Month: March 2020

Mental Health Check-in

Like it or not, we’re starting to settle into our new routines. Gone are the hypotheticals of what ‘quarantine’ / working from home will be like – we’re living that reality now. My new reality = a tow rope for our backyard ski/snowboard hill and 2 newly constructed ‘MTB manual machines’ in my living room (because, why wouldn’t you practice learning how to manual during the COVID crisis?). No, my idea of ‘stocking up’ did not include buying the necessary supplies for a tow rope, and I certainly don’t prefer to decorate my living room with mountain bikes, but yes, it certainly does keep things exciting around here. Needless to say, I am not even remotely in control of my environment anymore. I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling this way. But, that doesn’t make me helpless.

It’s time to focus on self-care. For me, that means a new download on Audible and daily stroller walks with the baby. Working in mental health, and really just higher ed in general, we talk about self-care a lot. Adults are generally just kinda okay at it, but teens and emerging adults might really struggle. Good self-care requires a great understanding of self, the ability to reflect and analyze emotional responses, and some planning. 

Have you checked in on your students yet? Our students may really be struggling with their new confines.  Rough home life, younger siblings, spotty internet, cramped spaces, shared bedrooms, etc. can all be major obstacles to overcome. 

  1. Empower your students. Stuck ≠ helpless. Encourage them to make positive changes in their lives. 
  2. Remember to humanize yourself. Share some of your changes, sprinkle in some humor, love, and wisdom from the hurdles you’re overcoming with your new routines. 
  3. Share resources – did you know that Wellness is posting daily tips on Instagram, FB, and Twitter? Do you have favorite podcasts, books, or shows that help you maintain sanity? 
  4. Start a self-care forum or challenge with your class. Have everyone share ideas on what they’ve done for self care. 
  5. Spend a minute or two on daily gratitude. Give students a minute to breathe, and reflect on what they’re thankful for or what gave them a moment of happiness. Take time to do this during a Zoom lecture, or via a discussion board on Canvas. 

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hearing from others on campus with more tips about the work-life balance and ideas on ways to support your students’ mental health. Stay tuned!

10 Tips for Faculty on Helping with Students’ Mental Health & Well-being

Captain’s Log, Stardate 3192020, it’s been 48 days hours of working at home. My visions of baking bread, getting all the laundry done and crushing online work have been abandoned. An alien race composed of toddlers, teenagers, and a baby have taken over. As I’m writing this, my 3-year-old interrupts “DO YOU TRUST ME?” I glance up and nod, not knowing what I’m agreeing to, as he continues to ride his Strider bike faster and faster through the kitchen, living room and dining room; the baby continues to splash the water out of the dog bowl. It’s only a matter of time before something breaks. 

I plaster a smile on and muscle through my assignment… sharing tips on how to ensure student wellbeing during this time. We must forge on. 

I’m dealing with a little more than normal. I bet you are too. It’s daunting to switch from in-person to online teaching even when you have plenty of time for planning, an IT support person sitting next to you teaching you how to use Zoom and other online tools, and weeks or months to plan out how to translate your material into an online format. Doing this in just a few days is nothing short of amazing. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to check in on your self-care and make sure others are doing okay too. It’s a huge responsibility to play such an important role in your students’ lives right now – they need you to set the precedent for ensuring self-care, mental health, and establishing a routine for success at home. 

As much as I’d like a home office with no distractions, I won’t have that luxury for the next few weeks, and I know many of our students are also stuck at home with younger siblings, well-meaning but sometimes annoying parents, faulty internet connections and a lack of experience in establishing a routine in an unstructured environment. 

(Captain’s log update: the 3-year old and spouse are now having a living room dance party “Alexa, volume 8, play Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” … at least I’m smiling and humming now.)

In all seriousness, we’d like to offer you some tips on how to connect with your students, check in on their wellbeing, and help set them up for a successful finish to their semester. 

