Our Major Takeaways from The Purposeful Learning Festival 2021

Published by Cathryn Mattimore
on Oct 27, 2021

In case you missed it, throughout the month of September, O’Donnell Learn hosted a virtual festival seeking to bring awareness to student mental health and well-being. Over a series of 7 virtual sessions, we discussed strategies for educators to support student success and ways to craft learning environments that support learner well-being, especially during uncertain times. Here are our key takeaways from the Purposeful Learning Festival 2021.

Culturally Inclusive Mental Health

In our first session hosted by Erlinda Delacruz from the JED foundation, we discussed how marginalized and underrepresented groups often face unique obstacles and have less access to mental health resources. In response to this, pedagogy should be rooted in equity, giving all learners the tools they need to be healthy and successful.

Growth and Healing Through Trauma-Informed Education

Dr. Mays Imad led a keynote discussion on trauma-informed education and why, given modern underlying collective trauma, it’s so necessary now. Dr. Imad underscored the importance of humanizing instruction by calling educators to see learners for their individual experiences and ultimately recognize the underlying humanness of learning. We learned that the classroom is one powerful realm for healing but cannot not be the only resource. She cited the power of community to serve as a healing force to cultivate greater wellbeing.

Student Voices on Mental Health and Learning (Live Panel)

In this session, we spoke with four current students in higher education – Manuella Alarca, Christa Elrod, Mark Lannaman, and Kristina Tucker – who offered their experience with mental health through their unique perspectives. Notably, the panelists spoke to the need for inclusion, accessibility, and more faculty understanding and compassion. These scholars unanimously called for improved mental health resources for all students and the need for broader access to care across campuses.

Visit our Student Voices page to hear from more current learners and recent alumni who describe, in their own words, what they want on their campuses regarding support for mental health and wellness.

Healthy Minds, Strong Learning: Charting a Course to a More Aware Community and Sustainable Mental Health Care

This session featured the University of North Carolina Systems where they presented on how they’re utilizing the $5M grant they received to address mental health concerns across the UNC System. We learned more about one implementation initiative in particular, which is the incorporation of Mental Health First Aid. This program serves as a training resource for faculty and University staff so that they can be better equipped at identifying at-risk learners. UNC seeks to train 10,000 faculty across 116 North Carolina higher education institutions.

Student Support Coaching: A University Superpower

Facilitated by Dr. Rita Gloria Sawyer, Director of Student Success, InSource Services Group (ISG) provided an overview of Student Success Coaching in higher education and why it’s a critical ingredient in learner success. We learned that a central goal of Student Success coaching is to create a space where learners experience connection. Connection helps promote mental health and wellness amongst learners.

Not only should students feel connected to their Success Coach, but coaches and learners work together to help the student cultivate connection to their larger community and identify future academic goals. By working directly with learners to instill a sense of purpose and provide guidance, coaching has the transformative potential to help students be successful.

Embracing Your Authentic Self With Care

Dr. Sam Johnston from CAST led a discussion about the importance of self care and remaining in tune with your authentic self. We learned more about how these practices support educators craft more meaningful learning experiences. Importantly, educators should embrace imperfection and channel their own authenticity. This serves as a catalyst for learners to engage in transformative educational work, grounded in honesty and openness.

You Can Help – Recognizing Signs of Distress Among Youth and Young Adults

Presented in partnership with JED Foundation, Ryan Bunts and Thea Zunick led a discussion identifying signs of turmoil amongst youth and young adults. We learned more about the prevalence of mental illness amongst college students, especially since the onset of quarantine. Students are experiencing increased anger, increased anxiety, higher rates of substance abuse and triggered PTSD. To alleviate some of this collective heavy weight, educators will need to create a supportive learning environment sensitive to these increased modern stressors. Educators must make it known to their students that they are a resource during these uncertain times. We learned about the importance of listening to your gut and intuition, and that if you sense something is wrong, there probably is. Finally, it’s imperative that educators seek outside help when they sense something is wrong.

We hope these sessions have been transformative and useful to you, in your path to enhance your craft and to support all learners. It is our hope that you’ll join us to continue this vital conversation about mental health. We invite you to join us again for future festivals where we’ll seek to excite and empower you to design inclusive and meaningful learning experiences. As we’ve seen, student mental health has many complexities, but we will continue to strive to be grounded in equity, and to support all learners on their many unique paths toward academic success.

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