The Power of a Quick Check-In

I think it’s safe to say that I have lost my mind about 750 times over these last 7 weeks of online learning. It seems like all of the hats that I wear have been tugging at me all from different directions. One minute it seems like I have it all together and then I BLINK and that balance has been disrupted somehow. To add to the craziness of our new norm, being stuck in the house is absolutely adding to my drive towards Insanity Road. 

During such a stressful time I usually have my students do a quick write on how they are feeling. There ideally are no rules. Students can write whatever they would like as long as it’s school appropriate. They can write as much or as little as they would like, and are encouraged but not forced to share out. Ideally what happens is one student decides to share and it makes the other students comfortable sharing. It allows me to see exactly how the students are feeling and what’s on their minds. It also helps them to see that while they feel like they are alone in their thoughts and feelings, they really aren’t. Many of their peers are struggling through something. Maybe not the same thing, but the feelings they are experiencing are mutual. 

One Monday I had my students do a quick write in response to the question, “What’s one thing about you people wouldn’t know by just looking at you?” The real purpose behind the task was just to get them all seated and engaged, because it can be tough to do that on a Monday. Never did I expect for it to go the way it did. One student shared something simple like they were a twin, and their twin went to another school. Another student shared that they could write with both hands. But then a student shared that she was being raised by her dad because her mom left them when her parents split and never kept in touch with her. Talk about a bomb dropping. Before I could respond, one of the kids asked how she felt about that. She began to share feelings of abandonment and not feeling valued or worthy of her mother’s love. The way the class supported her was simply amazing. As the tears ran down her face, she said “I never talk about it because I try to act like it doesn’t bother me, but it does.” 

Another student then shared that his grandmother is battling with Alzheimers, and that oftentimes she doesn’t remember who he is. He described all of these memories of and with her, and how hurtful it was that she doesn’t remember him. Another student then shared that his dad is fighting with cancer. How his dad has to be strong for the whole house, but he knows deep inside that his dad is really hurting and struggling. Another student shared that her mother tries to buy her love. That all she wants is her mother’s affection but instead she buys her whatever she wants.

Instantly each student had a story about how strict their parents were and things they didn’t like about their parents. While this time was totally meant for a venting session, I needed to reel it back in and make sure they took something positive from it. So I shared with them that parents are honestly just doing their best. Sometimes parents become their parents without even realizing it. Sometimes parents don’t know any different so they demonstrate the same behaviors they didn’t like from their parents because it’s all they know. Some of them began to agree.  “Well my grandfather was very strict”  and “my grandmother isn’t affectionate.” hey were able to see that their parent’s behavior wasn’t necessarily a result of the child’s behavior, but more as a result of what was naturally inherited from their own parents. I encouraged them to share their feelings with their parents, because behaviors can’t change if someone doesn’t realize they exist.  

Thinking about how productive these conversations were with my students and how I, myself, had been feeling during this Covid-19 quarantine made me also think “How my students were holding up emotionally?” Had we been in class, I could have easily done a check in with them. But since we were all home, I had my students take the first 7 minutes of our zoom call to respond to the question, “How is Covid-19 affecting me?” I decided to share one of the responses: 

“I cant take it no more I just want my nails done my hair done my eyelashes done AND I need to get out this house before I have a mental break down. I thought we was bout to be litt no school or what eva but nooo school is even worse the teachers giving us mad work like we robots or sum and im so done like I want to dropout. And I need to go out even when im on punishment I sstill go out like. AND the other bad thing my mom has to go food shopping every Saturday because my brother love to eat and IM TIRED OF THIS FAMILY they always have something to say like I asked for there opinion or something like nooo I didn’t  and they so annoying like I’ve never been stuck in the house for so long with these annoying people. I just want to see my friends and go out I lowkey miss school idk because yah giving a lot a bit of to much work. I love sleeping and being on my phone right BUT NOW IM TIRED OF IT like netflix is running out of idea’s like and youtube not even fun no more and my playstation can even keep me company no more. I get bored and go to sleep or either I see some food and im not even hungry but im still gonna eat it because im bored and it may not be there later. Whewww thank you ms.hanif for letting me vent thankyou!!!!!!!!!!!!”

