Student Wellbeing Toolkit

 

Wellbeing—as a topic, as a need, and as a call-to-action—has increasingly been part of the conversation in higher education. The far-reaching impacts of COVID19 have only made the role of wellbeing in learning more obvious. Instructors have increasingly become primary contacts for students experiencing crisis, burnout, or challenges that interfere with their academic success.   

But as the Association for College and University Educators note in Creating a Culture of Caring, “We must not lose sight of faculty members’ primary responsibility to students: effective teaching that leads to meaningful learning. Faculty are experts in their disciplines and, for most, mental health is not their field. Although faculty cannot (and should not) be expected to replace the role of mental health professionals, they can take actions as helpers, not clinicians, to support struggling students” (Active Minds, 2020).  

What do we mean when we talk about “wellbeing,” and what are those actions faculty and GE can take “as helpers, not clinicians” that may also be compatible with their own wellbeing?  

This toolkit strives to address these questions by briefly synthesizing national and UO-specific data about what wellbeing is and why it matters, and by offering a range of strategies, pre-made tools, and draft language to support student wellbeing in the context of your courses.  

We invite you to explore these strategies and resources with your own needs in mind. If you have feedback on something you’d like to see in this toolkit, or something that would support your teaching more broadly, we would welcome and incorporate your thoughts. Please share them with this form.


Defining Wellbeing

Ten hands on the trunk of a tree

In the book Well-Being and Higher Education, philosopher Donald Harward (2016) asks “If [wellbeing] is to be more than a frequent and easy figure of speech, what does well-being mean?” He notes that “...there is no specific, single designation or referent for wellbeing. Rather, there is a weave of meaning" and that wellbeing is a construct made of multiple dimensions. The dimensions might be measurable descriptions of feelings (such as experiencing loneliness or life satisfaction) or they might be relational, pointing to how we engage with learning (such as ability uncertainty, or social support).  

We see examples of these dimensions in the Student Life Office of Assessment and Research’s “Student Wellbeing and Success Initiative” (SWASI) surveys, which use 10 constructs to measure the student wellbeing of incoming undergraduates. Their intersecting constructs include Ability Uncertainty, Belonging Uncertainty, Loneliness, Social Support, Stereotype Threat, Health, Life Satisfaction, Stress, Self-Assurance and Sadness.  UO’s Duck Nest (which focuses on self-care and life-balance strategies related to stress, food security, physical health, and general wellness) talks about wellbeing in eight dimensions, including physical, mental, emotional, and social.  

While we are not pointing to a fixed definition of “wellbeing,” using these constructs offers a way of understanding the wellbeing of different students with greater nuance, and of identifying the types of supports that are most likely to be effective for specific groups. For the purposes of the Toolkit, we will use some of the SWASI constructs to reflect on and better support UO students. Student-facing resources linked in this toolkit reference Duck Nest dimensions of wellbeing, as students may already be familiar with them.

 


Impact of Wellbeing on Learning

While instructors are not clinicians, student wellbeing impacts learning, and it supports our goal as educators to design with it in mind. As we consider students who score unfavorably on constructs of wellbeing, we want to be explicit that this is not due to a lack in individual students or in students who are members of particular groups but a complex interplay between individuals and the society, communities, and institutions that we are impacted by and part of.

There are many ways in which dimensions of wellbeing impact academic success in the learning spaces we've created. Some of these documented impacts include*:

Impact of depression on academic performance

Students with depression have lower GPAs and are at higher risk of dropping out compared to peers who are not depressed (Eisenberg et. all, 2009). Research demonstrating correlation between depression and poorer academic outcomes appears particularly robust. 47% of UO students surveyed in 2021 screened positive for depression (The Healthy Minds Network, 2021).

A recent longitudinal study of behavioral and emotional health for university students noted that “socioemotional difficulties with adjustment to university life are known to predict attrition as well as academic performance.” Their research focuses on risk factors for attrition, and they find that two consistent predictors--regardless of when in their college experience students drop out--include depressive symptoms and exposure to stressful life events (Thomas et. al., 2021).

Impact of other mental health challenges, such as anxiety, on academic performance

Research in the Journal of Affective Disorders describes how  “a wide range of emotional problems--not just depression – have a significant association with lower academic functioning, even after adjusting for a broad set of confounders” (Bruffaerts et all, 2018). Data they examine  (and definitions of "mental disorders" they use) come from the WHO World Mental Health Surveys International College Student Project.

