Our young people are experiencing an alleged epidemic of mental health problems, especially of anxiety. To set them on a path toward resilience, students need to learn in environments that are both compassionate and challenging. For emotions like fear are not inevitable, hard-wired phenomena but rather malleable configurations of bodily and cognitive changes that we can influence from within (changing how we interpret and make meaning) or from without (changing the situation we’re in). While we in higher ed don’t have much control over the interpretations our students make, we do have a fair amount of control over the policies and practices that shape our new student orientations, the spaces where they eat and breathe and work, and most of all our classrooms or learning management systems.
If we build vibrant living and learning spaces where students feel that they belong, where they feel it is safe to take risks, where they are exposed to novel ideas, where we model open, curious behaviors for them—essentially, where they can strive to play, they will be more likely to make the sorts of mental attributions that are associated with resilience and mental well-being.
We can do this by intentionally shaping our college communities with compassionate challenge in mind—creating learning environments characterized by safety, belongingness, and play.
The Covid-19 pandemic required us to teach in new formats, using technology (some familiar, some less so) in new ways to help our students learn. While at times challenging, our collective experience has shown that we’re willing and able to adapt our teaching methods to overcome such challenges. We’ll reflect on what we’ve learned in this season while exploring how the approaches we’ve gained only strengthen our practice, no matter what format we’re teaching in. And we’ll come to see that the approaches we’ve gained only strengthen our practice in all classes. We can create rewarding teaching and learning interactions that welcome and support today’s students, providing both flexibility and rigor for all.