At TCU, wellness is defined as a positive perspective on life. Wellness is the lifelong pursuit of developing personal values and building awareness of balanced choices to impact healthy behaviors. This allows an individual to see the best version of themselves that enhances the community in which they live. As we look to understand the many challenges our students’ experience, wellness-related issues are a top concern.
According to TCU’s 2018 National College Health Association (NCHA) data, the top 5 self-reported impediments to academic success for TCU students are: (1) stress; (2) anxiety; (3) sleep difficulties; (4) depression; (5) illness. Also included in the top ten are issues related to relationships (family or significant others), substance use, and musculoskeletal issues. Clearly, the demands faced by our students are affecting their ability to thrive. A common mistake seen in higher education is to focus on improving study skills, time management, and test preparation skills and to avoid investing in the wellness of their students. In this Teaching and Learning Conversation we examined the interplay between students’ dimensions of wellness and how a series of minor, but intentional changes made in the classroom can improve student wellbeing and academic success.
Laurie Schreiner (2016) has begun identifying specific characteristics of student success to understand why some students may be successful and other students thrive in college. Through her research we see that there are five core competencies displayed by students who meet the Thriving quotient: (1) Academic Determination; (2) Engaged Learning; (3) Diverse Citizenship; (4) Social Connectedness; (5) Positive Perspective. In order to fully live in to these competencies, Schreiner details the backbone to this process lies in the students’ sense of community. Schreiner’s research has expanded on how best to create a sense of community in our students and one of the most influential components is student-faculty interaction.
Faculty have a dramatic impact on the lived student experience and it is important to understand that positive and negative experiences will carry with the student in to all aspects of life. Luckily, there are intentional ways to strengthen the student-faculty connection while also promoting a positive culture of wellness in the classroom. As described by Schreiner, Noel, Anderson, & Cantwell (2011) when faculty display a genuine interest in a student’s life, make a connection with them on items outside of the classroom, and display authentic respect for their autonomy of learning these positively drive the perceived sense of community in the student. Additionally, faculty have a key role in promoting a life of balance and wellness in our students. Crafting intentional language included in syllabi that supports wellness and inclusion is one way in which faculty can set a foundation for how students experience your class. Expanding on this, Faculty can influence positive behaviors in our students by the structure of assignments and due dates to promote balance.
At TCU, there are a variety of departments dedicated to the health and wellness of our students. These departments provide a variety of training, dialogues, and experiences for students that aim to increase help-seeking behavior and promote positive bystander responses and are eager to bring these topics to the classroom. Creating a sense of community in the classroom, one that embraces wellness does not have to be the sole responsibility of faculty, but spearheading these initiatives to be included in course curriculum sends a strong message to our students that they belong and that we care about them. Faculty have an amazing opportunity to influence the sense of community felt by our students and the promotion of wellness. This felt sense of community is the backbone to a Thriving student.
American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Texas Christian University Executive Summary Spring 2018. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association; 2018.
Schreiner, L. A. (2016). Thriving: Expanding the goal of higher education. In D. W. Harward (Ed.), Well-Being and Higher Education: A Strategy for Change and the Realization of Education’s Greater Purpose (pp. 135-148). Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.
Schreiner, L. A., Noel, P., Anderson, E. “C., & Cantwell, L. (2011). The Impact of Faculty and Staff on High-Risk College Student Persistence. Journal of College Student Development, 52(3), 321–338. doi: 10.1353/csd.2011.0044