Impact of food insecurity on mental health and academic performance

A recent longitudinal study in Public Health Nutrition of undergraduates found that "food insecurity was associated (standardized β, se) with poorer psychosocial health (0·22, 0·03, P<0·0001) and poorer psychosocial health was associated with a lower GPA (-0·21, 0·03, P<0·0001). The indirect effect of food security status on GPA, as mediated by psychosocial health, was significant."

Challenges to wellbeing and academic performance for neurodivergent students

A systematic review of the literature around neurodiversity and higher education summarizes this succinctly: "the literature suggests that the conditions imposed by academia can challenge neurodiverse students. Emphasis on written assessments and focus on grammar, spelling and punctuation can penalize dyslexic students (12; 20). Students with ASD struggle with traditional teaching and assessment methods (23). Students with ASD and ADHD find coping with academic demands, such as timed homework and quizzes, in-class notes and overall course load testing stressful (25; 30), despite being realistic in expecting to be challenged (27). In general, neurodiverse students report poor treatment, lack of support, inflexibility from lecturers (1; 13; 17; 25; 31) and perceptions of discrimination and judgmental attitudes when they disclose their learning difficulties (15; 25; 38). Such negative teacher attitudes are detrimental to the self-efficacy beliefs of these students (20) in need of institutional advocacy (15; 38)" (Clouder et. al, 2020).

Some of the context summarized above may show up in retention rates and GPAs for neurodiverse students. For example, in "Academic Trajectories of College Students with and without ADHD: Predictors of Four-Year Outcomes," researchers found that of the several hundred undergraduates studied, students with ADHD had both lower GPAs and lower persistence that peers who did not have ADHD (DuPaul et. al, 2021)

"Academic performance" occurs within a learning environment we individually and collectively design, and which we could design more effectively for neurodiversity. There is no default, "neutral" learning environment.  

Impact of stereotype threat on test-taking and retention

Stereotype threat refers to “the feeling of being at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group” and disproportionately affects Black, Asian, International students and women (Clark, 2021). Numerous studies (such as "Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women's achievement in high-level math courses") demonstrate the impact of stereotype threat on academic performance (Good et. al, 2008).

Many studies referencing the mental health part of wellbeing approach mental health from a medical model of disability, as opposed to a social model (see Vanderbuilt’s Center for Teaching’s excellent overview of the distinctions here). Such studies are included here to illustrate examples of impacts on learning, but we do not share the medical model of disability analysis. As we consider students who score lowest on constructs of wellbeing, we want to be explicit that this is not due to an inherent lack in individual students or in students who are members of particular groups.  

 


Systemic Impacts on Wellbeing

The wellbeing needs each of us have as individuals are impacted by our identities, experiences, and contexts. One strategy or approach is not sufficient for all students. 

UO data indicates the need to center the wellbeing of students who: 

Experience depression & anxiety.

UO's Healthy Minds Survey for Winter/Spring 2021 reported that 47% of students screened positively for depression and 41% of students screened positively for anxiety. In addition, in the past year 14% of students experienced suicidal ideation and 7% made a suicide plan. 25% of students say they are not sure where they can go to get help. 

Identify as nonbinary and/or queer.

SWASI data shows a gap for nonbinary and queer students across every wellbeing construct in the survey (Clark, 2021). As the Proud and Thriving Report for 2021 notes, “Due to a climate of prejudice and discrimination, trans and non-binary students experience various individual, interpersonal, and structural risk factors that contribute to and/or exacerbate psychological distress. Cissexist stigma and the systemic reinforcement of the gender binary leave trans and non-binary youth to grapple with self-acceptance, navigate dysfunctional healthcare systems and compromised social support networks, and endure significantly higher rates of mental distress and self-injury than their cisgender peers.”  

Experience stereotype threat, which disproportionately impacts Black, Asian, International students, and women.

The Student Wellbeing and Success Initiative (Jones et al., 2019) notes that “undergraduates experiencing greater stereotype threat at matriculation are more prone to being stressed out at the end of their first year, which leads to being more prone to dropping out their second year.” However, they also note that “Importantly, social support mitigates the effect by disrupting the relationship between stereotype threat and stress.” 

Score high on "ability uncertainty” at UO.

Students from lower SES backgrounds, women, International students and/or Dreamers consistently and disproportionately score higher on this construct, identifying concerns about their intellectual fit prior to entering the University (Clark, 2021).

Are food-insecure.

The Student Wellbeing and Success Initiative (Clark & Delgado, 2021) notes that “Undergraduates at the UO experience food insecurity at a higher rate than the national average. Certain populations of students are even more food insecure. As food insecurity is associated with lower wellbeing (more stressed, sadder, less satisfied with life), food security should be considered as an important aspect of student wellbeing.” 22% of students surveyed were food insecure between Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 (using the USDA's definitions of "low" and "very low" food security) and 56% of undergraduates worried about food access during the same time period.

