A Focus on Focus Week

By Daniel Clapp, Lyndsay Grimm, Jane Wilson

    CC image courtesy of Clapp, Grimm, & Wilson.

    To strengthen both academic and co-curricular efforts, our Student Life Division at Westmont College selects an educational emphasis each year that strategically aligns with the goals of the college. In 2014-2015, we focused programming efforts on ways to strengthen physical and emotional health, believing this could enhance students’ overall well-being. The character strengths of gratitude and resilience were seen as key ingredients for this emphasis.

    Gratitude and resilience have emerged as two of twenty-four character strengths that help people flourish in life as well as in academics (Emmons, 2007; Seligman, 2012; Tough, 2011). The current social science research on gratitude aligns with God’s call to thankfulness, which is mentioned nearly 150 times in the Bible. The character strength of resilience is also reinforced with scriptural references pertaining to endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness.

    Staff professional development, chapel services, residential-life programming, and a Focus Week were the primary avenues of increasing campus-wide awareness of gratitude and resilience. In this article, we specifically highlight the structure and impact of our Focus Week, hoping that our experience can serve as an inspiration to other Student Life colleagues.

    Focus Week

    Early each spring semester, we set aside a Focus Week that aligns with the yearly Student Life educational emphasis.  For the 2014-2015 school year focusing on physical and emotional health, our Task Force (comprised of three Student Life staff members, two faculty, two student leaders, and one counselor) selected resilience and titled the Focus Week: Pillars of Perseverance. Although our primary focus was resilience, we identified gratitude as one of the pillars that helps people persevere.

    A strong collaboration among faculty, staff, and students was central to our success. Tapping into faculty expertise and student insider knowledge increased interest and fostered campus-wide buy-in. Early in the fall planning sessions, we created three objectives to guide our programming efforts:

    • Students will be able to discuss resiliency and healthy coping strategies that can be used when faced with challenges.
    • Students will be able to identify stressors in their own lives that influence resiliency.
    • Students will be able to name specific practices that can be applied toward a balanced life.

    With these objectives in mind, we selected a theme verse that was referenced throughout the week:

    “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:2-5).

    Since chapel which our students attend three times each week, would provide a foundational programming opportunity, we collaborated early on with the Campus Pastor’s office to secure chapel speakers who would align their presentation with the Focus Week theme. We generated opportunities to explore resilience with a variety activities, topics, and speakers hoping to reach a broad spectrum of students. Our campus graphic designer created an overview of the programming opportunities in an attractive brochure and webpage.

    Focus Week Opportunities

    The opening chapel, delivered by a faculty member on our Task Force, set the focus by articulating the outcomes and opportunities for the Pillars of Perseverance Focus Week (Wilson, 2015).  We invited other faculty and staff to share during a mid-week chapel about how they navigated and persevered through difficult life events. One evening, we featured several students sharing stories of overcoming challenges.  Each evening ended with residence hall staff providing a reflective time for students to wind down, discuss issues related to resilience, and examine strategies to build a resilient spirit.

    Knowing that strong physical health decreases stress levels and enhances emotional well-being, we offered two exercise options (yoga and walking) each morning. To encourage inner reflection, we taped inspiring quotes and Scripture to benches throughout the campus, and we provided space for afternoon prayer and reflection. We incorporated intentional elements of play, such as attending a basketball game on campus, into the week's schedule.  One evening, we showed and discussed a film about struggle. On another evening, a speaker facilitated a stimulating conversation on resilience. One lunch hour, several faculty and staff brought their dogs outside the Dining Commons for a time of pet therapy designed to reduce stress. Finally, at the close of Friday’s chapel we distributed a list of thirty-five specific practices to encourage students to continue building a resilient spirit.

    Assessing the Impact

    We launched Pillars of Perseverance during Monday morning’s chapel service.  At the beginning of chapel, prior to introducing the Focus Week, we invited students to respond to the following question via a text poll: “How confident are you in your ability to cope with stressful situations?”  At the conclusion of Friday’s chapel service, we asked students once again to text in their answer to the same question.

    As evidenced in Chart A, following a week of programming on perseverance, students self-reported an increase in their level of confidence to navigate stressful situations.

    Chart A: College Students Self-Report on their Confidence to Cope with Stressful Situations

    Conclusion

    This particular Focus Week, Pillars of Perseverance, was overall well-received by our campus community. Chapel speakers were welcomed enthusiastically, reports of conversations around campus surrounding resilience abounded, yoga was well-attended each morning, and hundreds of students participated in pet therapy. Most importantly, the text poll suggests that our students—according to their self-reports—experienced an increase in their confidence to navigate stressful situations.

    A Focus Week that provides multiple and varied opportunities to examine a relevant topic through the lens of faith can deepen students’ awareness of the topic.  Collaboration among faculty, Student Life staff, and students to generate the possible opportunities for investigation appear to strengthen the success of such a week. Moreover, a Focus Week that strategically aligns with the educational goals of the college has the potential to strengthen both academic and co-curricular efforts.  

    References

    Emmons, R. A. (2007). Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Westmont College Campus Life Office (2015). [Schedule for Focus Week]. Pillars of Perseverance Focus Week Schedule. Retrieved from http://www.westmont.edu/_offices/campuslife/SpringFocusDay.html

    Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

    Tough, P. (2011, September 14). What if the secret to success is failure? New York Times, 14.

    Wilson, J.T. (2015, January 26). Pillars of Perseverance. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tELoKqE5OI

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