With a new website, the U of T professor seeks to create a path to well-being
“As we are swept away by waves of grief or fires of rage, global pandemic, climate catastrophe and social injustice, can we channel our energies into strengths?” The University of Toronto Frances Garrett hope the answer will be “yes”.
Garrett, an associate professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies in the Department of Religious Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto, posed the question on her recently launched website Windvane, which brings together resources designed to help students understand and track their well-being.
“During the pandemic, all of my online classes included assignments aimed at promoting student well-being because, I thought, people need to take care of themselves more than ever during this stressful time,” says Garrett, who is also director of Buddhism. , psychology and mental health program at New College.
“A lot of students appreciated this homework and said, ‘I never thought I should or could take care of myself.’ They found it very beneficial and I decided that I should make this self-care work a bigger project.
Windvane is a collection of thoughts, ideas, exercises, and practical resources to help students and other members of the University of Toronto community “put student growth at the center of course design.” post-secondary”.
It draws on the knowledge Garrett has accumulated over a career that has included studying the relationship between Buddhism and medicine, Buddhist travelogues, and nature writing in Himalayan mountain cultures. . She also practices experiential learning and outdoor education, and has a particular interest in supporting student well-being.
Among the resources are video interviews featuring U of T faculty, students, alumni, and community staff reflecting and offering advice on a myriad of topics.
For example, Alistair Dias is an associate professor, teaching component, in the human biology program. In a series of videos, he explains how a strong mind-body connection is beneficial for healing physical and mental conditions – and that by strengthening the mind-body connection through mindfulness, we can enhance the brain’s ability to s adapt and change.
Marsha Hewitt is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies and the Faculty of Theology at Trinity College. Among a variety of topics, she discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has traumatized us globally and how “now more than ever, it’s important that educators show deep care for their students.”
The site describes the practice of using movement and physical activity – not just to get into shape or make our bodies look a certain way – but as “a pathway to learning about deep presence”.
In the section describing the practice of meditation, students learn about the mindfulness exercise of focused attention and how learning to focus is important for “quieting our minds, calming our anxieties, and strengthening our ability to choose presence.” .
There is also advice on “putting Windvane into practice” by developing a personal wellness plan.
Windvane reflects Garrett’s view that the popular “welfare movement” neglects the understanding that an individual’s well-being often depends on their social, political, and cultural circumstances. What it means to be well depends on individual factors.
In other words, well-being is different for everyone.
Windvane also provides practical help in achieving well-being with guidance in practices such as creativity, breathing, eating well and listening to music.
“If we experience racism, or if we live in poverty, or if we experience sexism or homophobia, or something else that impacts our well-being,” she says, “ we can’t just go and meditate on a cushion or take a yoga class and make those things go away.
“We need to think about what wellness means to each of us as individuals. It may be different for you and me, and for people from different cultures. We need to consider what is within our power and what needs more collective action with the support of other people and institutions.
The project is supported by eCampus Ontario’s Virtual Learning Strategies program, which provides funding to improve access and innovation to digital resources for Ontario students.
“Windvane is for students,” says Garrett. “But it’s also for instructors, because I would like this project to be used by all instructors of all disciplines in the classroom. Many of them think, “I’m not a psychologist; I am not qualified to teach wellness. Windvane is an attempt to give instructors the tools and the confidence to include something like this in their lessons, no matter what subject they teach.
“As university professors, it is our responsibility to address well-being in our courses. It just doesn’t make sense to have a classroom where you don’t address the current reality of students’ lives.