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3 Ways to Check in on Your Students' Mental Health

Kali Thorpe  |  July 16, 2021
Teachers spend a lot of time with their students, so they’re likely going to experience a lot of different moods and mental health experiences. This provides the opportunity to be a support system. 

Mental health encompasses our social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. And similarly to how we would take care of our bodies by getting a checkup, it’s important to check up on what’s going on inside our brains.
But that can seem intimidating, especially knowing that students don’t generally want to open up and talk about their feelings in front of 30 other kids.

There are a ton of ways for you to check the temperature of the room, but here are three of my favorite techniques to open a dialogue about mental health.
  1. Have a “safety deposit box”.
Cut a hole in a shoebox or other small box and let students slip little notes in that are about things they want to talk to you about or a concern they have for another peer when they think someone should check in on them. This is a great way for students to initiate difficult or heavy conversations without having to start the conversation verbally.
  1. Do an anchor chart exercise.
I have an anchor chart on the board that has columns labeled with different emotions/feelings. Students come up with a sticky note with their initials on it so I can see where they’re at. This is a quick way to check up on everyone, but you can also gain insight for if they want to talk to you by checking in. You need to be the one to open the dialogue on mental health.

I talk about how I’m feeling openly every day, including nerves and stress. I tell them about my experience with grief when my father passed away when I was younger. Sharing your own feelings in an appropriately transparent way allows you to build a stronger connection with your students.
  1. Do the “I Wish my Teacher Knew” activity.
The idea is that you give your students an index card with a sentence starter that says, “I wish my teacher knew.” I give an example about when my father passed away to set the tone, so they understand this is a deeper activity than “I want my teacher to know I love Fortnite.” I encourage any teacher who wants to start working mental health into their classroom culture to start here.

Keep in mind that when you do these activities in your class, you may learn about heavy situations your students are going through. Ready yourself for this and think about ways you can support your students. 

If you do the safety deposit box exercise or the I Want my Teacher to Know activity, prepare yourself for when you read them. It won’t be easy, and there may be tears. But when you see what these beautiful little humans are going through every day, it will solidify the importance of mental health in the classroom. That’s what motivates me. 

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