engaging students in practices that promote mental health and well-being must go beyond any single campus unit; it is the responsibility of our entire community to contribute to cultural change (Okanagan Charter, 2015).

Acknowledgments

This guide was adapted with permission from “Counseling and Mental Health Center. (2019). Texas well-being: Promoting well-being in learning environments guidebook. The University of Texas at Austin.”

The guide was created through collaborative effort between the Washington University Center for Teaching & Learning and the Habif Health & Wellness Center with contributions from Arie Baker, Eric Fournier, Meg Gregory, Denise Leonard, Savanah Low, Rick Moore, Shaina Rowell, Melissa Ruwitch, and Sally Wu.

References

American College Health Association – National College Health Assessment III (ACHA-NCHA III). (2020). Washington University in St. Louis.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2018, October 31). Well-Being Concepts. https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Eisenberg, D., Golberstein E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, 9(1), Article 40. https://doi.org/10.2202/1935-1682.2191

Eisenberg, D., Lipson, S. K., Ceglarek, P., Phillips, M., Zhou, S., Morigney, J., Talaski, A. & Steverson, S. (2019). The Healthy Minds Study: 2018-2019 data report. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Keyes, C. L. M., Eisenberg, D., Perry, G. S., Dube, S. R., Kroenke, K., & Dhingra, S. S. (2012). The relationship of level of positive mental health with current mental disorders in predicting suicidal behavior and academic impairment in college students. Journal of American College Health, 60(2), 126-133. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2011.608393

Mojtabai, R., Stuart, E. A., Hwang, I., Eaton, W. W., Sampson, N., & Kessler, R. C. (2015). Long-term effects of mental disorders on educational attainment in the national comorbidity survey ten-year follow-up. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 50(10), 1577-1591. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-015-1083-5

Okanagan Charter. (2015). Okanagan Charter: An international charter for health promoting universities and colleges. International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges. www.acha.org/documents/general/Okanagan_Charter_Oct_6_2015.pdf

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If you have suggestions of resources we might add to these pages, please contact us:

ctl@wustl.edu(314) 935-6810Mon - Fri, 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.