Central to Georgetown’s educational mission is the Jesuit ideal of “Educating the whole person.” This ideal calls for both students and faculty to bring their “whole selves” into the classroom—intellectual curiosity and critical thinking, certainly, but also the full range of human experience and development. And of course, whether we mean to or not, we do bring our full selves everywhere we go. Acknowledging that is getting more and more important. According to a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article, we're facing "a mental-health crisis on American college campuses." Faculty have an important role to play in addressing this crisis.
Campus Safety Net
The idea of “care for the whole person” can be realized in many different ways. One way that faculty can care for students is to equip themselves with resources to help students who may be struggling. Georgetown’s Student Outreach and Support has compiled a guide to recognizing and supporting students in distress. It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with campus organizations such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Education Services (HES), the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access (CMEA), and the LGBTQ Resource Center, as well as, more broadly, confidential counseling resources for all sorts of student concerns and needs, including crisis intervention and counseling services around sexual assault.
The Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning
Georgetown’s Engelhard Project embodies the mission of “educating the whole person” by providing a framework for faculty who wish to integrate issues of health and wellness into their courses. Using a curriculum infusion model, Engelhard faculty fellows partner with campus health professionals to link health topics with academic course content, not only empowering students to learn about the health topics but also making the academic course content relevant to their lives outside the classroom. Visit the Engelhard Project website to read course profiles and to learn more about the project.
Bringing Well-Being into Your Classroom
A few questions to consider:
- What would it mean to adopt learning goals that go beyond intellectual objectives (e.g., mastering concepts and academic skills) to invite personal development? For example, students in your course might be able to develop an excitement for the field; a feeling of well-earned self-confidence; a greater understanding of their own life experience, values, and long-term objectives; a sense of purpose; and/or a physically healthier approach to work, studying, nutrition, and/or exercise.
- Perhaps most important, in an era when student mental health is an increasing concern and when national and international events are adding considerable stress to already-considerable academic stress, in what ways can you teach students resilience in the face of challenge? Among other things, you could spend class time on responding to academic setbacks in your course constructively, on how exactly to learn from likely mistakes. You could start class by asking students, particularly around midterms and finals, to share strategies for handling stress of all kinds. You could share campus resources. And see below for more in-class activities designed to promote well-being.
- Could you get to know your students better as individuals? Georgetown is also driven by the Jesuit value of cura personalis, “individualized attention to the needs of the other, distinct respect for his or her unique circumstances and concerns, and an appropriate appreciation for his or her particular gifts and insights.” Do you demonstrate an interest in students’ lives? Where possible, get to know your students’ names and also their varied experiences, strengths, and struggles, many of which could prove relevant to a powerful learning experience. You can draw out these individualities in office hours—encouraging students to attend office hours is a great idea for many reasons—but you can also use class discussions, exercises, and/or written assignments that invite self-reflection.
- Do you cultivate an awareness of how cultural factors (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, disability status, etc.) can impact students’ engagement with your course and its particular material? Do you keep track of events (global, national, local, and campus) that could impact that learning and perhaps interact with cultural factors as well? For example, if violence directed at a particular racial group reaches the news, it might well be on many students’ minds, and some more than others. In other words, are you aware of the ways in which students’ out-of-class experiences are affecting them, or the fact that any two students, based on cultural factors, might be having very different experiences in life and in your course?
- Could your course include activities designed to promote well-being (e.g., mindfulness exercises, meditation, pauses for a few deep breaths and/or stretching, student self-monitoring of health behaviors and/or emotional responses to course material, starting class with a pause to set aside nagging distractions)? These activities are likely to prove beneficial not only to students’ well-being but also to their ability to engage and master course material.
- What aspects of student development are you assessing in your course? In other words, how will you know that students have attained the course’s well-being goals? In addition to testing the knowledge and disciplinary abilities students have acquired, you could also gather information on ethical, personal, and/or emotional growth. The same self-reflective activities you use to get to know them—conversations, writing, and individual and collaborative group exercises—can also provide evidence on their holistic maturation.
Georgetown Professor Jason Tilan talks about the potential benefits of using technology to teach to the whole person
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Opening Up to Students
Inviting students to bring their complete selves into the classroom requires faculty to do the same in some way. In the video about the Engelhard Project below, several faculty members share their compelling stories about how opening up to students can create a foundation of trust to build a true community in the classroom, one that makes the learning experience more powerful for all.
The Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning focuses on teaching to the whole student
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For further examples of how Georgetown faculty have brought well-being into their classrooms, check out our Engelhard Course Profiles page.
Please reach out to us at email@example.com if you'd like to have a conversation with someone at CNDLS about these or other teaching issues.