Have disabilities, chronic illnesses, and/or identify as neurodivergent.

The COVID19 pandemic and resulting modality changes we’ve made to continue teaching through it (among many other challenges) have had a range of effects which disproportionately impact students with disabilities, with chronic illnesses, and who identify as neurodivergent. Some of these students also bear different risk levels as we ask the UO community to return to in-person classes with different prevention measures in place. 

Line drawing of head with flower inside

Keeping the question of "whose wellbeing" in mind might mean asking ourselves: 

  • What disparities in wellbeing do we see in our data?  
  • What pedagogical strategies are more likely to effectively support a particular dimension of wellbeing? For example, if we want to counter stereotype threat in a Mathematics course, we might design in more opportunities for social support (like brief small-group check-ins) or ensure our examples and materials are inclusive to increase students' senses of belonging (see the changes Portland Community College Math faculty implemented to effectively counter stereotype threat as an illustration) 
  • How might students with different identities experience wellbeing differently within our courses, assessments, activities, or Canvas sites? For example, what might decrease stress or increase belonging in our Canvas sites for students who have web accessibility needs? What activities might we design to social support both for students who experience less stress and more belonging during asynchronous activities and students who are experiencing loneliness and a desire for face-to-face engagement? 

We don't pose these questions to get clear answers but to make perspective shifting, informed by data, a habit. Our hope is that staying curious about the "who" will help us design for more of our students. 

We frequently do not know (or need to know) the details of students' intersecting identities and experiences. These questions are ones to apply as we design for a full class with the assumption that all identities and experiences are present. 

Additionally, the question of "whose wellbeing" extends to faculty, GEs, and staff.   

Inside Higher Ed reported that “many faculty members report suffering from some of the same health challenges their students do: nearly 30 percent of surveyed professors report having two or more symptoms of depression. Two in 10 professors agree that supporting students in mental or emotional distress has taken a toll on their own mental health. About half believe that their institutions should do more to support the psychological well-being of the faculty" (Flaherty, 2021).  

All the ways in which our students' wellbeing is challenged by our societal and institutional histories and present also overlap or have correlations for instructors. For example, faculty who identify as female, queer, trans, and/or gender nonbinary are more likely to have had one-on-one conversations with students in crisis (Flaherty, 2021). The labor of contributing to a "culture of caring" (as Active Minds puts it) is significant, and it is not yet evenly shared. 

 


How Faculty Can Impact Student Wellbeing: 4 General Recommendations

If our goal is to support student learning, and therefore to support student wellbeing so that learning can more effectively occur, what actions can we take that will fit our teaching practices?  In the publication Creating a Culture of Care, the mental health nonprofit Active Minds (2020) makes four general recommendations:  

  1. Normalize the need for help 
  2. Actively listen with "Validate, Appreciate, and Refer" (V-A-R) 
  3. Embed courses with wellbeing practices and 
  4. Practice your own self-care and seek resources when needed 

We believe that each of the above recommendations are necessary and possible to practice within each class, regardless of the class content or context. 

Below you will find strategies and resources that include templated language, example practices, and even ready-made modules to support these recommendations. We invite you to explore the strategies and resources with your own needs and constraints in mind and to select both those you can implement with ease and perhaps one or two additional practices you'd like to try. We also invite you to continue asking the question “whose wellbeing?” as different practices may be more/less helpful for different students. 

1. Normalize the need for help

For many students (and instructors) identifying a need for help and accessing it doesn't feel like a sign of strength. We must unequivocally assert that it is, and signal respect for our and our students' humanity in seeking the care they (and we) may need. Students who access formal and informal supports to care for their physical, academic, emotional or social health generally find these interventions effective.

Highlighting the importance of knowing when we need support and where to access it is also a foundational part of learning. Normalizing this across classes can be powerful and protective for all of us.

Share ready-made resources with students easily through Canvas.
  • Using the Student Wellbeing Resources Page, available in Canvas Commons, in your Canvas course. To access the Page, first make sure you are signed in to Canvas, and then click on this Student Wellbeing Resources link, which will open in a new page
  • Posting wellbeing-related slides created by Counseling Services to Canvas, or showing them at the very beginning of class. Find a suite of supportive slides you can use at this Counseling Services folder link, and download the PowerPoints for use in your class. You might even consider timing these shares for parts of the term that students are showing signs of stress (such as prior to midterms). 
  • Inviting students to reflect in a discussion post about resources or supportive spaces they've most appreciated on campus. You can find a ready-made Discussion prompt in Canvas Commons (to access the Discussion post, make sure you are signed in to Canvas, click on the link to the Student Wellbeing Practices and Resources, and find the "Campus Shout-Outs" Discussion). 
Include language in your syllabus and verbally about mental health and wellness and the benefits of seeking support.

