Well-being practices woven into coursework

Well-being practices woven into coursework

Apart from supporting peer-led efforts and other campus initiatives, college instructors and professors can encourage student well-being by directly modeling preventive strategies and coping skills in class. If you are a professor, however, you may wonder how you could possibly squeeze another learning objective into your syllabus.

Try carving out a few minutes at the start of each class. Open by playing a brief guided mindfulness practice, like this five-minute mindful breathing exercise from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. Or, if you’re comfortable, simply lead and model the practice yourself.

In my own teacher education courses at Seattle University, I began each day with a “mindful moment” where students reoriented themselves to our classroom space. During this “nervous system reboot,” students maintained a straight yet relaxed posture and anchored their attention on a sound, a body part, or their own breath. Their only instruction was to gently redirect their attention to that anchor each time their mind wandered.

To supplement each opening practice, I also shared a relevant research study, additional stress management strategies, or wellness programs that students could explore after class, which only required about five minutes of class time. After a couple of months of practice, students across our teacher education program started asking for the “mindful moment” in all of their classes.

You may be interested in a more comprehensive approach to addressing student well-being in your courses, but remain hesitant to use a lot of class time. If so, consider a social-emotional learning (SEL) project recently piloted by faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and Thiel College in Pennsylvania.

Shevaun Stocker and Kristel Gallagher’s “SuccEssfuL (SEL) in Stats” program can be easily adapted for any course. It features 15 short weekly activities for students to complete outside of class (apart from an initial activity for the first class day). Students can walk through activities in the curriculum guide with easy-to-follow sections, including “Why is it important for me to do this [exercise]?” “Why does it work?” “What do I have to do?” “What do I need to submit?” and “What if I want to know more?”

Stocker and Gallagher adapted most of the exercises from the GGSC’s Greater Good in Action website, including the Self-Compassionate Letter (to practice encouraging and being kind to yourself), Use Your Strengths (to draw on your skills in creative ways), Finding Silver Linings (to change your perspective on a negative event), and Best Possible Self (to foster optimism as you imagine your future).

In a small pilot study of the “SuccEssfuL (SEL) in Stats” program, students in statistics courses at two universities reported a decrease in math anxiety. By the end of the course, they also described a change in the way they perceived their stress — more as a challenge rather than a threat to their well-being.

The mental health struggles our students face may feel daunting at times, but there are so many opportunities to pitch in and offer our support. We can play a role as mental health advocates by talking more openly about mental health symptoms, sharing available resources, regularly modeling practices that enhance daily well-being, and actively participating in campus-wide advocacy efforts.

As many of these programs encourage honest and supportive conversations about mental health, let’s do our best to be available and pay attention. When young adults do open up and share, we need to do all we can to listen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *