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Supporting Students in Distress While Teaching Remotely

Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. It is the sense that one can cope with whatever life presents. Times of rapid change can strain our mental health. The current move to alternate program delivery is one such time.

This page provides suggested actions and resources for faculty and staff who interact with students remotely and want to support their coping with difficult circumstances.

Here are some ideas to think about when you have contact with your students or if you think they may be experiencing difficulty.

  • You have the advantage of interacting with students on a regular schedule. This allows the opportunity for you to notice how students are coping on this continuum. Signs of languishing may look obvious (e.g., not attending online classes, missing assignments or presenting with visible distress). Or they may be more subtle, like a change in behaviour (e.g., becoming less involved in class discussions or not attending to group projects).
  • Checking in on the well-being of your students may feel like an additional responsibility and may require extra time. Know that by “checking in” you are conveying interest and compassion, regardless of how brief the interaction.
  • For the record, there is no way of knowing how well a student is coping based on what you observe. In fact, some people who appear more “emotional” may actually be coping better than a person who looks like they have it all together. That’s why it’s important to reach out and ask.
  • “Checking in” does not make you responsible for offering everything that student may need. (See options for resources below.) Be clear that you want to explore options for support with them. This may also help keep your teacher-student relationship from becoming over-involved.
  • Your inquiry and interaction, regardless of how brief, may have more impact than you realize. When you “notice” and communicate interest, it can have a lasting influence.
  • Remember, offering support options and allowing choice is usually better than assuming a student needs a particular resource. For example, one student may find a crisis line helpful, while another student will never consider this an option. Explore options they are open to.
  • Lastly, you cannot support others if you are not proactive in caring for your own mental health. Connect often with your own supports.

Tips For Checking In On Students

Get permission and be specific: “I am noticing you are often absent from the video lectures. I was hoping I could check in to see how you are doing. Is this a good time?” Or “I would like to check in with you about this. Is after the class lecture today a good time?”

If the student declines to talk to you: “I understand I may not be the first option for you to discuss how things are going. Who do you have to talk to about how you are managing all of these challenges?”

Invitation to use resources: “Can we talk about some options for support to see which ones you are open to?” Or “Are you open to speaking with Student Support Services for more information?”

Assume everyone is resilient: “What are some things that have helped you in the past when things have been difficult?”

Academic support: “If there was one main thing you could add to improve your online learning, what would that be?”

Referrals to resources (when students agree):

  • Counselling Services: Students complete an online intake form and are then contacted to set up an appointment. This is a confidential and voluntary service.
  • Wellness Check: Students complete an online request form, including their telephone number and are contacted for a brief, supportive conversation. Where appropriate, additional referrals are made.
  • Academic Success Centre: Students can access tutoring and support with test preparation, study skills, and more.
  • Crisis in the community:
    • Crisis Response Centre provides a 24/7 walk-in service at 817 Bannatyne Ave. Calling first is preferred: 204-940-1781
    • Klinic Crisis Line provides 24/7 telephone support. Call 204-786-8686
    • Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line is a resource for those thinking of suicide and for those concerned about someone else. Call 1-877-435-7170

Counselling and Accessibility Services is here to offer you support and consultation as needed. Please don’t hesitate to talk to us about a team approach in supporting our students.

To consult, please contact Mark Unruh, Acting Manager of Counselling Services at munruh191@rrc.ca or Breanna Sawatzky, Mental Health Coordinator at blsawatzky@rrc.ca.