2. Supporting Students

Recommendation 2.4: Health-Promoting Practices 
Design and teach your course using health-promoting pedagogies and trauma-informed practices; destigmatize help-seeking behaviors; and recognize when students might be struggling, respond appropriately, and effectively refer students to campus resources.

Synopsis from Self-Review

In academic contexts, instructors can use health-promoting pedagogies, identify challenges to student well-being, normalize help-seeking behaviors, and offer resources to help students thrive. Instructors can use formative assessment measures to gauge student needs and stressors and should be trained to destigmatize help-seeking, effectively respond to students in distress, and offer referral to appropriate resources (via Canvas, email, during office hours, etc.).

How to Put Into Practice

Students learn best when they have their basic needs for physical and mental wellbeing met and feel connected to their peers and instructors. This expands their capacity to engage with the rigors of their academic courses. As an instructor, you can use health-promoting pedagogies, identify challenges to student well-being, normalize help-seeking behaviors, and offer resources to help students thrive.

The Healthy Academics Toolkit is a comprehensive resource to help you understand the interrelationship between health and academics for students on our campus. Familiarize yourself with the Strategies & Resources in the toolkit, or use the contact information on the main page to arrange an individualized consultation.

Some of the broad principles instructors can follow to foster well-being in learning environments include:

  1. Supporting students requires knowledge about how to recognize and respond to signs of distress while also setting boundaries and knowing your limits. The UW-Madison Suicide Prevention Training for UW-Madison Faculty/Staff is a multi-part training that builds capacity in instructors and staff to intervene, prevent suicide, and support mental health in UW-Madison students. This training does not offer immediate support to students in distress. Instead, it prepares members of our campus community to be better able to support students in the future. 
  2. Destigmatize help-seeking and normalize asking for help by including syllabi statements that support student mental health and learning. 
  3. Understanding and applying principles of Universal Design for Learning will help make your course more engaging and inclusive.
  4. Design for accessibility and provide individual accommodations. The McBurney Disability Resource Center is an excellent resource for instructors and students: We work with UW-Madison students with physical, learning, hearing, vision, psychological, health and other disabilities substantially affecting a major life activity (e.g., walking, communicating, learning, seeing, breathing, reading, etc.). Many students have non-apparent disabilities such as depression, anxiety, autism spectrum, learning disabilities, AD/HD and health conditions such as Crohn’s disease or fibromyalgia.
  5. Model self-care and the importance of help-seeking as an instructor.
  6. Share resources (below) with students in your course orientation module and at the point of need (e.g. in the instructions for major assignments. 

Useful resources to share with students

Familiarize yourself with campus resources and be prepared to refer students to appropriate resources as needed. These resources can also be highlighted in the Course Orientation materials (See Recommendation 2.3: Course Orientation). A wide range of resources are frequently updated in the Healthy Academics Toolkit in addition to those listed below:  

  • University Health Services (UHS) offers a wide range of medical and mental health services, as well as campus-wide health-promotion efforts through prevention and campus health initiatives:
    • Mental Health services offer an open, free, safe, and confidential environment to help students through issues that may interfere with their development, well-being, and academic productivity. An important resource for both students and instructors is the Mental Health 24-hour Crisis Service.
    • Survivor Services: Support for victims/survivors and those seeking information on how to support a survivor of sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, and/or stalking. 
    • Sexual Health Services provides no-cost screening, diagnosis, and treatment through UHS.
    • Prevention & Campus Health Initiatives offers a campus-wide Student Suicide Prevention Training. Encourage students to be allies and complete the training. 
    • Medical Services offers high-quality medical care to all UW-Madison students. 
  • Student Assistance through the Dean of Students Office to help with any personal problems.
  • Open Seat food pantry  relieves the stresses of food insecurity by providing food assistance
  • Financial resources to cope with the impact of COVID and other financial concerns.
  • Gender & Sexuality Campus Center: Supporting LGBTQ+ students and their communities is a unit of the Division of Student Life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. 
  • Division of Student Life: This website has more information and resources from campus safety to international student services. 

Example of a Health-Promoting Pedagogy: Daily Rituals or Warm Ups

Establishing a daily ritual is an easy way to check in with students and gauge their well-being. There are many ways to do this.  For example, leave five minutes for students to check-in at the beginning of every synchronous course session or offer a brief “mindful moment” before diving into course content.

Example Ritual  

  • Let students know that you’ll be online early to chat. 
  • Log into class early. 
  • Post a thought-starter or dialogue prompt for students that arrive early. For example: 
    • What surprised you about the last lesson?
    • Have you observed the principles discussed in the last lesson outside of class?
    • What are you excited to learn about in today’s lesson)?
  • Invite students to share their situations in whatever way is most comfortable for them, or invite students to engage in a brief “mindful moment” with you at the start of class time.  

Follow up with students who express distress to help address any constraints which may be complicating individual students’ learning experience (e.g. location, parenting, work, disabilities, internet access, etc.).

Additional Resources:

Background Information

What is this?

Instructors have the ability to influence student health and well-being. Health-promoting pedagogies and practices are those that support students’ holistic well-being, both in the classroom and through referral to appropriate campus resources. The university provides a wealth of resources, training, and support for both students and instructors, to promote a healthier campus community for all.

Why is this important?

Our students struggle with anxiety, depression, and other stressors that can impact academics and are influenced by social determinants of health, such as food or housing security. In addition, social connectedness and belonging are protective factors that can be cultivated through effective online teaching and health-promoting pedagogies. By addressing these challenges, we create academic environments in which students can thrive.

Where is this?

When teaching online, resources can be shared in the syllabus, through the online Course Orientation, and offered regularly at the point of need, during stressful periods throughout the semester (e.g., midterms, finals).

Success Factor 2: Supporting Students

An inclusive learning environment is established when all students are supported in adapting to the structure, schedule, expectations, and technologies used in the course. Supporting students requires thorough communication about how their course is set up, what they have to do, how the course is run administratively, and what resources and services are available to help them succeed.

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