According to the Healthy Minds Survey (2021) 36% of UO students believe "Most people would think less of someone who has received mental health treatment." Hearing explicit encouragement for students to get the support they need can counter this belief. 25% of students are not sure where to go for mental health support on campus (Healthy Minds Survey, 2021). We can help normalize getting care and help students know where they can access it by using the language Counseling Services recommends placing in your syllabus:

"Mental Health and Wellness

Life at college can be very complicated. Students often feel overwhelmed or stressed, experience anxiety or depression, struggle with relationships, or just need help navigating challenges in their life. If you're facing such challenges, you don't need to handle them on your own--there's help and support on campus.  

As your instructor if I believe you may need additional support, I will express my concerns, the reasons for them, and refer you to resources that might be helpful. It is not my intention to know the details of what might be bothering you, but simply to let you know I care and that help is available. Getting help is a courageous thing to do—for yourself and those you care about. 

University Health Services help students cope with difficult emotions and life stressors. If you need general resources on coping with stress or want to talk with another student who has been in the same place as you, visit the Duck Nest (located in the EMU on the ground floor) and get help from one of the specially trained Peer Wellness Advocates. Find out more at health.uoregon.edu/ducknest.  

University Counseling Services (UCS) has a team of dedicated staff members to support you with your concerns, many of whom can provide identity-based support. All clinical services are free and confidential. Find out more at counseling.uoregon.edu or by calling 541-346-3227 (anytime UCS is closed, the After-Hours Support and Crisis Line is available by calling this same number).” 

Consider encouraging students to take the Kognito module.

This module is an educational simulation that helps students to practice talking with peers who are in distress. In the past year 14% of students experienced suicidal ideation and 7% made a suicide plan--a significant portion of our student body (Healthy Minds Survey, 2021). The same survey indicates that many students report seeking help from peers when they are concerned about their own mental health; Counseling Services hopes to use Kognito to build campus capacity around suicide prevention. 

If you do extra credit points or if you have a portion of the class dedicated to participation or engagement, you might put completion of the module in as an option.  

Facilitate student sharing about helpful resources.

One way to do this is to invite students to reflect in a discussion post about resources or supportive spaces they've most appreciated on campus. You can find a ready-made Discussion prompt in Canvas Commons (to access the Discussion post, make sure you are signed in to Canvas, click on the link to the Student Wellbeing Practices and Resources, and find the "Campus Shout-Outs" Discussion). 

2. Actively listen with Validate, Appreciate, and Refer (V-A-R) 

Active Minds, a mental health nonprofit partnering with the Association of College and University Educators and the Health Minds Survey, recommends using an easy to remember format when talking with students about challenges that are not solely related to class content. Their recommendation to actively listen with "validate, appreciate, and refer" helps us to stay grounded in care for students while also maintaining our roles and boundaries as educators. Find out more about how "validate, appreciate, and refer" might work in your contexts, and what to do when either you're not sure where to refer or students have disengaged at the beginning of a course.

Validate/appreciate/refer in conversation: sample language.

If students share a challenge they are having, the “validate, appreciate, and refer” approach offers care and empathy and connection to resources while respecting your boundaries and role as an instructor. For example, if a student shares a challenge around food insecurity, an instructor might say:

  • (Validate) That sounds difficult and stressful 
  • (Appreciate) Thank you for sharing what is happening for you 
  • (Refer) There are many students who don’t have enough food—that is why we have programs like SNAP or the UO Produce Drop. We want you to get what you need so you can focus on school and learning. Can I share some UO resources with you?

There are many instances in which student needs appear more urgent. If you are concerned about the wellbeing of a student who you think may be in crisis, please contact the interdisciplinary Student Care Team.  

Validate/appreciate/refer: use Kognito to practice challenging mental health conversations.

We strongly recommend taking the Kognito module for faculty/staff, which takes this general approach.  Counseling Services highlights the Kognito module as an important learning tool which uses “simulated conversations to prepare you for real-life situations and conversations. Talking to virtual students struggling with various mental health concerns, you can learn ways to give support and encouragement, bring up uncomfortable or stigmatized topics, and direct students towards resources on campus.” The simulations are nuanced and challenging even for those who may feel confident talking to students in crisis, and the module offers feedback based on your responses. The module also reaffirms the distinction between an instructor’s role and a clinician’s and helps to support instructors as instructors.

