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How to Build Better Student Check-Ins

Sara AustinMarch 9, 2022

Student laughing with teacher

Learning readiness is dependent on many factors that are both visible and invisible to teachers in the classroom. Not every student starts their day with a healthy breakfast. Not every student has a home or even a bed to call their own. As teachers, we understand that students arrive in varying mental, emotional, and physical states each morning. We do our best to take the limited information we have and consider how to meet the needs of each child. 

Check-ins are a tool for teachers to get to know their students better and gain insights into their challenges, strengths, and needs. Starting the school day with a predictable, structured routine that consistently sets the tone for learning is also a way to mitigate external factors and help ensure that all students are ready to learn. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) skills are not optional – they are an essential component of learning readiness. Through facilitated discussions during check-ins, teachers and students can explore themes such as character, resilience, empathy, problem-solving, self-discipline, emotional self-care, and much more. These competencies provide a foundation for success that extends far beyond the classroom. 

Daily check-in questions are a simple and purposeful tool to build community, offering students the opportunity to learn and practice mindful awareness techniques, foster self-awareness, develop ways to focus attention, and strengthen self-management skills. 

Let’s discuss and learn today how to make the most of this powerful tool for supporting learners this school year. 

Step 1: Recognize and acknowledge multiple emotions

Building social and emotional skills among young people may be more critical than ever before. For kids who are resistant to talking about feelings, teachers and schools can play a critical role by helping students be more emotionally self-aware and manage their emotions in healthy ways.

How do we raise happy, well-adjusted children who can manage the challenges that life will inevitably throw their way? We do this by creating a safe environment for recognizing and observing their emotional state and giving them self-management and coping strategies. 

By helping kids recognize their emotions, teachers give them the tools to manage these feelings more effectively and move past them. The check-in process offers students an informal outlet for feeling and expressing emotions. 

Teachers can facilitate this learning by encouraging role-play between team members and sharing stories and literature that exemplify the whole range of human emotion. As the classroom engages in these empathy-building activities, you empower students to assess, manage, and talk openly about emotional health without fear of judgment.  

Step 2: Incorporate mindfulness

The past few years have been uniquely stressful for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Overwhelmed with stress and surrounded by distractions from social media, civil unrest, economic anxiety, and pervasive trauma, our attention spans are shorter than ever before. 

How can we all cultivate greater focus and intention in our day? Research has shown that just a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness can help students improve their learning skills and focus and reduce stress. 

Student check-ins are a great time to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, including sensory experiences, focused breathing, guided visualizations, and movement. Using all of these methods shows students the full range of ways to include mindfulness in their daily lives. 

Step 3: Embrace diversity

Our goal must always be to cultivate a classroom environment where all students feel welcome, safe, and respected, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender/gender expression/sexuality, or any other diversity marker. In our increasingly interconnected world, we need to educate and empower students to be culturally competent. Culturally competent learners are well prepared to navigate the complexities of an ever-changing world. 

Check-in systems offer great opportunities to embrace diversity in your classroom and build bridges of understanding. Teachers can facilitate discussions about diversity by fostering an environment free of judgment, highlighting and celebrating differences, and encouraging empathy. 

Step 4: Let students decide

Not sure if your morning check-ins are giving students what they need? Feel free to try letting students decide the theme for the check-in. 

Including students in developing or even leading the morning check-in allows you to gain important insights into improving your approach. For example, depending on the age of your students, you could decide to let them guide the morning check-in once or twice a month. 

This level of participation in the process gives students a sense of ownership and gives you a window into what is most important to them. For example, a student-led discussion could reveal a previously unknown problem playing out among students on social media or unearth other unhealthy interpersonal dynamics impacting your classroom culture. These are tumultuous and uncertain times, and sometimes the best approach is to let the students show you what they need. 

Step 5: Consider check-outs

Talking and thinking about emotions isn’t just for check-ins – we should build emotional self-awareness into all academic routines. 

Check-ins at the beginning of class are a way to honor and recognize students’ individual experiences before we ask them to focus on academics. Check-outs are a way of asking students to share insights, questions, or feelings about that day’s work. 

These routines are designed to serve as mental and emotional waypoints, offering an opportunity for students to re-center themselves and practice self-awareness. While these rituals orient students within the class period, it’s important to remind them that they carry their emotional health and well-being into the world. Many strategies used to handle stress, focus attention, cope with negative emotions, and empathize with others can be universally applied to help students at home, in their community, and in relationships with others.  

Teachers can use check-outs to allow students to reflect on the day and decide what they will take from it with a sign-in sheet. These structured activities are an opportunity to identify problems that need to be addressed before students leave school, so they aren’t carrying home unresolved feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, or even anger.

Conclusion

While morning check-ins have long been used in the workplace, their use in the classroom is still relatively new. However, in the past several years, schools have begun to embrace check-ins to ease the stresses of disrupted schooling, mitigate learning losses, and improve support for learners. 

By helping students recognize and manage their emotions, embrace diversity in all of its forms, and take ownership of their emotional well-being, we provide an environment that elevates all learners. 

Photo credit: Google Education

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