“Promising Practices” series from the Student Success and Completion Committee

Mental health issues for college students are ever-increasing, and with the nature of a commuter campus, many students and their struggles may go unnoticed because they don’t stay on campus to talk with us or to inquire about resources. Stress can peak at the midterm point in the semester, and we know we return from spring break with more empty seats and unsubmitted work than we had before the break. So, what can we, as faculty, do to help our students stick it out? Below are a few recommendations and resources that respect our professional limits and still help students who may be struggling. 

  1. Integrate mental-health related readings and writings. Sure, as a writing instructor, there are plenty of opportunities to incorporate readings that inform and empower and to assign writing exercises that ask students to reflect and plan. Not every course is built for this integration as easily, but maybe some opportunities can be found…or created. Sprinkling supplemental information about anxiety or what makes a “good life” throughout the semester, and asking for a short response can go a long way to helping students feel seen.
  2. Offer concrete strategies. Maybe ask students to read quick information about time-management techniques (they so often self-report issues with time management). Then, we could ask them to write SMART goals for the semester, which may include course-specific goals as well as lifestyle ones. Once we’re at the midterm, they can review the SMART goals they set and reflect on their progress with them or perhaps revise them. Students report that this assignment is meaningful and gives them a chance to pause and consider what they value and how they spend their time. Furthermore, they tell me this practice lets them know I care about their well being, which makes them more motivated to persist in the class. 
  3. Check in on wellness. Maybe incorporating readings, reflections, and goal setting would work for you in your course(s), or maybe not. If not, simple strategies such as emailing students following an absence to let them know they were missed in class goes a long way to demonstrate care, as do periodic “temperature checks” to see how they’re doing, what they’re struggling with, and what motivates them to keep going. Here’s an interesting study about why students withdraw.

These are some simple ways to connect with students to let them know we care about their whole being, not just their grade in the course. What about you? What do you do that shows your students you care?

For better or worse, the second half of the spring semester (aka “no-man’s land”) can feel like motivational coaching. As unfamiliar (and forced) as that voice and platform may feel, our words and enthusiasm might just make the difference between students persisting and disappearing. After all, we’re at a community college not only to teach our subjects, but to help students learn the skills and resilience necessary to meet their academic and personal goals. 

Also, here’s a list of helpful resources:

Wishing you all the enthusiasm, patience, grace, and good humor needed to wrap up this spring semester successfully!

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