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School of Education Healthy Learning Initiative

May 31, 2023

In line with WGU’s mission to “change lives for the better by creating pathways to opportunity,” Dr. Mamie L. Pack began to lead the School of Education’s Healthy Learning Initiative in 2022. Central to the work are six Healthy Learning pillars: Social Emotional Learning; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Professional Dispositions and Ethics; Basic Needs; Character Core; and Mental Health. Each pillar is reliant upon and intersects with the others.

Six Healthy Learning Pillars

“We will work to achieve this healthy learning and working environment by braiding our six Healthy Learning Pillars within our curriculum, degree pathways, policies, and practices to create environments where all individuals – faculty, staff, and students – can rise and thrive,” said Pack. “This framework of learning, support, collaboration, and continued professional growth and development provides opportunities for each of us to become our better selves.”

Healthy Learning Vision Statement

Our vision for Healthy Learning is to create curriculum, products, policies, and practices that attract, support, and retain a diverse and engaged body of faculty and students we equip to become influential leaders. These next-gen leaders and learners will champion and model equity, access, inclusion, diversity, ethics, and mutual respect so they can do transformative work at WGU, in their careers, and their communities.

What is a Healthy Learning Environment

Pack defines Healthy Learning environments as safe environments that support individuals' and communities' academic, physical, psychological, and social well-being. “The six pillars provide critical healthy-learning focus areas that are key drivers of student and faculty academic, professional, and personal success,” said Pack. “These six pillars, while being powerful concepts individually, gain collective strength and create a thriving, healthy learning environment.”    

Intentional Integration

“At WGU, we weave these interconnected initiatives to create healthy learning environments that are intentionally designed, cultivated, and championed in a way that facilitates these three outcomes,” said Pack. 

WGU and the School of Education are attracting increasingly diverse students and want to provide them with pathways, cultures, and environments that improve learning outcomes and close attainment gaps.

All Individuals Can Learn

Foundational to this work, and all work in the School of Education is the tenet and shared belief that all individuals can learn. “We create space for students, leadership, faculty, and staff to expand their perspectives, value the lived experiences of others, and create brave spaces for all to rise and thrive,” said Pack. 

Pack says the School of Education maintains a deeply focused lens on the following groups: 

  • First-time, Full-time
  • Students of Color
  • First Generation
  • Low Income  

Impact and Equity

Recent data shows that WGU Teachers College is the largest education preparation program in the nation (2021 NCES) and that the Teachers College is #1 in total education bachelor’s referrals. But critical to its commitment to Equity, Access, and Completion, the Teachers College is in the top 1 percent in the nation of conferrals for Black and Hispanic educators at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. (2020-2021 IPEDS conferral data.)

Restorative Practices

Central to this Healthy Learning work is the integration of a Restorative Practices Framework. “We integrate restorative practices in our healthy learning work as an alternative to punitive disciplinary practices,” said Pack. “Building a restorative community is a transformative process. 

We focus on resolving conflict, repairing harm, equipping learners, healing relationships, and accountability.”

Integrated Professional Learning

“To achieve this transformative and innovative work, we have created a comprehensive, integrated, research-based professional development model to educate and prepare our leaders, faculty, and staff to create healthy learning environments. This integrated approach includes six steps below,” explains Pack.

“The goal is to create an environment where faculty are trained, supported, nurtured, and encouraged to engage in professional learning, act with integrity, assume responsibility for student learning, respond to the needs of a diverse education population and the greater community, and collaborate effectively with others.”

Healthy Learning Guiding Principles at WGU

There are three guiding principles:

  • Build a Sense of Belonging

Research indicates that students who feel a sense of belonging are less likely to drop out and more likely to engage and complete successfully. Belonging also supports a healthy faculty and staff environment. Examples from within the university are restorative practices, space for multi-dimensional learning, a culture of connection and belonging, shift from transactional to transformative.

  • Commit that all Students Can Learn

By committing to this tenet, our faculty and staff embrace an open mindset that allows us to serve each student as an individual, meeting them where they are in their unique journey. This is evidenced by personalized support, empathy, and integration of the pillars into the curriculum.

  • Create Working and Learning Environments Where Students, Faculty, and Staff Can Thrive

Healthy learning environments create a feeling of safety among learners. This is supported through the establishment and launching of healthy learning communities and professional development and curriculum integration of professional learning and dispositions.

Professional Dispositions and Ethics

“As noted in this Learning Community article, the Framework for Professional Dispositions and Ethics is being built to deliver a comprehensive, integrated, research-based model that empowers opportunity for coaching supports geared toward the professional dispositions and ethics required for our students to be successful educators and leaders in their communities, “ said Pack. “Through faculty training and development, and curriculum integration our faculty can model and coach students toward success.”

Character Core

Integral to the braiding of the six pillars is the School of Education’s work with the Character Core Project, thanks to funding from the Kern Family Foundation. This research-driven work ranges from professional learning opportunities for K-12 educators to WGU faculty and staff development and curriculum integration. The project has identified a collection of character qualities that, developed over time through learning and life experiences, can bolster success and thriving with qualities such as curiosity, civic engagement, inclusion, compassion, courage, creativity, humility, and more.

Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health

WGU has a long-standing commitment to Social Emotional Learning and Mental Wellness under the leadership of Hilary Simon, Senior Manager of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) at WGU. SEL is a lifelong process of developing skills​​​​​​​ that contribute to academic and career success, and overall individual and collective well-being. The five domains of SEL are Self Awareness, Self-Management, Interpersonal Communication, Executive Function, and Social Awareness. These domains can be applied in the lives of students, faculty, and staff across work, home, communities, and schools. Visit this page for helpful SEL resources.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

WGU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) program is robust and active, led by Jason Thompson, Vice President, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. DEI initiatives are aimed at building communities that value each individual and encourage open, respectful conversations. WGU is committed to promoting inclusion, respect, and acceptance of differences, equal opportunity, and diversity in all our operations and endeavors. The DEI team hosts the Advance Equity Speaker Series as part of this commitment. Monthly webinars are recorded and available to stream on demand.

Access these Resources to Learn More

WGU is also a founding partner in a national collective - the Healthy Learning Coalition - that aims to unite Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Access Institutions (community colleges and universities), School Districts, Community Groups, and Foundations to promote healthy learning environments. Watch for more on this work later in 2023.

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