As a teacher with many students on your roster, it can be difficult to know what’s really happening in their lives.
There will always be a few students who keep the entire class informed of exactly how they’re doing. Still, others may struggle to feel comfortable reaching out directly when revealing personal or social challenges that are getting in the way of their learning.
This is true for teachers in any environment, but it can be particularly challenging for online instructors who may not physically see their students regularly.
Try out this template
Our online teachers have found a simple tool to be incredibly useful for SEL check-ins:
A Google Form created with specific questions to check in and learn more about what’s going on with students.
One of our senior ELA instructors, Emilia McGuckin, originally started by creating a simple Google Form to gather information about her students at the start of each term, asking them about their preferred names and pronouns, contact info, and how they best learn.
Then, in the early days of pandemic school closures in 2020, she realized she needed a new approach to check in directly to ask how her students were doing.
Here’s the simple template Emilia uses to check in on her students:
What is your current progress in the course?*
- I am behind pace, and I don’t think I can meet the course completion requirements.
- I am behind pace, but I have a plan to meet course completion requirements.
- I am at or above pace, and I am confident I can meet course requirements
- I am unsure.
Tell me at least one positive or good thing in your life right now.
Tell me one or more things that are causing stress in your life right now.
Do you want a phone call, text, or video chat with me to check in? It can be school-related or non-school-related. If yes, I will send you information about scheduling a chat time.*
- Yes, phone call
- Yes, text chat
- Yes, video chat
- Yes, but unsure
- Unsure, maybe another time
Can I do anything else to help better support you as we work toward the end of the school year?
“It really helps with meeting kids where they’re at, academically and emotionally,” Emilia says of the template she created. “It gives me a glimpse into my kids’ lives and helps them see that I care about them as individuals.”
A glimpse into students’ lives: the joys and the sorrows
The answers Emilia received from this form revealed that many of her students needed much more than an update on their progress or feedback on their essays.
“I learned about deaths in families, worries about friendships, new puppies, and the joy of cooking with grandma,” she says. “Knowing what is important to each individual student helped me better understand how to connect with them.”
Emilia loves asking her students about what good things are happening in their lives as a way to celebrate their successes.
“I want to be able to celebrate with them,” explains Emilia, “but if a student tells me that they don’t have anything good going on, that’s a red flag for me, and I know that I have to reach out to them.”
Take guesswork out of the equation
These questions can help teachers check on students’ academic progress as well as their social and emotional state — both of which are necessary for teachers to understand how to best meet their needs as learners.
Adding these questions to a quick survey takes the guesswork out of what your students are currently going through and allows them to share what they’re comfortable revealing in a non-threatening way.
Our lead science instructor, Jaci Tyler, uses a similar Google Form to check in with her students at specific points throughout the semester. The responses she receives let Jaci know how to approach her students, and sometimes the answers may reveal areas where they could use additional support.
“I cannot believe how many kids are responding quickly and the things they’re choosing to share,” Jaci says. “There is some pretty exciting stuff I get to celebrate with my students and other really heartbreaking things.”
Knowing both the exciting and the heartbreaking parts of students’ lives arms Jaci with the knowledge she needs to meet the needs of every learner in her classroom.
Tips for using this check-in template
If you’d like to try a similar survey with your students, here are some tips from our instructors:
#1 — Make sure students have easy access to the form
Put the link to this form somewhere easy for students to see, whether it be in an email, a QR code in your classroom, or posted in your digital classroom environment.
Our online instructors often post the link directly in their course announcements area, in addition to emailing students an invitation to fill out the survey.
#2 — Schedule time to check on students’ responses
It can be helpful to either a) schedule time to check on students’ responses to this form or b) set up notifications, so you receive an email alert when students fill it out.
#3 — Follow up with your students using the communication method they’ve chosen
Be sure to follow up with your students using the preferred method of communication they marked in the form.
If your students are struggling, ask them if they have other adults in their lives who know what they’re going through. And be sure to celebrate what’s going well for them!
Ultimately, what’s most important to remember is this:
While your students are learning all the important content in your class, it’s also critical to take the time to learn more about them as human beings.
You might be surprised at how much they’re willing to share with a trusted teacher and the impact you can make in their lives that goes far beyond the curriculum.