Educational research shows that what academic educators do in the design of classes, and how they interact with students, has a strong impact on student engagement in learning, including the approaches they adopt and the learning goals they develop (intrinsic or instrumental). How educators teach and interact with students creates a ‘learning climate’ that can affect student learning and wellbeing.
Listen to PhD student Michelle Walter’s story of mental health difficulties and the role of teachers.
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Student vox pop: What could teachers do to support student wellbeing?
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As outlined in 1.3: Wellbeing essentials, student mental wellbeing is supported when teachers create a learning climate that nurtures and sustains Autonomous Motivation through regular experiences of Belonging, positive Relationships, Autonomy and Competence. While these experiences can be supported through the curriculum (see 2.2 Start here), they can also be promoted by teaching practice in the classroom.
Teaching approaches can foster (or undermine) students’ autonomous motivation
Learning climates and autonomous motivation
Creating learning environments that support student wellbeing
Teacher’s interpersonal approach to students and their learning – characterised by the goal of encouraging students to be self-initiating (rather than pressuring them to behave in certain ways) – can affect student wellbeing. Key strategies for promoting autonomy-supportive learning environments are explained and examples are provided below. Keep in mind, however, that use of one or more of these strategies in isolation will not create a learning climate that students perceive as supporting their autonomous motivation.
- Design learning tasks and select problems or examples that connect with students’ interests, preferences, curiosity and current knowledge
- Help students to make meaning through their learning and understand the value of the knowledge and skills being developed
- Help students to connect concepts and skills being learned with their lives and work (relevance)
- Assist students to set personal learning goals that are realistic, meaningful and challenging
- Show understanding that some students need more time than others to grasp concepts and skills
- Design learning tasks that value and draw out diverse perspectives, experiences and forms of prior knowledge
- Encourage students to contribute and build collective knowledge about the topic
- Foster collaborative and cooperative learning that helps students feel connected to peers
- Be friendly and approachable
- Demonstrate interest in students’ questions and ideas
- Understand students’ perspectives, concerns and experiences
- Provide meaningful choices (that reflect students’ interests and are not too complex) and facilitating flexible approaches to learning
- Provide justifications for required tasks and skills so that students can ‘internalise’ and self-endorse the reasons for the activity/unit
- Acknowledge and accept expressions of negative feelings and affect – e.g., ‘I appreciate that some students find this task/activity/topic boring. This is why it’s important…’
- Use language that minimises pressure and control – e.g., ‘You might like to try…’ rather than directives and ‘should/must’ statements.
- Scaffold the early stages of student learning so that students experience achievement and reward for effort
- Design, simplify or increase the complexity of learning tasks and problems so that they provide optimal challenge for students
- Provide informational (rather than judgmental) feedback