Emotional check-ins. You’ve seen them on TpT, checked out blogs about them, read in them in books.
This daily tool is all the rage in a mindful classroom these days.
The purpose of these check-ins is to provide an opportunity for students to share their current emotional state with a teacher and/or their classmates. Some formats look to build emotional empathy within the classroom community and some look to build trust and self awareness with the student and teacher. Basically, at the beginning of class or the day, students share what they are feeling. This could be silly, sad, nervous, hyper, frustrated, etc.
Do they work? Well, I’ve tried both formats and I’m not a big fan. Let me give you a few reasons why...
Students rarely, if ever, tell you the truth.
It can take months or years for students to learn the depth of emotions and the wide spectrum of those emotions within themselves. It can also take just as long for those students to trust you with that information.
Now, even if you have built that trust with students and they have solid emotional intelligence skills, they still may not want to talk. Many of our students don’t want to come to school to talk about what’s going on at home or how they feel about it.
Recognizing vs. Crafting
The emotional check in system asks students to reflect on what they are currently feeling. A lot of times these check-ins don’t support students in crafting how they actually want to feel. In my practice, both personally and professionally, that distinction is key.
We want students to begin recognizing what feels good in their bodies. Learning to feel joy and happiness and call attention to it when it is there. We should be asking students to recognize when they feel most like themselves. Is it when they are feeling creative or telling a joke? What lights them up? When they can answer that question, they can begin to take action into crafting a life where their actions lead to more of those good feelings.
Zooming out of the day, the week, the school year, is vital for student success. By building in self awareness and advocacy with a large scope, we support students' in building long-term skills.
Sharing before we’re ready
“I only share when I have no unmet needs that I'm trying to fill. I firmly believe that being vulnerable with a larger audience is only a good idea if the healing is tied to the sharing, not to the expectations I might have for the response I get.” - Brene Brown
Are we asking students to share their private emotions publicly for their own healing?
I’m not convinced we are.
Now, I’m not saying we always have to heal before we’re ready to share our vulnerabilities, but I do think that sharing is more nuanced than simply a part of a lesson plan to execute. Emotional intelligence is hard stuff. When we ask students to share their feelings honestly, are we prepared for them to share how unsafe they feel? Or how scared they are when their parent leaves to work a night shift?
Maybe we are. Maybe we're not.
I would venture to guess that most classrooms using these check in systems are receiving answers from kids more along the lines of “I feel happy,” or “ I feel sad.” Surface emotions that don’t usually lead to deep emotional understanding or change in behavior.
(I tell my students “happy is dead,” because they know I’m going to challenge them to figuring out what kind of happy they’re feeling: loved, respected, safe, etc. They always laugh and then there's the inevitable sigh and eye roll.)
Furthermore, if we do get honest, deep responses, how are we prepared to support them?
How do we honor student emotions without making the leap to judging families attached to actions that have led to those emotions?
Again, this is hard stuff.
Not just a cute lesson plan to check off the “I added SEL into my classroom culture” box.
In our specialized program, we have counselors, paraprofessionals, and certified teachers, all trained and ready to dive deeper into these areas for students with complex trauma histories. If your school does as well, then by all means please keep checking in with your kids! If not, maybe it’s time to rethink our approach here.
Some of the language shifts I’ve made with my students are asking them, “How do you want to feel today?” I will also provide them opportunities to share how they do feel, if they would like to.
I also teach, and reteach, the link between thoughts, feelings, and actions. We don’t just talk about feelings without uncovering thoughts that precede them, and the actions we take because of them. If you don’t utilize this holistic approach, you’re leaving a lot of learning on the table.
Oh, and you’re probably hearing a lot of “I’m happy.”
So with all that said, I wholeheartedly respect and praise you if your decision is to keep using emotional check-ins in your classroom...as long as you reflect on if they’re truly supporting your students and your emotional goals for them.
You see, what works for my students may not work for yours and vice versa. The one thing we have to do is be sure we aren’t judging each other for using, or not using, certain resources we have opinions on.
We’re all unique and doing the best creative work we can for our students. Right now I'm not using a daily check in system, but will I in the future? Maybe! It's complicated and I'll continually check-in (pun intended) with myself on if my students are indeed growing and learning more about themselves from this practice.
If you're looking for more of these conversations, let's be email friends!