Daily or weekly social emotional check-ins with students provide a quick way to include student voice, encourage self-awareness, and teach social awareness. Social emotional check-ins are an important part of the classroom environment, as they provide students with a safe and secure space to express their feelings and emotions while also helping teachers understand their students on a deeper level, allowing them to better meet their needs. Additionally, social emotional check-ins can help create an environment of trust and understanding in the classroom, which is essential for learning! This strategy is fantastic for students of ALL ages from preschool through college. I’d even invite schools to consider strategizing ways to regularly hear from staff. So, how do we get started? Read on to discover where to plug this practice into your daily routine, how to choose a tool, and where you can learn more.
Build Check-Ins Into Procedures
If approaching this as a school wide procedure (and I encourage you to do so), begin by choosing at least one time during the day that everyone will utilize the check-in system. First thing in the morning allows students to begin their school day with self-reflection. Done everyday, this procedure has the potential to develop a habit of identifying their emotional state. When we teach, model, and practice this simple strategy, we are developing skills such as self-awareness, social-awareness, and responsible decision making all while creating a psychologically safe environment! Giving students the tools to identify their emotions, self-reflect, and address stress sets them up to build positive relationships, develop critical thinking skills, and become students and eventually adults who are able to navigate big emotions, have tough conversations, and develop strong emotional literacy. Eventually, we might consider adding routines of regulation as well so students know what tools work to regulate or soothe themselves as they move in and out of the different nervous system states.
Using this Tool Beyond the Daily Check-In
In addition to developing routines of insight and connection, a simple check-in tool can be helpful in times of escalating behaviors. Social emotional check-ins are a fantastic tier one support for SEL but can be intensified by increasing frequency and slightly customizing for tier 2 and tier 3 support. We know that when a person becomes stressed, language is not usually effective. Telling someone to calm down or even asking somehow what they need when they are in a fight or flight response can be counterproductive. Having a familiar routine in place allows us to use non-verbal cues to help students communicate their current state. If, for example, a student is having difficulty and needs support, the student can indicate their current state by pointing to this very familiar tool. The teacher can then communicate to their support team how the student is self-identifying. “I have Joe in my classroom. When working on an assignment, he went from a 1 to an 8 and needs some support.” This gives the supportive staff a lot of information in a short amount of time and honors the student voice!
Choosing a Tool
When deciding on a way to implement regular student check-ins, consider a tool that can be used in every classroom in the building. When we develop common language and shared systems of communication, we increase felt safety, eliminate misunderstandings that are likely to occur when expressing emotions in times of distress, and demonstrate that we honor student voice.
So, what tool do I use? There are so many options! If you are a person who loves being creative and wants to develop your own, you might take inspiration from some of the examples below. If you’re like me and would rather use a tool that has already been created, here are just a few examples. Have fun, decide collaboratively, and include students in the decision making process!
In his book, The Trauma-Informed School, Jim Sporleder discusses how he introduced this tool to help students and staff identify early stages of stress so they could intervene early with a quick connection or time to regulate depending on what state they’re in. Talking to students about how stress impacts their brain and body is a fantastic way to build resilience and increase positive coping skills. This strategy is nervous system-aligned, trauma-aware, and quick! Use the supplemental tool from YOLO Resilience Network to help introduce and use this resource.
While actually a superb leadership tool, I’ve seen teachers successfully adapt the ideas in this video to their classroom check-ins. Again, nervous system aligned, this strategy helps students assess their brain state without judgment. It can be simplified by putting a line on the board or on the wall and having students check in with stickers, magnets, or verbally. It’s important to remind students that we move in and out of these states all day and that is okay! Check out this video to learn more.
A fantastic and private way to have students check-in is to create a simple google form that can be used daily. Ask questions like:
How are you feeling today?
Give emotion words or sensations as choices
What are you looking forward to?
Is there anything you need today?
This is quick, easy, and can remain confidential. You might even have some fun and add some silly or fun questions now and then to boost moods!
Scales are helpful in identifying the range of emotions we may experience and giving us talking points when supporting students. You might ask things like:
What does being at a 10 look like? Feel like? Sound like?
What about a 5?
When a student indicates they are needing support, rather than asking them how to go from a 2 to a 10, ask how we can help them get from a 2 to a 3. Small steps are manageable!
Invite students to help create the scale!
The Post-It Note
Using post-it notes allows students to remain anonymous while giving you an idea of the temperature of the room. This strategy is simple and just requires a white board, some markers, and post it notes! To be able to check-in with students who have indicated they’re not doing great, you may ask students to put their name or initials on the back of the post-it notes so you can have private one-on-one check-ins during the day.
Looking for more ideas? Check out these resources:
Student social emotional check-ins are a quick, efficient, and fun tool to support your efforts to build community and psychological safety while developing skills of self-awareness, social awareness, insight, and connection. Again, this strategy is for ALL ages and is going to be enhanced if used the same way across the school building. It may take a little more time for younger students to check-in each day, but in my experience, middle school and high school students can complete a daily check-in within the first two minutes of class! I think we can all agree that it’s worth a few minutes a day. Have fun with it, make it a part of your procedures, model, teach, and praise its use!