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Wellbeing in the Curriculum


When we talk about wellbeing in higher education, it can be hard to know what people mean. Often, it seems that people associate wellbeing and mental health with visible student crisis and see it as a concern of student support services.  

It might, then, feel that wellbeing is unrelated to the curriculum, other than within the context of identifying those students and signposting support. 

However, to me, the curriculum – ie how we facilitate student learning – is an area where we can have huge impacts on student wellbeing, in ways that we might not even realise. Through the curriculum, we show students whether we have taken people like them into account when we have designed our modules, and whether we are open to learning about what this means for our students. In short, we show students whether they matter, and whether they can trust us to believe them when they share their experiences. Whether they truly belong, or whether they should suppress their concerns rather than risk upsetting us by raising these concerns. 

Putting it into practice 

This can feel like an insurmountable challenge: with so many students, and such high workloads, how can we possibly know what each student needs to support their wellbeing? And even if we did, how could we ever put that into practice?  

Embedding Wellbeing into the Curriculum: A Global Compendium of Good Practice contains case studies that aim to release some of the pressure that comes with these questions, demonstrating that we can teach in a way that centres student wellbeing without having to know what is best for each student. In it, we present a series of case studies about how contributors from a variety of contexts promoted student wellbeing in the curriculum. These case studies were elicited and written up by Professor Jo Berry; Fiona Cook; Professor Harriet Dunbar-Morris; and Professor Fran Garrad-Cole. 


Rather than a list of rules to follow, through these case studies we present a collection of teaching approaches and ideas to add to your toolkit, and to consider in your own contexts. What really struck me, during the process of editing this compendium, was the mindset of the contributors and authors: they truly believe in students, and in how they can thrive if trusted and supported to do so as individuals. Their approach was compassionate and practical, collecting ideas from different contexts as well as tips to keep in mind for those who would like to try something similar.  

Lots of people worry about their students’ wellbeing but they don’t always know how to support it in the classroom. This is about raising awareness of simple things that make a big difference.”

Professor Jo Berry, Swansea University

The staff I interviewed for the case studies in this compendium were at pains to share what they had actually done, what pitfalls to avoid, what they would do differently if they were doing it again, and we have also written about how the initiatives can be adapted to other subjects, courses or settings. That’s what I want for staff in my institution, the University of Buckingham, and across the sector.”

 Professor Harriet Dunbar-Morris 

Compassionate and responsive 

From the case studies, it is clear that a compassionate and responsive mindset can set a strong foundation for wellbeing in the curriculum. This can be seen through the ways in which the contributors defined wellbeing, as well as how they put it into action. For example,  

  • Lucinda Richards and Mandip Jheeta (King’s College London) viewed wellbeing as “a two-way connection between student and teacher that makes both feel valued and respected”. Their case study, based in an Undergraduate Psychiatry module, explores what they did to promote that connection.  
  • Fran Garrad-Cole (Bangor University) centred self-compassion in a Psychology module that brought together theory (eg around motivation and positive reframing) and practice, supporting students to evaluate the utility of different approaches for them as they were supported to train for a marathon. 
  • Andy Todd (University of Chester) promoted wellbeing and employability skills in a final year Law Module. Her case study explores, and suggests ways of overcoming, the challenge of how we can support student wellbeing and prepare them for a career in an industry that is associated with expectations that conflict with wellbeing. 

Supporting staff wellbeing 

These case studies are not a list of techniques that you must immediately apply in your practice – not everything will be suitable for every situation. Student wellbeing might feel like yet another way we might “get things wrong” in our teaching, and we want to relieve some of that pressure rather than compound it. Rather, the compendium presents a collection of ideas and approaches that you can consider in relation to your own contexts. I hope it will help you in your goal of promoting student wellbeing in your curriculum, and pose a key question to take forward: How can we support staff wellbeing in the curriculum? 

Download Embedding Wellbeing into the Curriculum: A Global Compendium of Good Practice

About the author: Dr Elliott Spaeth is a visionary leader in the field of Inclusive Practice in Higher Education, with a particular focus on empowering staff to create affirmative environments for disabled and/or neurodivergent students. He is a Senior Consultant in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) for Advance HE, helping institutions transform strategy, policy and practice.

This article has been kindly repurposed from Advance HE and you can read the original here.