Supporting Educator and Student Well-being in the Classroom

Natasha Kenny and Patti Dyjur, Educational Development Unit

November 27, 2018

Well-being has received heightened attention across higher education. In seeing well-being “inextricably connected to learning” (p.5), Harward (2016), bravely suggests that well-being must become a foundational purpose of higher education, in combination with supporting learning and discovery, fostering our civic purpose, and preparing students to live meaningfully in the world (p. 9).

While campuses across the globe have placed emphasis on student wellbeing, less focus is placed on how we also support educator well-being. In a workshop hosted during the University of Calgary’s Teaching Days, we explored how we could use the PERMA framework (Seligman, 2012)  for flourishing to support both educator and student well-being in the classroom.

We know that postsecondary educator well-being is affected by factors such as increased workload and job demands, high teaching loads and large class sizes, work-life challenges, and career stage (e.g. tenure-track faculty members are often more susceptible to burnout) (Catano et al., 2010; Sabagh, Hall & Saroyan, 2018).  Some of the top stressors impacting student health and wellness include academic performance, the pressure to succeed, and uncertainty related to post-graduation plans and finances (Beiter et al., 2015).

The PERMA flourishing framework presents five facets (positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment) that provide an accessible framework for promoting well-being in the university classroom, both for students and for educators.

In our workshop, we provided an opportunity for educators across the University of Calgary to explore how they could use this framework to support their own well-being and students’ well-being in the classroom. See below for highlights of some of the outcomes of our discussion.

Ideas generated to support educator and student well-being based on the PERMA framework

See: Kern et al., 2015; Goodman et al., 2017; Oades, 2011; Slavin, 2012, Seligman, 2012.

  • Positive Emotions (feeling joy, hope and contentment)

  • Engagement feeling attached, involved and an ability to concentrate on activities  

  • Relationships feeling connected, supported and cared about  

  • Meaning feeling valued and connected to something greater than self  

  • Accomplishment progressing towards goals, feeling capable and a sense of accomplishment

  • Reduce stressors, promote positive coping & resilience  

  • Create meaningful opportunities to draw on strengths & interests  

  • Promote opportunities for collaboration & interaction within & amongst teams  

  • Connect to purpose & promote reflection  

  • Provide autonomy & celebrate success 

  • Schedule time to recharge (sharing, family, hobbies, music). Put boundaries around your work. Implement gratitude practices. Ask for help. Share your stressors appropriately with colleagues. Consider the positive aspects of stress (motivation). Implement self-care and self-compassion strategies.          

  • Develop a course related to your passions. Talk to your department head about your passions. Look for opportunities for collaboration within and outside faculty. Run workshops in areas of passion/hobbies. Learning student names (with name signs) and pronouns. Integrate case studies. Share personal interests/stories as appropriate. Engage in your own work in spaces where students see it (e.g. studio, lab, office). Empower students (e.g. reinforce they are leaders already or as colleagues/scholars with something to contribute). Implement their feedback or communicate why you can’t and that they have been heard.        

  • Connect with the community of practice. Invite people for coffee. Share, co-construct and gather feedback on course materials. Recognize/praise your colleagues (e.g. write a letter of support). Connect with real-world challenges. Share project/research ideas. Show up to meetings early to connect with colleagues. Develop a network/community around shared interests. Ask for feedback. Peer mentorship: seek & offer. Invite special guest speakers. Invite students to lead class discussions. Participate in committees and conferences for fresh ideas and connections.

  • Seek opportunities to mentor – helps find purpose/fulfilment. Seek volunteer opportunities in your field. Share all of this with students. Stay focused on the bigger picture. Prepare a teaching philosophy statement and/or portfolio. Reflect on your teaching goals and impact (where are you making a difference? where would you like to further make a difference).    

  • Keep notes of your successes (e.g. after class, at end of the week). Set clear and achievable monthly and annual goals – have a plan for celebrating them (e.g. wine/coffee with a colleague). Share goals with a mentor/supportive colleague, and even small goals with your class. Create peer support groups to help each other with accountability and perspective. Put up certificates/awards in the office. Share successes on social media/website. Share key successes and learnings at department meetings. Set markers to see improvement in teaching/feedback.