Where to refer when you are not sure: Counseling Services and the Dean of Students.

Go to the Dean of Students “Assisting Students” webpage when you want to refer students to resources but aren’t sure which exist or where to point students. 

If you are concerned about a student but not sure who you should call or at what point, the Dean of Students offers clear guidance on their "Assisting Students" webpage and on their Quick Guide (a one-page pdf). You can use the table in the Quick Guide to find the behavior(s) you are concerned about, and will find the corresponding number to call.  

The Dean of Students and their Student Care Team wants instructors to contact them if:

  • your efforts to manage a significant classroom behavioral issue have not resolved the problem  you are concerned about the welfare of a student, yourself, or other students  
  • a student asks for help in dealing with personal issues that are outside your role as a faculty or staff member 
  • you have referred the student for assistance in the past and there seems to be no improvement 
  • things seem to be worsening

This is an example of differentiating between the role of a clinician or advocate and the role of an educator. You can express empathy and care as you validate and appreciate. But please refer. Both the Dean of Students/Student Care Team (541-346-1138) and Counseling Services (541-346-3227) will take your calls, and both regularly support students in crisis.

Listen for disengagement.

Consider contacting students in the first week or two who do not attend or submit an assignment. The message can be very brief and warm in tone; this can be a useful initial motivator.  

  • For students who are absent or do not sign into the course in the first week or two: As the Tutoring and Academic Engagement Center’s Daniel Hagen notes, “Faculty are often the first to notice student disengagement, which can be symptomatic of other challenges.  While this may be difficult in large-enrollment courses (lab leaders, GEs, discussion section leaders may be better positioned) or in courses with no formal attendance policy, I believe it can be incredibly valuable for instructors to contact students directly as soon as they go missing, simply to say: “Hey, I didn’t see you in class.  How are you doing?”  
  • If students don’t show up or login during the first week of class and are unresponsive to your outreach, you can use this form to request that an academic advisor reach out to the student. 
  • If students haven’t submitted an assignment early in the term: you can use the “message students who” function of Canvas to send a message such as “I noticed you haven’t submitted your assignment yet. I want you to succeed in this class and I know you can. This is a reminder that you can contact me by email or attend office hours if you have questions or need additional support.”  
  • If students are absent and you use iClickers to take attendance, you can send a similar message to students who received a 0 on their iClicker results for a given day. 

3. Embed courses with wellbeing practices  

We want our pedagogical practices to effectively meet the specific wellbeing needs of our students. But what practices are most effective to support student wellbeing at UO? The Student Wellbeing and Success Initiative (SWASI) reports identify several categories of practices they see as effective for a number of the wellbeing constructs: ones that support social network development and belonging. ones that support self-compassion and self-care, and ones that support self-confidence and self-efficacy. We have shared examples of practices that would fall into these categories below. In addition to the SWASI practices, we have also shared practices that support agency and flexibility, and ones that support mindfulness and grounding.  

Practices to support social network development and belonging. 

Social network development was one of the most commonly cited interventions in the Student Wellbeing and Success Initiative report (Clark, 2021). Having brief, repeated opportunities for students to engage with each other, and designing those opportunities for some level of student agency, is an important pedagogical move. 

Practice 1: Facilitate asynchronous peer-to-peer introductions using Canvas Discussion.  

First week introductions are common and important, but can also be anxiety-provoking for some students, and do not always come with a range of options for what counts as an “introduction.” While we want to offer synchronous social development opportunities (even sometimes in asynchronous classes!), consider using an approach like the one in this Canvas Discussion, available for your use in Commons. It invites students to choose both the questions they respond to and the media they use to create the response. 

Practice 2: Create more structure and support for small and large-group discussions so that all students can engage.  

One of the top recommendations students had for faculty in recent Student Experience Surveys was around discussions. As A. Hocker, C. Lloyd, et al. (2021) observe, “...the most prevalent theme in student responses relates to areas for improvement in the ways instructors facilitate discussions, especially around moderating students who dominate the conversation and creating more opportunities for every student to engage.” This is necessary throughout a term, but particularly critical in the first couple of weeks, as students orient to the course and each other. There are a range of ways faculty do this, including: establishing “class compacts” to be transparent—and to invite your students to be transparent with each other—about what kinds of behaviors support them as learners and as people during discussion; being clear about the purpose of discussions and shaping discussions with “big questions” generated by the students; using small group discussion roles that rotate (such as recorder, facilitator, questioner, reporter, etc.). For more ideas, see TEP’s post on “Tools to Facilitate Productive and Respectful Discussion.”    

Practice 3: Start with a question: daily synchronous small-group discussion.  

