Addressing Student Stress At The End Of The Semester
This blog post is the second in a series of posts from NDSU Health Promotion. With the understanding that students’ health and well-being affect every facet of their lives, including their academic performance, we have created a series of posts with information and practical tips for faculty to promote health and well-being in their classroom. For each topic in the series, we asked our peer educators—the Body Project, Healthy Herd Champions, and Violence Prevention Educators—to provide us with their point of view as students, and we have incorporated their feedback throughout each post.
This post focuses on addressing student stress at the end of the semester, while a future post will focus on addressing student stress at the beginning of the semester.
Student Stress During Dead Week and Finals
As we head into the end of the semester, we know that student stress often rises as we move closer to dead week and finals week. This semester students report that they are feeling more stress than ever due to the challenges of attending college while surviving a global pandemic, and we know that will only intensify in the coming weeks.
Many faculty have also reported feeling that they are spending more time than ever fielding emails from and having discussions with students who are falling behind, feeling overwhelmed, or in crisis.
Fortunately, there are practical ways faculty can ease student stress even during this typically highly stressful time of the semester. Not only will this benefit students by decreasing their stress levels and allowing them to focus more fully on finishing the semester strong, but it will benefit faculty by hopefully lessening the amount of time spent on easing student’s concerns and instead allowing you to focus on the content and goals of your course as you finish your class.
"This semester students report that they are feeling more stress than ever…"
One frequent piece of feedback we received from our peer educators is that big changes in the syllabus or assignments, especially at the last minute, cause them a great deal of stress. Before making a major change at this point in the semester, ask yourself if it’s absolutely necessary.
Would it be possible to keep the syllabus as it is for this semester, and make a note to make the change for the next time you teach the class instead?
It is important to weigh the benefit you feel students may experience from the change you want to make versus the impact of the extra stress they will feel from the change. It is possible that the stress of the change would outweigh any intended benefit.
If you do feel the change is absolutely necessary, it is helpful to explain to students exactly why are you making the change. Tell them how it will benefit them, how it will help them better meet the goals and objectives of the class, and any other reasoning behind the change. Students are able to accept changes more easily if they understand the rationale behind it.
"Students are able to accept changes more easily if they understand the rationale behind it."
Deadlines and Extensions
Another thing to keep in mind is that now more than ever, students are facing many extenuating circumstances and crises. This may not be the time to adhere to a strict deadline policy.
It is understandable that work needs to be submitted in time for you to be able to grade it and turn in grades, and you must consider your own schedule as you make decisions on deadlines – you do not want to increase your own stress by not allowing yourself the time you need to grade assignments. Read more about avoiding burnout. However, if possible, students may greatly benefit from extensions on major projects or other final assignments.
If all of your assignments have a benefit and help your students to meet the goals and objectives of your class, then consider whether it is more important for them to meet a strict deadline, meaning that they may not complete it if they cannot meet the deadline, or if it is more important for them to complete the assignment and benefit from completing it, even if they need an extension.
"This may not be the time to adhere to a strict deadline policy."
Finally, as we head toward the end of the semester, be sure to encourage your students to take their scheduled breaks.
Avoid counting weekend days as part of their time to complete assignments. Although students may still choose to work on the weekends, this will also allow them the freedom to rest if they need to.
Remind students to take breaks as they work and study, and remind them that taking breaks will be more beneficial to them than studying in long stretches of time without breaks.
Consider using a small portion of class time for a brain break, such as doing a fun icebreaker, asking everyone to stand up and leave the classroom for a few minutes, or watching a quick funny video as a class.
Even academic activities can provide a break by changing things up and making them fun and interesting. Add a picture or two of cute or funny animals into your class slides, flip assignments, such as having the students create a quiz instead of taking a quiz, or turn exam review into a game. There are many free websites that can turn review sessions into games such as Jeopardy, bingo, crossword puzzles, or even online escape rooms in which students must solve problems correctly in order to solve the puzzle and escape the virtual room. Read more about the way we learn.
Remind students to take breaks as they work and study…
Finally, ensure students know there are resources available on campus if they need them.
Student Health Service, in the Wallman Wellness Center, provides preventive, acute and chronic care to enrolled and eligible NDSU students. Students may schedule an appointment with Student Health Service online through the secure Student Health Portal or by calling the clinic at (701) 231-7331.
The Counseling Center, in Ceres Hall, is available to help students deal with any personal/emotional concerns that might arise during the school year, and their services are free to students. Students can call to schedule an appointment at 701-231-7671.
Both Student Health Service and the Counseling Center also offer additional information and resources for students on their department websites. Teaching students online or in the Hyflex model may make it more difficult to recognize students in distress, read more on how to identify students in distress.
Read the first post in this series titled, How do we promote health and well-being in the classroom?
About the Author:
Antonia Curtis, doctoral candidate in the Developmental Science Ph.D. program, is an NDSU Health Promotion graduate assistant with an emphasis in Sexual Assault Prevention and Advocacy. She wrote this blog post in collaboration with the Health Promotion peer educators.