Why Your School Should Make Wellbeing a #1 Priority in 2021

By Navneet Johal | January 22, 2021 | , | Education, Higher Education, K-12 Education, Student Experience

This is the first in a blog series focusing on mental health and wellbeing in education.

Ask anyone in education what’s top of mind, and they’ll probably mention students’ mental health and wellbeing. Last year, college students reported rapid spikes in anxiety and depression, with 60% saying the pandemic has made it harder to access mental health care, according to a study by the Healthy Minds Network. 

Though the emotional, mental, and physical health of students has been a growing concern in recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed wellbeing into a defining facet of their learning experience. 

Whether it’s a kindergartener starting their educational journey or someone facing their first year in college, the importance of driving student wellbeing has never been more evident. In fact, recent Salesforce.org research shows that 32% of students would like more wellbeing and mental health resources from their institution. 

Student anxiety jumped to 31% from 17% in just six years, according to the National Healthy Minds Study.

Is your institution prepared to be a leader in this new frontier of wellness? How are you going to create a strategy to nurture long-term student wellbeing beyond the COVID-19 pandemic? 

I have some ideas. With the help of technology and other resources, you can create thriving schools and campuses — leading to healthier places to learn, work, and live. I’ve outlined six areas below, which we’ll explore in greater depth in our wellness blog series over the next couple of months. 

Students holding up mental health signs
Last year, Notre Dame students advocated for increased awareness for mental health. Photo courtesy of The Observer.

1. Monitor Mental Health and Wellbeing With Digital Surveys

Wellbeing in education isn’t just about the students. It’s also about the faculty and staff whose health affects student success. Experts and teachers unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements. In a survey by the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the US, 28% of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.

Institutions can empower its staff and faculty with short wellbeing checks online. A simple quiz can help leaders and employees determine their stress levels and understand how to move forward. Some institutions have used this quiz from Thrive Global, the behavior-change technology company founded by Arianna Huffington, which asks 12 simple questions to get insights about where you’re thriving and where you can improve your wellbeing.

The University of Notre Dame surveyed its students last summer and twice during the fall semester to figure out how they were doing. Where were they? What did they need? What were their concerns? And then they met regularly with the students, faculty, and staff to evaluate how they could change their environment or academic requirements to mitigate any additional levels of stress or anxiety. 

Due to the ongoing assessment and surveys, the university was able to make changes that helped students with their mental and emotional health. For example, the university provided more opportunities for outdoor adventures, such as using outdoor athletic spaces where students could watch movies and creating outdoor fire pits where students could relax.

2. Emphasize Wellbeing Campuswide

The counseling center can’t — and shouldn’t — be the only place on a campus responsible for students’ emotional health. While therapists provide treatment, colleges as a whole should focus on prevention. Some students end up at the counseling center because they spiraled into a decline over many months. If they can find support and develop coping skills elsewhere, a crisis may never come. Wellness spaces, coaches, online tools, and noncredit courses can help build that infrastructure. 

Last March, the University of Kentucky was able to quickly pivot to address the emerging pandemic, beginning with a university-wide wellness outreach campaign when it contacted all 30,000 students via phone to check in on their mental health and wellness, and share additional resources. While calling tens of thousands of students was no small feat, the university received assistance from UK’s Salesforce Call Center Campaigns as a means to make the calls.

3. Empower Advisors, Staff, and Faculty With Preventative Measures

Students have come to expect access to digital platforms to enable their experience both on and off campus. In fact, 79% of students say they are more likely to reach out to advisors when technology makes them more accessible. This also extends beyond academic support to mental health, stress management, and overall wellbeing. Over half of students (51%) look to find this kind of support on an institution’s website or via email communications (42%). Institutions, therefore, have an opportunity to increase retention rates and provide a better value by creating digital-first experiences that make it easy for students to stay on track and get help when they need it.

Smiling university student studying at home
Recent Salesforce.org research shows that 32% of students would like more wellbeing and mental health resources from their institution.

4. Use Online Communities for Peers and Professionals

In a Salesforce.org survey, students indicated that online communities were vital to helping them adapt to the realities of the pandemic. Nearly 30% of students said that online communities created a sense of belonging to their institution, and 25 percent said that online communities supported their wellbeing. More than three-quarters said that receiving personalized messages reassured them that their schools still cared about their success. 

Cornell University built an online community powered by Salesforce, called Cornell Chatter, where students can engage with peers, faculty, and staff, and join sub-groups related to their status (new or transferring) and major. Cornell Chatter also offers a Study Space App, through which students can reserve safe, socially distanced places to study on campus. The Cornell Daily Sun reported on how important this has been for students during the COVID-19 pandemic. One said: “It’s just for my own sanity at this point. I just need to get out and change the scenery a little bit.”

5. Operationalize K-12 Equity Through Holistic Student Support

At Salesforce we believe we can apply technology to help K-12 schools and districts connect students with the services they need to thrive — from food and mental health to devices, tutoring, and much more.

Connecting students with the services to fill these needs can prove difficult, especially in an environment turned upside-down by COVID-19. Referral forms get lost, paperwork falls through the cracks, and relying on students to get parent-signed documents creates unique challenges. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) needed a solution to connect a student’s needs from referral to service — efficiently and effectively, prior to and especially during a pandemic. 

Student Success Hub features the right components and groundwork to deliver holistic student support from anywhere and, as OUSD Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell puts it, “operationalize equity”.

OUSD, like most school systems, looks closely at the A-B-Cs — attendance, behavior, and class performance — as indicators for how students are developing and tracking towards graduation. Measuring and evaluating these key indicators often goes beyond just classroom instruction. As a result, OUSD connects students to a range of services and opportunities designed to ensure they are caring, competent, fully-informed critical thinkers who are prepared for college, career, and community success. 

“What’s important is that we’re getting the right services to the right students at the right time to operationalize equity,” says Dr. Johnson-Trammell.

6. Work.com Helps Institutions Put Student and Staff Safety First

For institutions looking for ways to manage employee and student wellness, Work.com for Education Institutions is a great place to start. Work.com offers tools and solutions for managing a crisis, as well as insights and tips from business leaders around the world.

The University of Kentucky uses Work.com solutions to conduct daily wellness assessments and symptom checks of its entire student body, faculty, and staff. They also use it to view data and insights from its community in the Command Center to assess campus readiness and rapidly respond to the changing conditions.

“We are using Salesforce’s Work.com solutions as a springboard for a healthier community, supporting student mental health and wellbeing, and preparing our university to handle any number of future scenarios,” says University of Kentucky President, Dr. Eli Capilouto.

In the new age of education, progress begins long before temperature checks at the door. From monitoring employee wellness to digital surveys, technology enables you to propel your institution forward. 

For more information, download our COVID-19 Education Response Playbook. And stay tuned for the next post in our series focusing on mental health and wellbeing in education.  


About the Author

Navneet Johal, Director of Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org
Navneet
is the director of industry solutions at Salesforce.org, supporting solutions across the student experience. Prior to joining Salesforce, Navneet was a solution director for higher education and research at SAP, and a senior analyst in Ovum, where she led research on the use of technology in higher education. Navneet’s passion for education and technology began when she was teaching in the further education sector in the U.K. for several years before moving to the U.S.