Consider building community and warming up participation by using brief, small-group discussions at the beginning of many classes. These discussions can operate more as short “check-ins” or humanizing opportunities than discussions of course content, work well with groups of 3-5, and might take 3-5 minutes (or less) to share on. Download this Word document list of engaging discussion prompts and customize if you wish (some of these prompts were generously shared by Dr. Camisha Russell, who uses them in practice).  

Practice 4: Use students' chosen names and pronouns. 

As the Dean of Students’ webpage “Promoting Inclusive Classrooms: LGBTQIA+ Ally Guide” says, “It is critically important to demonstrate inclusion and solidarity for LGBTQIA+ students. This emphasizes the welfare and safety of others in our campus spaces.”  

The Guide reminds us what is at stake in supporting who are students (and colleagues) are at such a baseline level, noting that according to a recent study, when transgender youth ages 15 to 21 were allowed to use their chosen name at school, home, work and with friends:

  • 71% experienced fewer symptoms of severe depression 
  • 34% decrease in reported thoughts of suicide  
  • 65% percent decrease in suicidal attempts” 

The guidance on the webpage includes language to put in your syllabus, shared below.  

Using Chosen Name and Pronouns: Fostering a respectful classroom environment enables us all to participate fully. If you use a name different from the name listed on Canvas, I encourage you to email me or to visit me after class to update your roster. If you use a name different from your Legal Name you may update your Preferred Name on DuckWeb, which updates grade rosters and Canvas class lists. Visit LGBT Education and Support Services for more information. I will be creating space for sharing pronouns in class; however, sharing pronouns will never be required. I am open to being corrected and correcting students when misgendering occurs, if you would like support with this please reach out to me. 

We strongly suggest reading this concise, practical webpage in full. 

Practices to support self-compassion and self-care 

Practice 1: Set the time of due dates in Canvas with sleep in mind. 

The Duck Nest recommends that faculty try setting the time of deadlines in Canvas as 9 or 10 pm. This simple shift supports healthier sleeping patterns in students. 

Practice 2: Incentivize ready-made and evidence-based self-care practices.

The Student Wellbeing Practices and Resources module in Canvas Commons has a suite of short assignments and discussions that can be used in any class. They are designed for student choice and for the submission itself, students respond to their choice of reflective questions (as opposed to writing more directly about their experiences). This allows students to engage in meaningful intra-personal work without having to share that work with faculty. We will continue adding to this suite of resources. Explore the module by first signing in to Canvas, and then clicking on this Canvas Commons link.

Practice 3: “Don’t Cancel Class” (schedule a wellness presentation).

Health Promotion Specialist Kate Stoysich describes “Don’t Cancel Class" as "a collaborative initiative of student affairs staff to offer presentations for when a faculty member or instructor needs to miss class."

"Occasionally, you may need to miss a class to attend a conference, perform jury duty, or observe a religious holy day. With advance notice and planning, we offer presentations for when an instructor or faculty member must miss a class. Instead of cancelling, schedule a trained educator to facilitate an interactive workshop for your class. The goal is to provide educational programs that assist students in their personal growth, decision-making, and overall wellness. Our goal is to serve as a resource to all aspects of the University, including faculty members.  Almost all workshop lengths and topics can be adjusted to fit your needs. If you would like general information, please contact dontcancelclass@uoregon.edu."   

This initiative is one that many other colleges and universities across the US have also started, and we are excited that it is in its first stages here at UO.

Practice 4: Schedule in class breaks

If your classes are synchronous, make sure to both reliably schedule in breaks and explicitly let students know they can and should take care of their physiological needs during class.

Practices to support self-confidence and self-efficacy.

Practice 1: Transparently design your assignments.  

Transparent assignment design comes from the Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (TILT) project. It structures assignments by explicitly noting the purpose, the tasks necessary to do (in the order in which they’re done) and the criteria for success. Aside from all of the other reasons that they support students—particularly first generation and other minoritized students—they may help build self-confidence and efficacy by making the process of completion visible. You can see a good overview of TILT on the Faculty Focus blog. You can also see examples of transparently designed assignments from UO faculty here.  

Practice 2: Facilitate milestones and “do” dates (in addition to “due” dates). 

Consider scaffolding big projects so students can more clearly see the milestones they need to achieve, and consider asking them in class (if class is synchronous) to schedule in for themselves their “do” dates prior to deadlines. Some students are grappling with executive functioning tasks, and many grapple more broadly with planning. Even allocating two minutes during class to putting the “do” of the work into a schedule can help all students see a that doable path forward. 

Practice 3: Invite students to reflect on goals they've met just prior to the middle and end of term. 

