Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager now with a pandemic and constant access to technology is even harder. Doing frequent student mental health check-ins allow your students to express their feelings and get the help they need. As their teacher, you may be one of the only adults that they trust.  

My eight-year-old son asked me today, “When will COVID-19 be over?” While it seems like the worst of the pandemic is over (or at least slowing down), there are still other global conflicts. 

There could be ways for you to weave current events into your content area. But, as a CTE teacher, it may be a stretch. Because of this, we’re going to be talking about what you can do every day, regardless of the current event or crisis.

Why You Should be Using Student Mental Health Check-Ins

Our students are dealing with a lot every day. “Back in my day…” we dealt with changing hormones and friend drama. (Which seemed like a lot). 

Now, our students have constant access to the internet, news, and social media (drama) with the invention of smartphones. Most of them are being influenced 24-7. When they are having conflicts, they are not leaving them at home or at school. Those feelings are constantly with them.

“People need to be seen, heard, and understood first. And then, and only then, we strategize and attempt to fix.” Dr. Jody Carrington.

Student mental health check-ins are a way for us to support our students, not give them an excuse for not completing work. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. A student’s basic needs must be met before learning can take place.

How to Conduct Student Mental Health Check-Ins

Conducting mental health check-ins can be simple if added to a routine that you are already doing. Let’s take a look at what you could already be doing at the beginning of each class. If you are already doing a bell-ringer, add an entry ticket to this routine.

Hand out paper tickets as students enter the classroom. Have a place for the student’s name as well as the answers to the question, “How are you feeling today?” 

Their answers could be “I’m great,” “I’m OK,” “I’m struggling,” or “I’m having a hard time and would like a check-in.” Add corresponding smiley face emojis for each answer to make it simple for any student to answer.

You may also add the question, “I wish my teacher knew…” 

Make sure students know that their responses will be kept confidential. You won’t share with any other students.

Collect these entry tickets as students complete other bell-work or starter tasks.

This routine can also be added to a digital bell-ringer or starter activity.

CAUTION: This routine is only effective if you are able to scan the tickets. For me, I liked the paper tickets because they didn’t require me to log into a device or my computer to see the answers.

What to Do with Information from Student Mental Check-Ins

If you use student conferences already, having follow-up conversations are easy. While students are working, find time to circulate and check in with students. Especially those who requested a check-in with you. 

Here’s how that conversation can go:

“Hi, Jake, I saw that you wanted a check-in today. What’s going on?” 

This is where you listen–don’t fix. If you feel the need to ask another question, it should be, “Tell me more.” 

Trust your instincts. Don’t feel like you alone are responsible for the well-being of your students. Refer students as needed to the counselors–that’s their job. They are there to support you and your students.

Jared, my welding-teaching-husband, and I were talking about this referral process. He was concerned that by doing these student mental check-ins and referrals, he may be overburdening the counselors. 

If every teacher checked in with their students, there would be an increase in referrals to the counseling office. This is not a bad thing. 

Your counselors would rather be aware and work with more students than deal with the aftermath of a suicide. They have more resources and contacts that you may not be aware of. 

They can also use the data and number of referrals to justify the need for more counselors or other mental health staff.

In Summary

Our students are begging for connection. They are feeling all sorts of emotions that they may not know how to express. Incorporating student mental health check-ins into your current routine will give these students opportunities to get help. From you–their trusted teacher.

The most important thing about these check-ins is following up that class period with your students. They may need to be referred to a counselor. And that’s okay. 

It takes all of us at the school to support and care for our students.

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