  • Share a personal anecdote. Encourage a growth/learning mindset. Implement incremental tasks. Create low-stakes assignments. Provide choice in assessment. Incorporate student voice in setting deadlines. Discuss established deadlines with other instructors in the department. Provide positive feedback on work. Establish assessment rubrics. Talk to students about how they are handling their workload etc. (5-min check-in). Incorporate mindfulness/contemplative pedagogies. Set time estimates for tasks to manage expectations.  

  • Provide choice in activities. Excite students in finding out what they are good at. Approach topics in multiple ways. Increase interactivity in labs (reporting, changing groups). Apply interest (e.g. making videos) to provide advice to future students. Create space for students to participate verbally and in alternate ways e.g., digitally. Let students teach each other (e.g foster peer learning). Encourage extension – activities related to their interests, articles, and books to stimulate further reading. Bring in real-world connections (help them make meaning).        

  • Facilitate peer learning, problem-solving and discussion activities in and outside of the classroom. Encourage students to get up and move – change seats. Incorporate and provide support (eg. how to do this well) for group projects. Set up mini-conferences or showcase projects. Encourage learners to talk to elbow partners (students next to them). Mention potential for lifelong friendships. Write recommendations for students. Brainstorm common goals for the class. Encourage study groups. Collaboratively identify learning spaces to meet and discuss coursework.  

  • Ask students what most excites them & present/share in a lesson. Model reflection (sharing what you learned from your mistakes). Promote co-op programs and experiential learning opportunities. Be flexible; course-correct if the meaning is getting lost. Provide the context around why the class is meaningful to their academic, personal and professional development. Ask students to reflect on why they are doing the course and share. Get and respond to mid-semester student feedback  – stop, start, continue. Help students see what skills they are honing. Help students focus on their learning goals. Encourage metacognitive activities (e.g. exam wrappers).

  • Share positive and balanced feedback – verbally and during grading. Encourage students to recognize their successes (final reflections). Tutorials – allow students to select from a series of questions to respond to in their assignments. Design open-ended projects to give students choice in a topic that interests them. Encourage them to develop an e-portfolio/CV to build a list of successes from day 1. Add optional assignments to foster a learning mindset. Let students propose their own assignments.  

I encourage all educators to take a moment and reflect upon how this framework could be used to support your and students’ well-being and ability to flourish.  What strategies could you implement in each facet of the PERMA framework to further support your and students’ well-being?

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Beiter, R., Nash, R., McCrady, M., Rhoades, D., Linscomb, M., Clarahan, M., & Sammut, S. (2015). The prevalence and correlates of depression, anxiety, and stress in a sample of college students. Journal of Affective Disorders, 173(2015), 90-96

Catano, V., Francis, L., Haines, T., Kirpalani, H., Shannon, H., Stringer, B., & Lozanzki, L. (2010). Occupational stress in Canadian universities: A national survey. International Journal of Stress Management17(3), 232-258.

Goodman et al. (2017). Measuring well-being: A comparison of subjective well-being and PERMA. The Journal of Positive Psychology. 13(4), 321-332.

Harward, D. W. (2016). Well-being essays and provocations: Significance and implications for higher education.  Pages 3-17. D. Harward (Ed) Well-being and Higher Education: A Strategy for Change and Realization of Education’s Greater Purpose

Kern et al. (2015). A multidimensional approach to measuring well-being in students: Application of the PERMA framework. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(3), 262-271.

Oades et al. (2011). Towards a positive university. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(6), 432-439.

Sabagh, Z., Hall, N. C., & Saroyan, A. (2018). Antecedents, correlates and consequences of faculty burnout. Educational Research60(2), 131-156.

Seligman, M. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Atria books.

Slavin et al. (2012). PERMA: A model for institutional leadership and cultural change. Academic Medicine. 87, 1481.