Either during class (if class is synchronous) or in Canvas, ask students to write for five to ten minutes about a goal they had that they achieved—large or small—or a goal they have for themselves currently, and what they think it will feel like when they’ve reached that goal. 

Practices to incorporate flexibility and student choice. 

Trauma-informed pedagogy emphasizes the balance of flexibility and predictability and highlights the importance of student choice. 

Practice 1: Use flexible deadlines and post assignments as early as possible. 

In the Practitioner Guide: Accessibility, which analyzed responses in the Student Experience Surveys, students identified a need for greater flexibility in assignment deadlines and more time generally between having materials posted and needing to submit their work. Unpredictable workloads and tighter timelines significantly increased student stress. In addition to posting materials as early as possible, instructors might consider other types of deadlines, such as:

  • "Best by" due dates (the instructor will take them after the date up to a certain period, but feedback may not be as readily available) Using "oops" tokens (a set number of deadline exemptions a student may use at any point in the term without penalty)
  • Giving students some control over how they are engaging during synchronous learning activities can decrease stress and support learning. If students can engage in either learning within small groups or solo and still reach the same learning objectives, offer both options. 

We know that instructors who are carefully scaffolding larger projects or using a tightly timed peer review cycle may find this challenging. We would welcome thinking with you about how to both continue your thoughtful pedagogical practices and build in some additional flexibility.

Practice 2: Design for student choice within assignments.

Where possible, offer places within a given assignment where students can shape the topic focus of their work. In addition to making space for student contributions to the "what" of their coursework, consider broadening the "how." Unless the assignment necessitates working in a certain media, students may benefit from being able to (for example) submit their choice of text, audio or video, or a vision they’ve created. Find out more about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and how to integrate student choice for all learners by reading the Accessible Education Center's helpful overview of UDL. You can also find out more about faculty who use UDL in their course design by reading about the Faculty Excellence in Universal Design award winners on AEC's website.

For a beautiful example of the kind of learning that can occur when student agency is centered, please see UO Scholar Haisu Huang's Sociology of Wellbeing course blog, which features the work of undergraduates in her course (and is an Open Educational Resource!).

Practice 3: Offer student choice during learning activities. 

Giving students some control over how they are engaging during synchronous learning activities can decrease stress and support learning. If students can engage in either learning within small groups or solo and still reach the same learning objectives, offer both options. 

4. Practice self-care, build community care, and seek resources when needed 

The wellbeing of many faculty and staff members has been impacted by student struggles.  We know this both from what faculty have shared with us as individuals, and also from the faculty response to the Healthy Minds National Study. Of faculty who responded to the study, 60.3% agreed with the statement "Supporting students in mental and emotional distress has taken a toll on my own mental and emotional health." 

Visit—or revisit—Dr. Alex-Assensoh's L.A.C.E. Framework (love, authenticity, courage and empathy).

Greater wellbeing for some of us necessitates foregrounding reflections like the ones from her Love/Authenticity/Courage/Empathy Framework—reflections that bring us back to our hearts, to our bodies, and to how we want to be in community together. Consider journaling through these questions, or exchanging reflections in conversation with colleagues you care about and trust.

Ask curious, critical questions with departmental colleagues about what practices do/do not support wellbeing.

Engaging in wellbeing work can include reflection as individuals (which many faculty have engaged in) and reflection within our teams, our departments, and our university. Dr. Drea Letamendi (a psychologist and leader of institutional wellbeing strategies at UCLA) recommends “asking yourself and your teams, what were the practices, habits, skills that you learned over the pandemic that really served your wellbeing … the counterpart to that is can you name on your team, in your department, even at the institution, what policies and practices no longer serve the wellbeing of you as an individual and the community.” (Pope, 2021). 

Normalize seeking help for yourself, and ask for it.
  • Connect with a therapist if that is the right choice for you. We encourage faculty interested in therapy to contact two resources that frequently have a very quick response time: Cascade Centers and the HEDCO Clinic. Cascade Centers, Inc. (1-800-433-2320) is part of UO’s Employee Assistance Program; the HEDCO Clinic (541-346-0923) provides therapy through upper-division graduate interns who are completing their clinical component of study for UO’s Couples and Family Therapy master’s degree. HEDCO clinicians work closely with licensed faculty supervisors and provide high–quality care. Both of these options provide services for employees and their dependents.   
  • Find out more about the resources that are available to you through UO Human Resources. Their Employee Wellness page is a good place to start. 
Protect your time by reducing low-value demands on it and by scheduling—as much as possible—start/end times and breaks. 
  • Design your course to reduce low-value demands on your time. Make it clear who students should contact with specific types of questions, provide venues where the whole class can see answers to frequently-asked questions, and--if possible--allow students a limited number of no-questions-asked assignment extensions or excuses. These strategies can reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with the clerical parts of the course and free you to focus on helping students learn.  
  • Try scheduling specific start and end times for your work day, privileging blocks of time for particular tasks, and/or forcing yourself to take meaningful breaks during the day. 

