Supporting student wellness

Resources to promote student health and well-being

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).

Recommendation

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. 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.

Putting it into practice

Students learn best when they have their basic needs for physical and mental well-being 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 remote courses 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. UWell is a University of Wisconsin-Madison collaborative effort to advance the well-being of the entire campus community. It has wellness resources focusing on promoting a healthy mind, body, and spirit. Human Resources at UW provides information and resources to support well-being at UW.
  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. A wide range of resources are frequently updated in the Healthy Academics Toolkit in addition to those listed below:  

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  

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