Student mental wellbeing in higher education will be supported by academic educators:
- adopting practices and creating learning environments that increase the opportunities for students to pursue their interests and goals, and to experience belonging, relationships, autonomy and competence AND
- redesigning practices and conditions that control or de-motivate students, direct learning to extrinsic rather than intrinsic goals, undermine a sense of belonging, or thwart experiences of close relationships, autonomy and competence.
Constraints and opportunities
Redesigning teaching practices and learning environments is not an easy or simple task – especially given the constraints and challenges that university educators currently face.
Those same conditions – combined with increasing workloads, insecurity and ‘casualisation’ in academic employment – may also undermine the mental wellbeing of academic staff. In this context, it may seem unreasonable to ask university educators to consider adopting strategies to support and enhance student mental wellbeing.
Without doubt, the task of fostering student wellbeing in higher education will benefit from a ‘whole-of-university’, if not sector-wide, approach (outlined in our Framework). Fostering student mental wellbeing will also benefit from collaborative partnerships between student groups, professional staff, university administrators and mental health experts and service providers.
Why a focus on academic educators?
Academic teachers have a critical role to play in fostering student mental wellbeing. This is because the academic curriculum structures and gives coherence to student life.
Educators’ distinct role
Happily, supporting student wellbeing does not require academics to be or become psychologists, mental health experts or counsellors. It is not the job of university educators to make students happy or to help students resolve their mental health difficulties.
Principles for enhancing student mental wellbeing
through learning and teaching
A teaching and learning environment designed to support student mental wellbeing aims to:
- Highlight the social value of discipline practitioners’ knowledge and skills
- Support students to develop learning goals in line with their intrinsic values and emerging interests and capabilities
- Demonstrate that you value student learning and understand their perspectives
- Know your students‘ diverse needs and interests
- Value diversity and practice social inclusion
- Induct students into your discipline’s values and professional standards
- Facilitate student-faculty and peer social interactions
- Foster collaborative (not competitive) learning
- Express interest in and care and concern for others
- Justify required tasks and knowledge, and teaching and assessment methods
- Within the constraints of the curriculum, give students choice and ensure variety in learning activities and assessment tasks
- Support students to make informed choices aligned with their interests, values or goals
- Use informational (rather than controlling) language
- Ensure an appropriate level of challenge and support at each program level
- Provide meaningful feedback on student learning and performance