Faculty Guide: Supporting Students During COVID-19
Stress and Learning
Right now, students are experiencing higher levels of stress as they encounter new barriers and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is important to recognize the ways in which stress impacts learning. Common reactions to stress include:
- Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
- Having difficulty communicating or listening
- Having trouble remembering things
- Having difficulty making decisions
- Feeling anxious or worrying excessively
- Feeling depressed or overwhelmed by sadness
- Increased substance use or abuse
- Having trouble relaxing or sleeping
- Stomachaches, headaches, and other physical aches and pains
All of these symptoms impact your students' ability to learn and participate in your classes. This guide contains tips and ideas for adjustments to accommodate for these changes, as well as resources to support student well-being. (You may find that these resources are helpful for your own well-being, too!)
Tips for Supporting Student Well-Being
- Consider how classroom goals and expectations may need to shift during this unprecedented time. Think about ways to balance the importance of preserving academic rigor with appropriate and creative flexibility on assignments in response to challenging circumstances and additional barriers students may be facing.
- Assume good intentions. While it may be that some students could “take advantage” of the situation or your good intentions, the majority will appreciate the care and concern you demonstrate by being flexible and forgiving with expectations. If you do have concerns about academic integrity, reach out to the Department of Student Rights and Community Standards for guidance.
- When possible, make learning asynchronous. For students currently scattered all over the world, the extra flexibility provided by asynchronous classes makes a big difference. Record your lectures and allow students to watch them as an alternative to a live Zoom class. It may not be your - or their - favorite teaching/learning style, but it will go a long way in creating equity in the classroom.
- Survey students about their access to technology, tools, and platforms. Ask your students what would be most accessible for them, and try to use those platforms and tools. When possible, go low-tech. Social distancing has resulted in increased screen fatigue, and students may appreciate assignments that don’t require more screen time. If you are concerned about a student’s lack of access to necessary resources, contact the Student Emergency Fund at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Remember to consider appropriate supports for students with disabilities, which may have shifted with the switch to online learning. Reach out to Student Accessibility Support for assistance.
- Respect students' privacy on Zoom. While it’s understandable to prefer speaking to attentive faces on Zoom, it’s important to give students permission to turn off their cameras. Students are Zooming in from their private spaces, and may not wish to share those spaces with you or classmates for a number of reasons. Give them the option to choose whether or not to provide the class a literal window into their private life.
- Be conscientious about discussing the pandemic. Some students may be seeking opportunities to discuss and process the news about COVID-19. However, others may be overwhelmed and seeking a break from conversations about COVID-19. You might consider checking in with students to see where they're at before beginning a discussion on COVID-19.
- Consider timing deadlines in order to promote healthy sleep. We know that sleep is extremely important to support physical health and mental well-being. One way to support sleep is to shift assignment deadlines to 5:00 pm rather than 11:59 pm.
- Offer your support outside of class, to the degree you feel comfortable. The “human touch” is so important, but this does not mean that you need to become a mental health counselor. Let students know you care about their well-being, and lean on campus partners for assistance in supporting students whose needs exceed your personal boundaries or professional expertise. (See below for examples of campus resources.)
- Encourage and role model self-care and vulnerability. This situation is as hard on us as it is on students. Be authentic and transparent with your students about your experience and strategies for coping. They will appreciate your honesty and benefit from your example.
What To Do if You're Concerned About a Student
The first step is to notice when a student is struggling. Signs that a student may need help include:
- They stop showing up to classes, answering emails, or logging into LATTE for a significant period of time.
- There is a notable change in their affect or hygiene.
- There is a notable change in the quality or timeliness of their work.
- They share something concerning with you.
The next step is to reach out to the student to ask how they are doing and offer your support. Let them know you’d be happy to connect them with resources they may find helpful. Here is an example of some language you might use for a first outreach:
"I'm reaching out because I've noticed you've missed a couple assignments, and wanted to check in to see if everything was okay. These are hard times, and it makes sense that the amount we’re able to give to certain tasks has shifted. Since this is a change from your prior work, though, I just wanted to reach out and see how you’re doing. Please let me know if there's anything I can do to be supportive; for example, I'd be more than happy to connect you with resources or talk about how you might navigate the rest of the semester."
Share appropriate campus resources with students, depending on their needs or preferences. This may include:
- The Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC): a resource for students struggling with anxiety, depression, grief, and other mental health concerns
- Academic Services: a resource for students struggling with academic responsibilities, study skills, and time management
- Student Accessibility Support: a resource that provides a range of supports for students with disabilities
- Health and Wellness Promotion: a resource for students looking for strategies and tips to support or improve their well-being
- The Center for Spiritual Life: a resource for students struggling with bigger questions about our world and humanity. Their questions or concerns do not have to be connected to any particular religion or faith tradition. The Center for Spiritual Life can also be a useful resource for students who may have experienced the death of a loved one or separation from their faith community.
- Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC): a resource for students who may have been impacted by violence, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating/domestic violence and stalking
- The Student Emergency Fund (email@example.com): a resource for students experiencing financial hardship, homelessness, or lacking access to the technology needed to complete their coursework
If this is an emergency, and you feel there is a threat to the student’s safety or others’ safety, please call emergency services.
If the student is on campus, call Public Safety at 781-736-3333.
If the student is off campus, call 911. If you can, get the student's address to share with emergency services.