During the pandemic, educators introduced a number of changes in how school work was delivered in order reduce the burden on both staff and students that came with working remotely, while trying to preserver as much learning as possible. This included cancelling in-person exams, reducing workloads, and in some instances, reducing the length of the school day. Students who were able to work independently fared better. Those who could not fell behind.
Despite the return to the classroom and in-person learning, high levels of stress persist, along with significant deficits in the study and coping skills that students are expected to have and need in order to excel. This situation is concerning and remains dire in some instances, promoting some schools to discuss the possibility of introducing a week-long break for students and staff during the fall term, much like at university.1,2
The pandemic introduced a number of new concerns for students (e.g., about infection and vaccines) and exacerbated several long-standing challenges (e.g., managing workloads) that have existed for many years. Students face so many different sources of stress throughout their school years, stress associated with finding friends and fitting in, managing parental expectations and romantic relationships, as well as dealing with bullying, harassment and trauma while staying on top of the workload and coping with all of the worry associated with doing well on tests, projects and exams.
Despite the wide range of sources of stress among students, several large-scale studies have now confirmed that the number one source of stress among high school students is, in fact, school itself, most of which is related to difficulties managing the workload and worries about whether or not they will succeed3.
Teach success and well-being skills
Our focus at the Learning and Wellbeing Project has been on teaching the skills needed to maximize learning and foster well-being. These are skills that most students, educators and parents have heard about (e.g., time management, mindfulness) but which have not been fully acquired or routinely utilized. These are also skills that many schools have taught students at different times during their education. Still, these are skills that, in our experience, frequently remain underutilized or too often dismissed or overlooked by some parents, teachers and students.
But as you know, these skills — both learning and well-being skills — work best when they are used hand-in-hand. Coping skills, such as relaxation breathing and fact-checking doubts, worries and what-ifs, work best alongside study skills, such as effective time management and goal setting. Focussing on just one or the other is a missed opportunity and may not be effective. No amount of relaxation breathing will change the fact that you are not getting your work done. Both need to happen simultaneously, and both can.
The Success and Wellbeing Workshop can be delivered to students, educators and parents in sixty minutes. All attendees are provided access to the wealth of resources from the Learning and Wellbeing Project which are located on this website.
Why do we focus on skills?
We focus on skills for a number of reasons. First, skills are the building blocks of change. In our experience, the best way to improve academic performance is to focus on the skills that make students efficient and effective learners, rather focussing on grades. When the focus is on learning efficient and effective strategies, good grades usually follow and it is a whole lot less stressful.
Second, learning a skill is manageable. We know that many students have multiple learning skill deficits. Starting with one or two is a lot easier for students and, again, a whole lot less stressful than trying to tackle everything at once. Pick one or two and start, then add another.
Third, skills are relatively easy to acquire (although harder to master). With a bit of practice every day, most students improve. We have created a series of ultra-brief worksheets designed to help students acquire these skills as quickly and as easily as possible.
And finally, skills are scalable in that you can teach skills to one or two people or entire classrooms at a time.
More about the presentation
The Success and Wellbing Workshop was designed for high school students. During this 60-minute presentation, you will learn about seven of the most important, easily acquired and effective skills that have been shown to improve both mental health and academic success. The skills can be easily acquired and, with practice, mastered.
As much as we enjoy meeting with students and teachers face to face, the seminar can be delivered effectively over a secure video link (e.g., Zoom, Google meets, Doxy).
The presentation was developed by the Learning and Wellbeing Team at the University of Ottawa, which is directed by Dr. Santor, a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, and clinical psychologist, with over 25 years of experience teaching undergraduate students. Our presenters are health promotion and learning experts, with years of experience, as students, mental health coaches and counsellors.
Topics covered include:
- Skill#1: Scheduling: Making it all fit.
- Skill #2: Relaxation breathing & mindfulness
- Skill #3: Active recall: How to beat the forgetting curve
- Skill #4: Dealing with negative thoughts, doubts, and what-ifs
- Skill #5: The extraordinary benefit of sleep
- Skill #6: Goal-setting & GRIT
- Skill #7: Knowing when to ask for help.
After the workshop:
Developing skills takes time. All participants will be provided with ultra-brief worksheets designed to accelerate that acquisition of skills.
Booking a presentation:
We would welcome the opportunity to your students, teachers and parents. We recognize that it is not always possible or convenient to meet in person, so we would be happy to schedule a virtual presentation. We know how busy the school year gets. The best way to get started is to think about a time that works for you and your students, and we will try to accommodate your schedule.
Here are a number of possibilities, all of which can work well.
Option 1: Small group with students (and a few teachers).
If you have a large class of grade 11 or 12 students, we would be happy to deliver the presentation to your class, depending on whether our availability aligns with your schedule.
Option 2: Large group with students (with teachers).
You might also think about holding a presentation for all grade 11 or 12 students. Although large groups are not necessarily conducive to asking questions, you might give students the task of generating some questions they may have about college or university, which a student representative can ask us during the Q&A.
Option 3: Large group with parents and students.
You might also consider having us present as part of a parent information night about getting ready for college and university. Parents are a critical part of student’s success at school. Involving them right from the start can help both students and parents manage this important transition in their lives.
Option 4: Let brainstorm a solution together
We are open to working with schools and school boards on how to make all of these resources available to students, parents and educators.
Don’t have any time for workshops and presentations?
We hear you. As much as we would enjoy coming to talk to you and your students, we recognize that you may not have time in your schedule.
You can still get started on learning these skills on your own and as a class. Have your students browse the list of skills and a class select one or two that you would like to do together.
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