When I first read her response, I chuckled because I could absolutely hear her saying this. I also imagined her trying to get this whole thing out in one breath. Once the giggles passed, it really hit me. She needed to get this out. During these crazy times, while everyone is scared and trying to hold it together themselves, it can be hard and even impossible to think about others. After reading her response I thought about how nobody probably checked on her these last few weeks. Sometimes we think of kids and how easy we think they have it, not thinking about the stresses that have. And while the issues of a high schooler may be trivial to us, to them, they are huge. 

This quick check-in allowed the kids to vent-get out their thoughts and feelings. And not just about the scary times we are in but also about their experience with online learning. It also allowed me a space to communicate with my students one on one and help them in any way possible. It reminded me of the power of a quick check-in. Sometimes that check-in is what students need in order to know that they aren’t alone and that someone cares. It lets them know they have a safe space to feel how they feel and share those feelings without judgement. So I urge you all, parents and educators both, to engage in a quick check-in with your children. You’ll be surprised what you find out.

Hopefully this gave you something to think about. Feel free to share your thoughts whether you agree or disagree. All comments, views and responses are valued and welcomed. Also subscribe and follow me on IG and/or Twitter.

12 thoughts on “The Power of a Quick Check-In

  1. Thanks for this post. This encouraged me to be consistent with my check-in make it a priority because the result is powerful. This also encouraged me to begin journalling my teaching experiences so these moments won’t get lost in my head and soon be forgotten. IG handle: missscottclassroom

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  2. This was an amazing story! To think you thought of it as a simple journal entry and it turned into something waaay deeper. I love that.

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  3. Wow this was great! As a ELAR I’m always looking for ways to make my students dig deeper in their writings . I love that her classmates made her feel it was a safe space to share.
    IG: audrimonroe

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  4. I love to read this article it talk about a lot of things that a lot of people can relate to and I will keep reading the rest. Ig:prettyasvibes

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  5. I love this. Even as adults, we look for someone to vent during these times. In a lot of cases, it’s hard for people to take the initiative and express themselves without someone straight up asking them how they’re doing and how they’re dealing with being inside during this time. Once you finally express yourself, it’s like a weight has been lifted in that moment and it wont guarantee that you’ll never have bad days but maybe this is the push to encourage people to express their feelings in the moment rather than waiting for an invitation so to speak. Kudos to you for bringing it back to the basics because in my opinion, teaching isn’t always just throwing knowledge at the kids and hoping it sticks. That support can make learning for them a better experience.

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  6. One educator to the next, I FEEL YOU. I currently have my students creating found poetry so they are able to creatively express themselves by using normal household sources. So far, I have learned so many thoughts from them. Its cray!

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  7. I retired from teaching almost four years ago, and I know from reading my former colleagues’ comments about how hard this has been on everyone. What your post makes me think of is the importance of these unscripted moments that happen during a typical year. If it goes too far astray, you have to reel it back in the way you did. Yet, the beginning of your post when the student shared her feelings about being raised by her dad may be one of the most critical moments of the school year. Her classmates comforted her and showed appropriate empathy. What a great life lesson all rolled into one!

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  8. Thanks for this post. I often wonder what is happening in my students’ homes day after day, knowing some parents ARE essential workers, leaving our students to care for their siblings during the day while trying to keep up with their virtual classes. It’s been so hard for me. I can only imagine the mental exhaustion for a 15 year old. Even though classes are so crunches, I’ll be sure to remember the check-ins whenever possible (maybe Mon, Wed & Fri DO NOWs).

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  9. This is a great post. Sometimes we forget, even in subjects like math, that students can write and share their thoughts! During online learning, we lose A lot of the interaction with students. Once the meeting is over, we don’t see the students in the hallways or when they come up early from lunch to talk to their teachers.

    I have been inputting a silly off topic question each day like “what is your favorite sauce on food and why” or a little more serious like “what do you miss most about school”. I give then options to choose from or “other”. A lot of them miss those conversations and discussions about just random thoughts or their feelings. Part of teaching is to interact with students and develop relationships.

    I completely love your ideas in this article and I’m going to try to copy some of them for my own teaching! 🙂

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  10. This was so relatable. As I read through, I, too, chuckled at a few evenings…and felt sad concerning others. The realization that everyone needs to vent at some point is extremely important. Then giving them the opportunity to do so is even more important. So kudos to teachers who implement check-ins and allow a safe space for venting and support. “Check-in” is important for all of us. Let’s do more of it…and really be “present.” Our mental health depends on these supports check-ins give. Thank you, Ms. Hanif.

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