Early support model for students
- Education and teaching | Supervision of students | Supporting the well-being of students
- Student's guide | Student life | Well-being
Background: the purpose of the Early Support model is to help staff members identify students in distress and offer them support as early on as possible. All the members of our university community are responsible for fostering a safe and supportive campus atmosphere.
Purpose: the Early Support Model helps you address your concerns about the wellbeing of a student. It is not intended to encourage staff members to intentionally go looking for problems. These guidelines offers advice to staff members who are worried about the wellbeing or behaviour of a student. As students may encounter problems caused by a variety of academic, personal or practical issues, often the best way forward is to ask the student directly if you could help.
To whom: the Early Support Model is intended as a tool for all staff at Tampere Universities. All teachers and staff members involved in student counselling and guidance are obligated to offer support to students in distress.
Principles of the Early Support Model:
- Offer help or refer the student on to someone else
Read the entire guide:
Early Support Model - guidelines for responding to students in distress
The purpose of the Early Support model is to help staff members identify students in distress and offer them support as early on as possible. The Early Support Model helps you address your concerns about the wellbeing of a student. It is not intended to encourage staff members to intentionally go looking for problems. All the members of our university community are responsible for fostering a safe and supportive campus atmosphere.
These guidelines offers advice to staff members who are concerned about the wellbeing or behaviour of a student. As students may encounter problems caused by a variety of academic, personal or practical issues, often the best way forward is to ask the student directly if you could help.
The Early Support Model is intended as a tool for all staff at Tampere Universities All teachers and staff members involved in student counselling and guidance are obligated to offer support to students in distress. You can follow these three steps to help a student who is causing you concern:
- Provide counselling or refer the student on to someone else
Principles of applying these guidelines:
Offer support early on
Discuss your concerns with the student as early on as possible. It shows that you care: there is no reason to be embarrassed if your concerns turn out to be unfounded.
Respect the student
Tell the student that you are concerned about his or her wellbeing. Going behind the student’s back does not inspire trust, and all individuals have the right to decide how to deal with their own problems. Do not talk about the student's issues with others (or forward any emails that the student may send you), unless you have clearly agreed about it with the student. However, if you believe that a student may pose a threat of imminent danger of harm to him/herself or others, you must take immediate action and contact the appropriate public service.
Draw a line between teaching a class and supporting an individual student in distress
Assess whether you should discuss the situation face-to-face with the student or whether it might be enough to make general comments while teaching a class. For example, if you are giving a lecture, you could go over the assignment instructions one more time or tell where students can find additional materials concerning a specific assignment type or the development of study skills. You can also remind the entire class of the available counselling and support services. If necessary, arrange to meet the student in person outside of class. Even if a student is in distress, a classroom or lecture hall is not the right place to talk about it. The other students attending the same class should be given the chance to focus on their studies.
Accept other people’s differences
If a student behaves unusually or strangely, it is not necessarily a sign of illness, defiance, lack of respect or indifference. The student may suffer from social anxiety or have learning difficulties or an autism spectrum disorder.
Observations versus interpretations
As we humans are naturally inclined to make interpretations of the things that we see and hear, we should consciously separate our concrete observations from our interpretations. We can make observations of a student’s appearance, behaviour, conduct or ability to communicate. When we make interpretations, we try to identify the reason, for example, why a student behaves in a certain way.
Examples of observations: a student is making slow progress or is unable to complete assignments, he or she looks tense, tired, dejected and does not participate in classroom discussion.
Examples of interpretations: a student is lazy, idle, depressed, indifferent.
Interpretations that are voiced out loud may be extremely insulting. The best way to express your concerns is to talk about your observations.
It may be difficult to make clear and concrete observations or put your concerns into words. You should take a moment to examine your emotions; is the situation making you feel concerned, fearful, annoyed or uncertain? If a student's behaviour evokes an emotion in you, it often means that you should intervene. If you are unsure what to do, you can ask a colleague or an appropriate counsellor for advice.
How to bring up your concerns
Consider in advance what you want to achieve from your discussion with the student. Are you looking to obtain more information, clarify what is going on or encourage the student to seek appropriate help?
It is important that you talk about your own observations and avoid making interpretations. You can say, for example: “I’ve noticed that... I was wondering what this could be about.”
Ask how the student is doing. A simple “How are you?” is a natural way to show that you care and are sincerely interested in the student’s wellbeing. You can also bring up your concerns: “I’ve been concerned about…”
You can bring up concrete observations that you have made about the student and his or her conduct and say that you are concerned. You can ask, for example: “I’ve seen you looking tired and dejected lately. Are you okay?” Or you could say: “I’ve been wondering how you are doing.”
Ask whether there is a reason why the student is frequently absent, late or otherwise struggling with his or her studies. If you suspect that the student may be facing non-academic issues and problems, give the student a chance to tell what is going on. You can ask, for example,: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been absent quite a lot recently and you’ve often handed in your assignments late. I was wondering what is going on.”
You could imagine what you would want others to say to you in a similar situation. Be yourself and listen attentively. The most important thing is to show that you care.
When and how can I help?
All teachers and staff members involved in student counselling and guidance are obligated to offer support to students in distress. Your particular role determines your degree of responsibility.
It is important that you know the boundaries of your particular role. Tampere University and TAMK have issued separate guidelines that outline the guidance and counselling services available to students. These guidelines provide a broad framework of the type of support that staff members are expected to provide to students. Decisions about what support to offer will also depend on your role, whether you have relevant expertise and your personal resources.
