Promoting student mental health through assessment practices, with Kira Smith

Published: 2 November 2023

Reposted from the Teaching for Learning blog from McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services.


Have you ever wondered what the difference is between well-being, wellness, and mental health? Or how students’ learning and well-being are linked? Have you considered what the connections might be among assessment, student performance, and heightened emotions?

Listen in to the first episode of the Teach.Learn.Share miniseries on assessment and well-being – now available on the podcast platform of your choice!

To launch the series, Kira Smith, Student Engagement Officer at McGill’s Office of Science Education, helps us find a working definition for well-being that lays the foundation for the miniseries. Drawing on the results of her graduate studies research, Kira shares recommendations for how instructors can promote sound mental health through their strategies for assessment of student learning.

Research shows that student well-being promotes learning (Keyes et al. 2012El Ansari & Stock, 2010). A means to think about students’ well-being, then, is to focus on learning. In other words, if students feel that they are learning successfully, their well-being is supported.

Assessment for learning involves providing students with low-stakes and timely, incremental opportunities to practice what they are learning. These kinds of formative feedback strategies both foster learning and contribute to healthier learning environments. You can learn more on how to engage your students in feedback dialogue in this Teaching and Learning Knowledge Base resource.

Here are some ways to help support students’ well-being, many of which Kira addresses in our conversation:

  • Prioritize and acknowledge well-being: let your students know that you have their well-being—as well as your own—in mind
  • Provide opportunities for formative feedback: give early and ongoing feedback 
  • Set clear expectations verbally and in writing
  • Define criteria for how students’ learning will be assessed and share these criteria with students before they submit their work
  • Engage students in dialogue about assessment
  • Provide a diversity of assessment tasks (presentations, reports, posters, projects, exams) 

After listening to the podcast, we hope you will be inspired to explore these resources that Kira has compiled to help guide us in learning more:

On students’ mental health

On academic performance and well-being

On student self-esteem

Practical resources for instructors

Stay tuned for episode two of the Teach.Learn.Share miniseries on assessment and well-being, where Char Lewis-Sutherland, a Senior Advisor in McGill’s Equity Team, will challenge us to reflect, dialogue, and act creatively on assessment. Char offers insights on inclusive assessment practices that promote healthier learning environments by effectively supporting all students. They also offer tips on how to keep the focus on learning and not on measuring shortcomings in or out of the classroom.


El Ansari, W., & Stock, C. (2010). Is the health and wellbeing of university students associated with their academic performance? Cross sectional findings from the United KingdomInternational journal of environmental research and public health7(2), 509–527.

Keyes, C. L. M., Eisenberg, D., Perry, G. S., Dube, S. R., Kroenke, K., & Dhingra, S. S. (2012). The relationship of level of positive mental health with current mental disorders in predicting suicidal behavior and academic impairment in college studentsJournal of American College Health60(2), 126–133.

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