  1. Be real. Humanize yourself. We may be a STEM school, but we’re not robots. Show them you’re a real person experiencing a vast range of emotions about adjusting to this new lifestyle. A minute or two sharing your work-from-home experience, perhaps with a little humor sprinkled in, can go a long way. 
  2. Check in. Recent NIA-supported research has shown that long-term social isolation and loneliness have an impact on cognitive abilities and other health issues. Send individual emails opening a line of conversation, and conduct extra office hours via Zoom.
  3. Encourage students to spend time reflecting on their needs for a few minutes each day. Offer extra credit or praise for students who post or share a to-do list or schedule. Share examples of how your own routine has changed since the shift to online. 
  4. Use hopeful and optimistic language. Instead of commiserating over how much it sucks to revamp your class mid-semester, frame the change in words like “we have the opportunity to learn together/try online learning/undergo new challenges.” Use forward-thinking language like, “In the fall, when we’re back on campus…” or “In your job/internship/co-op, these adaptive skills will be valuable.”
  5. Create ways for students to connect with each other. Remember, they may have left behind their roommates, friends, study spaces, church groups and student orgs. That’s a lot to give up all at once. Encourage students in your class to connect using Slack or WhatsApp. It can be nerve-wracking to ask someone for their phone number, help students make the jump by leading the way for these kinds of connections.  
  6. Don’t forget that students learn in many different ways. Ask for regular student feedback on how well they’re learning and what resources they need. Don’t forget, we have a vast range of learners, from those who have excelled at online learning in the past, to students with a learning disability who might struggle reading a webpage that’s not user-friendly. Check in with the CTL to get ideas on how to make your content accessible to students of all learning abilities. #UniversalDesign
  7. Tell students mental health is key. Connect students with resources to help support them. Counseling Services is now offering telecounseling for in-state students, and case management (help finding a new provider) for out-of-state students. Wellness is offering daily tips and suggestions on how to maintain a balanced life through the rest of this semester (@mtu_wellness). Report a Concern to the Dean of Students Office if you notice students struggling academically or emotionally. 
  8. Don’t ignore why we’re all in this boat. Take a few moments to acknowledge the mental health landscape we’re in; there’s a lot of fear and anxiety about COVID-19. Remind your students to check to connect to reliable resources.
  9. Continue to challenge and support your students. Let’s face it, even the most motivated students are likely to struggle with online learning. Keep lessons simple, refer back to lessons that you shared together in class earlier this semester. 
  10. Most importantly, ASK THEM what they need. Now’s the time to open those lines of communication. Students are often afraid to ask, or don’t even realize that they should ask for help in times of need. After years of establishing independence as a teenager, they need help with the transition to adulthood and building a support network. When you can, offer choices to your students: flexible deadlines, multiple options for demonstrating mastery of material (test, slideshow, video, etc.). 

As much as this has become a wrinkle in our plans for this semester, inevitably, we’ll remember how we persevered through a difficult time, systems will become more efficient and new technologies and ways of life will be invented. Let’s be the people who pull together and support each other, remembering our core values of #tenacity and #community, during this unprecedented time. 

Instructor Check-List

_ Email students to connect “I’m here for you”

_ Set up ways for students to connect with each other using Canvas, WhatsApp, Slack or other

_ Ask students what they need for success (do this now and again in 2 weeks)

_ Share resources for help (Counseling Services, Wellness social media, Learning Centers, Dean of Students)

_ Be human. Share stories about your transition to online. 

_ Use positive language (avoid lamenting about the current situation) 

_ Point out student/class successes – i.e. all assignments turned in on time, successful first Zoom lecture, etc.

_ Give students flexibility and choice when you’re able – due dates, type of assignment, etc.

_ Acknowledge increased stress and anxiety (and redirect students to helpful resources)

_ Assume students won’t always have access to reliable internet for streaming video, provide text options and   slide notes whenever possible