Catholic U Students

What must an educator take into account when trying to bring students to success? In this review, I will analyze and critique an article written by Cathy A. Pohan, Ph.D., in January 2024 for the website Faculty Focus. The article is entitled “Increasing Student Success: A Developmental Approach”. As the title suggests, the article focuses on how to increase academic success among students by looking through the lens of human development and holistic education. Holistic education can be vaguely defined as taking into account the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of students in education. Pohan shows that when educators implement a holistic approach to teaching their students (aside from being just figures in a classroom performing tasks), students are more likely to succeed in their studies.

At the beginning of the article, Pohan highlights that the start of the semester is an opportunity for growth and change, not just for students, but for educators as well. Despite the hours that can be spent on developing course materials and assessments, educators may not see much improvement in their students’ performance. Basing her suggestions on other academic studies, Pohan then goes on to explain in the rest of her article how caring for students’ whole being with all of their physical, mental, and emotional needs contributes to improving student success. The author mentions Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a helpful guide in considering the students’ physiological and emotional needs. Examples of these needs include food and housing security and a sense of community and belonging. She then provides examples and ways to implement Maslow’s philosophy in the classroom for the benefit of the students.

Pohan’s article provides great insight into how the mind and body of students are directly related to their academic success. If the whole student is not healthy, then they will struggle in school. When using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to communicate the importance of addressing physiological needs, Pohan mentions that addressing food and housing insecurity is instrumental. An example of addressing this issue at Catholic University is Cardinal Cupboard, which provides non-perishable food to students facing food insecurity. This continues to be a helpful resource for students who need to fuel their bodies to have enough energy for class. Making students aware of such resources in class is important as well.

Pohan’s article did give some great examples of how to address and improve students’ sense of belonging. To do this, Pohan outlines ways to get to know the students and to present yourself as an attentive educator is essential. This included presenting caring and authentic introductory comments on the first day of class to “set the tone for the entire term” (Pohan, 2024). For example, this could be done in person or in video format and posted on Cardinal Learn by D2L Brightspace, our Learning Management System, for the students to view at the beginning of the semester. Furthermore, Pohan promotes the use of discussion and establishing agreements in class to maintain productive relationships between students and the professor. This goes with having clear guidelines and goals for the course so students do not get lost in the logistical rigor of the class, such as policies, grading, and due dates. Instead, students can focus on “the more important, intellectually rigorous aspects of the course” (Pohan, 2024). Additionally, welcoming feedback from the students throughout the semester (not just during midterms and finals) could make students feel heard and appreciated. This strategy could also be an exercise of mindfulness, as the students can reflect on what works and does not work for them in the class. Students could also be prompted to reflect on their own performance and how they seek to improve or maintain it. Finally, allowing students to have more agency in how they decide to organize their work, dividing tasks for them for a larger assignment, and being transparent about your grading methods helps them feel more motivated and comfortable.

There are well-being exercises that can easily be implemented at the beginning or end of a class to help nurture students’ mental health. For example, a brief anonymous survey asking students to rate on a scale how they are feeling that day can help the professor to see what the overall mood is that day in the class and how to best address it. Also, allowing “brain-breaks” and opportunities for students to use the restroom, drink water, or grab some food could help ensure students remain focused and energized throughout the class.

Pohan’s article provides helpful information on how to foster students’ physiological and emotional needs to promote their academic success. When taking into account the whole student, professors can feel more confident that their students will put more effort into their performance.

Additional Resources by CTE:


Pohan, C. A. (2024, January 17). Increasing Student Success: A developmental approach. Faculty Focus.


James Dolley, B.A. is a graduate assistant at CTE and a student in the Department of Education at The Catholic University of America. He is pursuing his Master's in Secondary Education, and plans to become certified to teach History and French.