IT Teaching Resources

Supporting student well-being

A detailed guide on how to support student well-being online and lessen the mental health impacts of COVID-19

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Key points

  • Recognize that students may be experiencing a higher level of mental distress with lower levels of access to on-campus support systems (e.g., CAPS, student communities, and affinity groups, other campus support staff)
  • Although a home may be a supportive environment conducive to learning for some students, others may be juggling challenges in their home environment that we cannot always perceive, such as strained familial relationships or childcare responsibilities
  • Be flexible and accommodating to students who request accommodations; Consider having an option for Credit/No Credit if your course previously did not offer this option
  • Recognize that concerns with well-being and home environments may not be limited to your students, but to members of the teaching team and to youself, as well; Be flexible and accommodating with yourself, too

Students’ Mental Well-being is at Risk

Much of the early literature on COVID-19’s impact on college students has shown that students with existing mental health illness may be experiencing heightened levels of distress, particularly students with anxiety for whom the uncertainty of COVID-19 can be highly triggering. Even students who have not previously experienced mental health illness are reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even suicidality. Furthermore, although some studies have reported an increase in the quantity of sleep, those same studies have also reported a decrease in quality of sleep. Like all of us, your students may be struggling, and you might not always be able to see that. 

To support students’ well-being, first and foremost, we recommend being generous with accommodations. Some students may not be able to complete the same amount of work that they could in a “typical” quarter; consider offering an extension or “Incomplete” to that student if they express to you that they are struggling to keep up. Last quarter, Stanford’s courses were predominantly mandatory Credit/No Credit. We recognize that a mandatory Credit/No Credit may not be the desired outcome for all of the students in your courses. However, consider adding a Credit/No Credit option if your course previously was Letter Grade only, and ensure students that the quality of feedback they receive will not be altered regardless of the grading option. 

We also know that routine is important for supporting well-being. How can you build routine into your course? During class, try to create a stable routine so that students come into class knowing what to expect. As GSE-IT has discussed in other guides, building a class community is perhaps acutely important while we are in the digital classroom. Accordingly, one example of a classroom routine could be as follows: first 5-10 minutes as community-building time (e.g., an icebreaker, open conversation, surveys, collaborative activity) followed by a set amount of time for lecture and a set amount of time for discussion. However you decide to structure your class, the most important thing is that this structure is consistent. Outside of class, you can incorporate routine through the following approaches: (1) using a standardized Canvas course module shell and (2) setting up any group-work early in the quarter. As you may have seen, GSE-IT has provided instructors with a standardized Canvas template that you can use to insert course readings, pre-class materials, and any assessments. We highly recommend using some or all of this template so that students have consistency among their courses and can easily access information from all of their courses. Furthermore, if your course has any group projects, try to provide scaffolding for these projects early in the quarter so that groups have time to set-up a meeting routine amongst themselves.  

Home Risk and Protective Factors for Students 

Every person has a unique set of protective and risk factors with which they must deal. These factors occur at the level of the individual, their family, and their community. Protective factors, such as high self-esteem, supportive relationships with family members, and safe communities, can help a student thrive. Risk factors, such as mental health illness, family or marital conflict, and unsafe communities, might threaten a students’ ability to do or feel well in your class. 

Although some students may have better access to family, home, and community protective factors that are less accessible while they are at Stanford, other students may be re-exposed to certain risk factors that they do not normally have to navigate while they are on campus. For example, LGBTQ students who may not be “out” to their families may not feel as if they can be their full selves or lack access to supportive campus communities that they normally have. Some students who come from low-income families may need to juggle additional childcare or work responsibilities beyond what they have during a typical quarter. Furthermore, depending on where a student’s home is, they may be in the middle of a COVID-19 hotspot or civil unrest (e.g., what we have been seeing in Portland and, more recently, Chicago). The world exists outside of the student, and we all are navigating very different community environments (as opposed to experiencing life synchronously at Stanford). 

Although it is always impossible to know what a student is grappling with outside of class, there are some things that you can do to help stay informed and make sure you are able to support your students. 

  • Technology accessibility survey from GSE-IT; consider asking students optional questions about their home environment, to which they can share as much or little information as they choose. Some potential questions include:
    • Outside of class, do you have other jobs and/or childcare responsibilities? (Yes/No)
    • Do you feel as if you have access to a consistent, quiet space to attend class? (Yes/No)
    • Is there anything else I should know to better support you? 
  • Consider setting up flexible, by-appointment office hours, as opposed to a set office hours time. Some students may have difficulty making one set of office hours block due to a different time zone or work/childcare responsibilities. 
    • Calendly is a great option for flexible scheduling; it allows students to block off a 30 or 50-minute slot on your calendar based on your availability.
  • Try to avoid setting up discussions such that students feel required to share personal information with other students; you are not aware of the level of privacy these students have in their homes. 

Your Mental Well-being Also Matters 

It is important that you are intentional about supporting your own well-being so that you can better support the well-being of your students, advisees, and/or teaching team. Some small, but meaningful ways you can preserve your well-being are as follows:

  • Acknowledge that the same things with which your students may be struggling (e.g., lack of privacy, the blending of “school” and “home” life) may also be struggles for you. 
    • Many experts recommend that you work in a separate place in your home from where you sleep or relax. 
    • Create spaces that are helpful to you.
  • Pay close attention to who you surround yourself with. 
  • Give yourself a routine, one which ideally consists of 30 minutes or more of exercise (walk, hike, run, or any other physical activity that feels good to you). 
  • Get sunlight and enough Vitamin D. 
  • Be kind to yourself. Do things that nurture your joy. Take time to reflect on what these things might be and write them down. 
  • Treat yourself for small or big milestones met or goals accomplished. This is an interesting time that we are living with as is; adding graduate school or teaching to the equation requires that we celebrate the magnitude of your commitment and dedication to such endeavor.


Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)
Stanford Graduate Life Office (GLO) Resources
GSE Technology Accessibility Survey
Teaching to Meet the Moment, CSET podcast series co-produced by GSE IT