 


Appreciation

Many of the ideas in this Toolkit came out of conversations with or listening in meetings to student support units. Our thanks to Counseling Services, Duck Nest, PE & Rec and AEC in particular. We hope to continue to be informed by your knowledge and care so that we are sharing similar messages with students and with each other. 

This first version of the Toolkit was generated because of the experiences faculty shared with us, and we hope to continue to revise it and other supports to better meet your pedagogical needs. We appreciate and deeply respect how much care UO faculty and GEs have given and continue to give to students.

Please contact us through this form with any feedback you have around the Toolkit and we look forward to continuing to talk and work towards greater wellbeing for students and for faculty.

 

This toolkit was written by Laurel Bastian, with design support by Bailey Dobbs. The toolkit is openly licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

 


References

Active Minds. (2020). Creating a culture of caring. https://acue.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Faculty-Resource_Creating-a…

Bose, D., Dalrymple, S., Shadle, S. (2020, May 13). A Renewed Case for Student Success: Using Transparency in Assignment Design When Teaching Remotely. [Blog post] Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com

Bruffaerts, R., Mortier, P., Kiekens, G., et al. (2018). Mental health problems in college freshmen: Prevalence and academic functioning. Journal of Affective Disorders. 225, pgs. 97-103. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.07.044. PMID: 28802728; PMCID: PMC5846318.

Clark, B. A. M. (2021). Demographics and wellbeing relationships among undergraduates prior to matriculation. Office of Assessment and Research, Division of Student Life, University of Oregon.

Clark, B. A. M., & Delgado-Riley, R. (2021). Undergraduate food security 2020-2021. Office of Assessment and Research, Division of Student Life, University of Oregon.

Clouder, L., Karakus, M., Cinotti, A., Ferreyra, M., Fierros, G., Rojo, P. (2020, June 7). Neurodiversity in higher education: a narrative synthesis. Higher Education, 80(4), p.757-778. 

DuPaul, G., Gormley, J., Anastopoulos, A., Weyandt, L.,  Labban, J., Sass, A., Busch, C., Franklin, M., & Postler, K. (2021) Academic trajectories of college students with and without ADHD: Predictors of four-year outcomes, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology50(6), pgs. 828-843, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2020.1867990

Eisenberg, D., Golberstein, E., & Hunt, J. B. (2009). Mental health and academic success in college. The B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 9(1), 1–35. https://doi-org.libproxy.uoregon.edu/10.2202/1935-1682.2191

Flaherty, C. (2021) Faculty: Gatekeepers of student mental health? Insider Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com

Good, C., Aronson, J., Harder, J. (2008). Problems in the pipeline: Stereotype threat and women's achievement in high-level math courses. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology,29(1), pgs 17-28, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appdev.2007.10.004.

Harward, D. (2016). Well-Being and Higher Education: A Strategy for Change and the Realization of Education's Greater Purposes. Association of American Colleges and Universities, Washington, D.C.

JED Foundation. (2021). Proud & Thriving Project Announcement & Literature Review Executive Summary: Supporting the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ High School, College, and University Students. jedfoundation.org

Jones, M. B., Clark, B. A. M., Cronce, J. M., & McWhirter, B. T. (2019). Stereotype Threat, Stress, and Dropout. University of Oregon.

Pope, R. (Host). (2021, Sept. 22). Minoritized students’ mental health and well-being: Innovative responses to the needs of the most marginalized. (No. 59) [Audio podcast episode]. In Student Affairs NOW.  https://studentaffairsnow.com/innovativementalhealth/

Raskind, I., Haardörfer, R., & Berg, C. (2019). Food insecurity, psychosocial health and academic performance among college and university students in Georgia, USA. Public Health Nutrition, 22(3), 476-485. doi:10.1017/S1368980018003439 

The Healthy Minds Network. (2021). Healthy Minds Survey for Winter/Spring 2021

Thomas, N.S., Barr, P.B., Hottell, D.L., Adkins, A.E., & Dick, D.M. (2021). Longitudinal Influence of Behavioral Health, Emotional Health, and Student Involvement on College Student Retention. Journal of College Student Development 62(1), 2-18. doi:10.1353/csd.2021.0001.