Embedding wellbeing from the get-go: exploring best practices in teaching that promote student wellbeing
The pandemic has put student mental health under the spotlight. With all the changes in higher education, how do we make sure wellbeing stays front and centre? This post reflects on research and practice around whole university approaches to wellbeing and shares some practical strategies for embedding wellbeing into teaching.
Why Focus on Wellbeing in Higher Education?
Higher education can be a psychologically demanding time of transition for students. Even before the pandemic, research highlighted high rates of mental health conditions in university students. There are clearly strong ethical and practical reasons for universities to consider student wellbeing.
However, terms like “mental health” and “wellbeing” mean different things to different people.
Students from diverse cultures may understand these concepts in various ways. Recent research has explored different dimensions like mental health conditions and subjective wellbeing – just because someone has a diagnosed condition does not necessarily mean they have low wellbeing. Creating a shared understanding of wellbeing is an important first step.
Adopting a Whole University Approach
Researchers suggest that effectively supporting wellbeing requires a “whole university approach” – where health and wellbeing are embedded across all systems and processes. Wellbeing needs to be considered in how students learn, live, work, and socialise. This reflects an understanding of universities as health settings, where health is created by the people within them.
Frameworks like the UK’s Step Change: Mentally Healthy Universities and the Mental Health Charter set out principles for whole university approaches. These highlight the need for commitment at all levels of the institution.
Embedding Wellbeing into Teaching and Learning
As teaching staff, we may feel limited in our power to influence the institution as a whole. However, there are many ways we can embed wellbeing into our educational practice:
- Module design:Consider wellbeing in your module format and assessment methods. Can students work together to reduce anxiety? Do they have some choice over group work?
- Content:Bring in research insights around wellbeing and mental health. Signpost relevant university support services.
- Teaching practice:Use inclusive, supportive language. Take small steps to boost engagement like sharing pets in class. Apply evidence-based approaches like spending time in nature.
- Student partnerships:Listen to learners’ perspectives on wellbeing. Co-create module materials and policies on mental health together.
- Personal development:Seek training around wellbeing. Trial and reflect on new teaching techniques.
Embedding wellbeing institution-wide is an ongoing process. There are challenges around differing priorities, attitudes, and workloads. However, there are always opportunities to make a positive difference, whatever our role. Through listening, reflection, and small steps, we can cultivate teaching and learning environments where all students can thrive.
This blog post was developed by Jo Sutherst, following an interview with Katherine Ashbulby and Julie Pepper.