If a student has multiple needs, you should make clear the limits to the support that you can offer. You can say, for example: “As a teacher/instructor, I can help you with these questions and we can work on them together. You also mentioned these problems and unfortunately I am unable to help you with them, but you could contact...”
Give support rather than try to solve the student's problems.Sometimes, sympathetic listening will be enough. You are not expected to solve the student’s personal problems.
Allow the student to vent, but do not probe the student for more than he or she is willing to share. Listen attentively but do not put pressure on the student to make decisions then and there. You can discuss the various support options available to the student, but ultimately the student decides whether to avail of these options.
If you do not know how to proceed, take a time-out. It may be enough to take a moment to reflect in the middle of the discussion. If necessary, say that you need to think over what is the best way to help and arrange to see the student again. In the meantime, you will be able to look into the situation and consult a professional.
Teachers and instructors do not need to be perfect. If you notice later on that your course of action was not the right one, it is usually possible to rectify the situation by talking with the student.
If you continue to worry about the student and you want to remind him or her of the support options, you can, for example, send the student an email: “I have been thinking about our conversation the other day. I wanted to send you details of the available support options, if you feel that it might be helpful to talk about the issues further with a professional.” Send the email only to the student.
How do I refer a student on to another service?
If you are unable to offer the student the kind of support he or she needs, you should refer the student to someone in a more appropriate role. You can use, for example, the following phrases to encourage the student to seek counselling or medical attention: “It might be helpful for you to make an appointment with the student health services or the student counsellor.”
You could also use one of the following phrases or anything else that comes naturally to you:
“I was wondering if you could benefit from a visit to the student health services.”
“In similar situations, many students have found the services of a study counselling psychologist or a student counsellor quite helpful.”
“Please remember that you can always drop by the student counsellor or book an appointment with the student health services.”
Besides the counselling services offered by the University/TAMK, there are other support services available to students, most importantly student health services. If a student has physical or mental health issues or his or her ability to study effectively has been severely reduced, you should advise the student to seek appropriate medical attention.
Usually you should advise students in distress to personally contact the appropriate service. Sometimes it may be necessary for you to offer to make the appointment on the student’s behalf or make the appointment together with the student. This may be the case, if the student suffers from severe social anxiety, or you are very worried about his or her wellbeing, or you suspect that the student will be unable to seek help by him or herself. You must always have the student’s consent for making the appointment. You and the student must clearly agree on the type of service that you will contact and on the extent of the information that you may share with the service provider.
The student may already be receiving appropriate counselling services or medical attention. You can ask the student about this: “Are you already receiving some kind of help or support?" The student decides how much information he or she is willing to share. If the student is already receiving counselling or medical attention, you can focus on providing academic support. Consider the student’s ability to make effective academic progress and ask questions accordingly: “How much do you expect to be able to work for your studies at the moment?”
Students may not always be willing to accept help. You can offer support and encouragement, but ultimately the student decides how to proceed. While the student may not be willing to accept help just yet, the discussion may encourage him or her to seek help later on.
What to do when a student cries
Sometimes students may start crying during an academic advising appointment. The appointment may be the first time when they bring up their problems or the issue may otherwise be sensitive, so crying is a perfectly normal reaction. We often become anxious if someone cries in our presence. If a student cries, stay calm as crying is no emergency.
If a student starts crying, let him or her calm down and “cry it out”. You can offer the student a tissue. Show to the student that you are listening attentively and are not rushed. Put down your pen and papers or put your bag on the floor. Even if you have an imminent appointment, try to take a minute to stop and listen.
As the student may be embarrassed, it is important to reassure him or her that crying is normal and there is no reason to be embarrassed. Help the student overcome the embarrassment by saying, for example: “These things happen, there’s nothing to worry about”.
After the student calms down, you can continue the original discussion. If it seems necessary and comes naturally, you can offer the student the opportunity to share his or her feelings. If you are busy, say so and offer time later.
You can also steer the conversation towards the options available for the student to continue his or her studies:
“What could you do next about this?”
“Should we talk about what you could do next?
“How much do you expect to be able to work for your studies at the moment?”
Protect your personal boundaries and wellbeing
We are all responsible for fostering a friendly and inclusive atmosphere on campus. This also means that it is no one’s individual responsibility. We must all take care of our own wellbeing, too.
When you encounter a student in distress, remember what your role at the University/TAMK is. What are the boundaries of your particular role? When you are clear about the boundaries of your role, it is easier to protect them.
If you feel out of your depth with the student’s level of distress, ask for advice and refer the student to someone in a more appropriate role. If you are uncertain, talk with your colleagues, but remember your obligation to maintain confidentiality and only discuss the situation behind closed doors. Do not unnecessarily disclose the student’s name or other details when talking with a colleague. If necessary, you can contact an appropriate professional or service to ask for advice.
Do not take care of others at the expense of your own wellbeing. If dealing with a student in distress feels overwhelming, consult your supervisor and, if necessary, the occupational health services. In a situation like this it is often best to advise the student, for example, to seek professional counselling or medical attention.
Dealing with a student in distress may evoke different thoughts and emotions in you. You should discuss these feelings with your colleagues. However, remember to be discreet and only talk about your own experiences, not the problems that the student is facing. As it is important that you do not carry the weight of guilt or worry, you should contact your supervisor and occupational healthcare services if you need support.
TAMK´s student counselling and wellbeing personnel who you can contact if you are worried about student's situation:
More information: Maiju Ketko, Head of Learning and Wellbeing Support Services