Academic Well-Being at CSU

The strategies on this site are based on research. They are also based on ideas and techniques that other Colorado State University faculty have found to be effective in supporting student well-being. When considering the strategies or ideas you’d like to try, think about your personal interactions and teaching style. Not every strategy is the right fit, so pick one that feels comfortable and do it well. Some are easier than others to embed. According to students, some of the simplest ideas can have a huge impact when done authentically.

Conditions for Well-Being

Social connectedness has a direct effect on college student retention, according to Allen, Robbins, Casillas, and Oh (2008). Evidence also suggests that it has a positive correlation with achievement motivation (Walton, Cohen, Cwir, & Spencer, 2012), which may impact academic achievement. Social connectedness has also proved to be an important factor in maintaining student retention rates (Allen et al., 2008). Research suggests that supportive faculty members can have a significant positive impact on a student’s intention to persist after the first year (Shelton, 2003). You can help your students by connecting with them or by helping them connect with each other!

  • On the first day of class, use a survey to get to know students. Ask about their backgrounds, interests, strengths, needs and other topics.
  • Use the survey information to make adjustments to teaching course content.
  • Learn the names of your students.
  • Get out from behind the podium or desk and move among the students. If you use a tablet that connects to the projector, you can allow students to write on the tablet themselves to show how they would solve a problem or answer a question.
  • Incorporate welcoming rituals at the start of class. (See sidebar.)
  • Share personal anecdotes.
  • Share personal connections to content—areas where you struggled, concepts you were surprised to learn, etc.
  • Close each class with something positive. For example, have students share something they learned or something they’re interested in learning more about.
  • Use various forms of cooperative or collaborative learning.

Mindfulness is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment” (p. 145, Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Kerrigan et al., 2017).

Mindfulness has been shown to improve memory and testing performance, reduce stress levels, and foster better physical health (Bonamo, Legerski, & Thomas, 2015; Kerrigan et al., 2017). Mindfulness practice has also been shown to improve mental-health outcomes for students who are struggling in an academic setting (Dvorˇáková et al., 2017). While the goal of mindfulness is not to help people achieve more, it has remarkably reliable effects on well-being, academic performance, stress reduction and general health for its practitioners.

  • Engage in “brain breaks” that allow students to take their minds off the learning content.
    • Allow for collaborative discussions or other interactions during instruction.
    • Allow for short periods of movement (e.g., get up and find one person with whom to share a thought, story or question).
  • Provide a “mindfulness minute” at the beginning of class, before exams, etc., in which you encourage or allow students to sit quietly and use deep breathing techniques.
  • Practice techniques for focusing attention.
  • Teach students how to use effective self-talk and stress-reduction approaches to manage their emotions.
  • Incorporate mindfulness activities at highly stressful times (e.g., before an exam).
  • Organize mindfulness activities outside of the classroom. Examples include:
    • Visiting the Blanton Museum, where museum staff will collaborate with faculty to teach students mindfulness techniques.
    • Encouraging students to participate in a yoga, meditation or exercise class.
    • Encouraging students to participate in mindfulness classes or activities for extra credit.
  • Let students know about resources for mindfulness on campus (e.g., the MindBody Labs on campus).

Growth mindset, or the belief that intelligence is not a fixed trait but one that can improve, is shown to be positively correlated with student achievement scores (Bostwick, Collie, Martin, & Durksen, 2017; Dweck, 2006). Students’ mindsets can influence how they react to stressful situations, failures and challenges. Having a growth mindset is associated with more adaptive coping and learning strategies after failure. Alternately, a fixed mindset leads students to disengage from their challenges and feel helpless (Dweck & Leggett, 1988). Fortunately, a student’s mindset is malleable. Here are some strategies to help your students change the way they see themselves in relation to challenging coursework.

  • Teach students how to use mistakes/failures to their advantage.
  • Let students see you make mistakes, then show them how you use those mistakes to learn.
  • Struggle with concepts in front of students and allow them to help you work through the process.
  • Explicitly talk with students about learning and deliberate practice.
  • Discuss and model self-regulation strategies for learning and applying content. (See sidebar.)
  • Focus less on competition and performance and more on learning and mastery. Examples include:
    • Not grading exams or other assignments based on a normal distribution.
    • Allowing students to retake exams or parts of exams to learn from mistakes.
    • Allowing students to rewrite papers or redo projects based on feedback provided.
    • Having students take exams both individually and in groups.
    • Giving students choices in how they demonstrate knowledge and mastery of content.
  • Build in different ways for students to demonstrate learning and mastery of content. Examples include:
    • Using a variety of assignment types—exams, papers, presentations, videos, etc.
    • Letting students choose how they demonstrate their learning within individual assignments (e.g., creating a video, writing a paper, giving a presentation).
    • Allowing students to choose whether they work on assignments individually, in groups or with partners.
    • Allow for students to fix mistakes and work through problems they’ve encountered so they can see the progress being made.
    • Let students know you don’t want perfection. Do this by using words like “learning” and “growing,” rather than “achievement” or “performance.”

Resilience is the ability to recover from stress despite challenging life events that otherwise would overwhelm a person’s normal ability to cope with that stress (Smith et al., 2008). Students with more resilience tend to have better mental health and wellness and academic outcomes (Johnson, Taasoobshirazi, Kestler, & Cordova, 2014). Being able to bounce back from difficult experiences can mean coping after a bad grade or recovering from a stressful life event like the loss of a loved one. Fortunately, resilience seems to be a malleable psychological factor that, with work and time, can be strengthened. Studies have shown resilience is linked to mindfulness, a sense of purpose in life, an optimistic outlook and active coping styles (Smith, Epstein, Ortiz, Christopher, & Tooley, 2013).

  • Talk about times that you’ve failed and how you worked through those failures.
  • Teach students how to use mistakes/failures to their advantage.
  • Use exams and other assignments as teaching tools, rather than the end of learning. Examples include:
    • Instead of simply giving students their grades, go over the exam or assignment and discuss areas of common struggle, what these mistakes mean for thinking and learning, and how they connect to new learning.
    • Allow students to correct mistakes and redo assignments to demonstrate continued mastery and learning.
    • Provide students with individual feedback on assignments, and model how to use this feedback to improve on future assignments.
  • Explicitly teach strategies you use to overcome failure.
  • Teach students how to self-assess accurately by modeling your own self-assessing behavior.
  • Focus less on competition and performance and more on learning and mastery.
  • Be optimistic about how students are doing in your class.