Student Wellbeing and Classroom Climate

On February 8, 2017 Patty Hambler, Director of Student Wellbeing Promotions and Michael Lee, Senior Instructor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy co-faciliated a Classroom Climate workshop titled “Supporting the Student as a Whole Person: Exploring Connections Between Instructional Practices, Learning, and Wellbeing.”

Michael Lee, Senior Instructor, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

Michael Lee, Senior Instructor, Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy

The session provided an overview of a TLEF- funded project that sought to identify teaching practices that are effective at both promoting effective learning and supporting student wellbeing.  Facilitators Patty and Michael provided an overview of the three themes that emerged from the TLEF-project, How Teaching Practices Influence Student Mental Health and Wellbeing:

  1. Effective teaching strategies – Students are motivated to learn and feel they are learning successfully
  2. Belonging & social inclusion – Students feel connected to their peers and instructors
  3. Support the whole student – Instructors recognize that the students’ experiences extend beyond academics  

There is a body of research that has identified specific teaching practices that promote student learning in higher education, and research has shown that mental health and wellbeing promotes student learning. The Teaching Practices and Student Wellbeing Project emerged in recognition of a gap in the literature on teaching practices that promote student wellbeing. The project used mixed methods to identify teaching practices that promote student mental health and wellbeing in the Faculties of Arts and Science.

During the workshop, Patty and Micheal shared some of the outcomes of their research and also encouraged participants to share what they are already doing to support the “whole student.” In addition to examples and quotations that helped to explore the idea of what support for the whole student looks like in a classroom environment, the session also included small group discussions to dive into key topic areas such as supporting students in distress and approaching evaluation as a venue to care for the whole student.


Above: Small group conversations during the workshop. Participants were particularly interested in discussing the theme of “creating a safe classroom climate,” especially relating to times when difficult conversations come up in the classroom.

The session emphasized the importance of recognizing that learning takes place in the context of a students’ life and acknowledging that student experiences extend beyond academics.   Students have indicated that instructors who acknowledge, respect and support these other aspects of their lives promote wellbeing. Principal Investigator on the Wellbeing TLEF, Michael Lee, shared some of the strategies he uses in the classroom to reduce stress for students, including:

  • inviting volunteers to take on roles within groups such as secretary or scribe to model, value, and acknowledge different modes of participation
  • involving students in the development of grading rubrics and
  • creating an Office Hours checklist for students to complete in order to best prepare to meet with the instructor.

The broader theme of supporting the whole student relates to classroom climate  – specifically with regards to the sub-theme from the research on ‘creating a safe classroom climate’Participants were particularly interested in discussing this theme, especially relating to times when difficult conversations come up in the classroom. As the TLEF research revealed, the concept of a safe classroom environment seems to be closely aligned with the instructor-student relationship and peer-relationships. A safe classroom climate promotes relationship building; however, establishing relationships also helps create a safe classroom climate. Further, a safe classroom climate seems to support student learning by helping students connect with others and participate more fully in learning activities. Creating an environment where students can feel safe to make mistakes during the learning process and not feel judged for holding a different opinion than the instructor or their classmates was identified as a key consideration for classroom climate.