How to make campuses and classes more compassionate

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The pandemic was a defining moment for well-being in higher education. Student welfare was already a hot topic before the coronavirus shutdowns began, with universities working hard to ensure the right support is in place, and it is now clearer than ever that this work must continue with vigor. renewed. Everyone should strive to make campuses and programs more compassionate.

In Exeter, where I work, we are currently examining the catalysts and barriers to all institutional approaches to well-being. These considerations relate to areas such as: organizational values ​​and communications; cultural networks and connections for students (especially around social prescription); and pedagogy, conscious learning and assessment models. It seems obvious that making universities more compassionate places can help protect mental health, not to mention encourage students to think more about their learning.

Of course, having the right medical and counseling support in place for students is crucial, but broader social and cultural approaches also have a great capacity to effect change. Higher education institutions are places of transmission of knowledge and skills, but they are also environments where people can collectively develop compassionate and collaborative communities, which will ultimately promote more just forms of education, fair and flourishing for all. To be compassionate is to see education not as a product but as a formative, collaborative and values-based process.

An early – and easy – step may be to encourage peer ‘community connectors’ to connect isolated students to societies and social events on campus, as well as to introduce students to their subject representatives, allies and supporters. champions of inclusion within the student body. Helping students connect with their wider community can also help them overcome feelings of isolation both on and off campus.

Developing resources and support to help faculty create compassionate curricula, designed to make students feel supported and included, is also essential to the task. Ways to integrate wellness into study programs include:

To favor link through co-produce collective agreements with students at the start of the module outlining values, objectives and procedures of conduct and communication.

To be active and promote physical movement and “brain breaks” at appropriate times in the classroom, both face-to-face and virtual spaces. Departmental jogging groups and city heritage walks were also popular.

Take note writing every week wiki or journal entries reflecting the learning journey.

Keep learning by encouraging students to forge links with subject companies and guest lecturers.

Give back creating a wall of gratitude for students to mark the moments, people and contributions that they have found useful and / or for which they are grateful.

Such initiatives have all helped to build morale within the learning community and foster a positive mindset throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, staff also ‘picked up the empathy’ of their communications and programs – a way to signify the behaviors and feelings evoked by a learning process, and a proven way to improve well-being. .

Academics have also infused mental health and wellness themes explicitly into curriculum subjects. In a module on disability studies, for example, students designed and facilitated “slow” seminars in which contemplative observation, reading and writing were integral to the sessions. There is also a “Mindful classics” project on contemplative pedagogies in the teaching of Antiquity. The theology and religion modules on spiritualities involved practitioners of mindfulness, meditation and yoga, and students also had the opportunity to practice them physically (remotely) in the classroom.

Academics who wish to make their university a more compassionate place should also be mindful of the tone of their written comments and ask students about all aspects of the topic, structure, and interface of a module they have found. difficult. Too many assessment points, tasks that are not built gradually to inspire confidence, and cumbersome assessment deadlines are common causes of anxiety and stress.

It is also important to encourage active and meaningful contact, cooperation and peer learning opportunities between face-to-face and online students. Classroom ‘meeting rooms’ and digital after-class discussion / social spaces for students, such as digital cafes and virtual student lounges on e-pod sites, have been helpful in building communities of learning. learning in different spaces.

So what can we learn from this process? On the one hand, just being upfront with students that you have viewed as their well-being in organizational culture and curriculum design can in itself build confidence and security and reduce ( self-) stigma around this issue. Ultimately, including compassion and kindness as institutional values ​​is about ensuring that students don’t just survive – they thrive.

Louise Lawrence is Senior Lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Exeter. She is also the author of Reshaping Universities in the Age of Neoliberalism – Creating Caring Campuses.


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