What’s the good word? What’s on your mind?

Once I am in the classroom, my focus is on the lesson and the best way to get that lesson across. The clock is conspiring against me to fall behind in my lesson. As a teacher, it is easy to be run by the clock and to be oblivious to the emotional needs of the students.

My students inhabit a slightly different world. They travel from class to class and could be in a range of moods when they get to me. Depending on the time of day, sleep, food, after school obligations, family and/or friend drama could be taking up their mental efforts.

To be mindful of my students’ mental state, I start all my classes with a check in. I ask two questions: “What’s the good word? and “What’s on your mind?”. A student can share something good that happened earlier in the day or something they are looking forward to later in the week. In addition, I encourage students to share worries, concerns or needs. No one is required to share. The only rule is to listen respectfully. If no one has anything to share, I move on to the lesson or share briefly what I am looking forward to before transitioning to the day’s activity. By acknowledging their mood and mental state, they have permission to deal with it and to get ready for class. It is also a chance for students to be self-aware.

Today, I introduced the ritual to my classes and one student asked to share some bad news. She had not done her homework and found it daunting to complete. 9th graders hate to disappoint their teachers, especially on the second day. She had done nothing wrong and my mistake had added to her stress. To my dismay, I realized that I had incorrectly posted two assignments due the same day. Her courageous admission averted an awkward class moment. I would have started my class with the students playing along afraid to tell me the truth. The end result would have been the same but her action was a great example of self-advocacy.

Her honesty and courage was an opportunity for me to model vulnerability and responsibility. I took ownership for my mistake and apologized for my error. They now know that I don’t post two assignments on one day and I encouraged them to email me when they see discrepancies in homework postings. The mood in the classroom significantly improved because those who didn’t do their homework got an extra day and those who did got a day off.

Check-ins will remain to be an integral tool in creating a safe and trusting classroom. I want my students to know that I value what they do outside of my class and to give them an opportunity to be mindful before they dive into the lesson.