Daily Methods to Connect with Your Class
As many teachers know, the best way to manage a class is to build a relationship with students. Various studies support the concept that if a student feels safe both physically and emotionally, they are more likely to perform better academically. Many school districts and individual schools advocate for teaching the whole child, emphasizing socioemotional wellness and connection to serve students holistically.
During my first year of teaching, I began to check in with students using ‘High’s & Low’s’ on Mondays. As the years progressed, I found that frequent and consistent check-ins throughout the week were beneficial for understanding how my students were truly doing. As students would experience a myriad of events throughout their week, being aware of what was going on with them day by day would help me determine how to serve my students.
By year eight, I had developed a week’s worth of daily check-ins, guided by student input and feedback. Five years later, I am still implementing these check-ins to understand who my students are, what matters to them, and how to serve their needs in a way that supports them as individuals and the class as a whole.
Monday: Highs and Lows
During my student teaching days, my mentor teacher, Ms. Braker, shared a regular practice she implemented with her students at the start of each week. After seeing how effective this method was as a grounding way to start the week, I added it to my routine when I began teaching in my own classroom.
On Monday mornings, students know they will have the opportunity to share about their weekends if they choose. Students can share a ‘high,’ or a positive aspect of their weekend, and/or a ‘low,’ something that didn’t go so well over their past few days. ‘Highs and lows’ have not only allowed me to get to know my students better, but it allows the students to learn more about one another as well. Many students have developed friendships based on commonalities learned during ‘highs and lows.’
The space to safely share information with teachers and fellow students shows me what matters to my students. It informs me how their families spend time together, the cultural traditions they follow, and the values they hold. It shows me what sticks in my students’ minds long after an event is over. Such a practice informs me if a student is struggling with something external – an illness in the family, a family who does not have time for them on the weekend, or whether they are isolated when they are not in school. Knowing the celebrations and challenges my students face helps me to be a more in-tune and responsive teacher.
A few notes on ‘Highs and Lows’:
- This check-in should be a ‘highlight’ reel – not a detailed description of every moment of a weekend.
- Students are welcome to ‘pass’ if they do not want to share! Students should feel welcome to speak, but not put on the spot.
- This is a great time for students to learn to practice listening skills when their classmates are sharing – an essential soft skill!
Tuesday: Talk to Me Tuesday
‘Talk to Me Tuesday’ developed as an add-on to ‘highs and lows’ on Monday. Some weeks, I noticed that students who were normally enthusiastic about sharing would quietly pass on the opportunity to do so. Other students were too shy to speak in front of the class. I wanted to develop a way to check in with the students who might feel too vulnerable to share their news in front of everyone.
On Tuesdays, I started to send an email to my entire group of students (Blind Carbon Copied so they would only reply to me), simply asking, “What is on your mind?” If they chose to write back, students had the first five minutes of class to respond to me via email.
The ‘Talk to Me Tuesday’ method has been a great way to get to know my students better. I cannot tell you how many quiet students have so much to write to me via email! Many students even share a ‘low’ that they didn’t feel comfortable saying in front of the entire class during ‘highs and lows.’ A more private space to share information with a teacher helped bridge the gap that ‘highs and lows’ do not always fill with its public space.
A few notes on ‘Talk to Me Tuesday’:
- Since teachers are mandated reporters, students need to be warned that we must report if they share information that involves them being harmed, wanting to harm themselves, or intending to harm others.
- Always follow up on the emails students send you! Receiving a reply shows students that they are seen.
- If students share sensitive information, ask before sharing it with other teachers. They may want their teachers to know what is going on with them, or they may appreciate your confidentiality.
Wish My Teacher Knew Wednesday
‘Wish My Teacher Knew’ is fully credited to third-grade teacher Kyle Schwarz. (Check out her book, I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids).
As students were sharing information about their lives publicly on Monday and privately on Tuesday, I realized that students needed a space where they could share anonymously. Anonymous sharing would allow students to safely share what was truly on their minds with no fear of judgment or repercussions. It is healthy to let the students truly express their joys and concerns fully in this sense.
Students were given an index card each week where they would simply finish the sentence, “I wish my teacher knew…” The sentences they submit are simple, complex, funny, poignant, concerning, and inspiring.
Reading the anonymous ‘Wish My Teacher Knew’ slips of paper, with no names, I understand more about the emotional climate of my class than ever before. It has helped me to be compassionate towards all of my students when I know that one of them is struggling with something outside of their control. Since I do not know who shared what information, I treat all of my students like they might have written a particularly sensitive statement.
A few notes on ‘Wish My Teacher Knew Wednesday’:
- Students need the reminder that if they write anything concerning, teachers are legally required to determine the author, check on them, and report to the proper avenues if needed.
- Remind students to use handwriting that can be read!
- Assure students that you mix up the index cards so their response remains anonymous.
Trivia Teacher Thursday
Trivia Teacher Thursday came about after students started finishing their ‘Wish my teacher knew’ sentences with statements along the lines of, “…we wish we knew more about you.” After polling the class and receiving a positive response, I decided to open the floor to student questions about me.
Since I ask students so often about themselves, it only seems fair to allow them to do the same. Each Thursday, I am in the “hot seat,” and I have to answer any question they ask me. Most questions are fun and quick to answer, such as, “What is your favorite color, food, or movie?”
Students are always eager to get to flip the script and put the teacher on the spot! I have my students submit their questions in a Google Form so that I can collect the questions at once and answer them rapid-fire style.
A few notes on ‘Teacher Trivia Thursday’:
- You have the right to veto any question you are not comfortable answering! I have rarely been asked inappropriate questions.
- Encourage students to broaden their scope of questions by asking about topics you have experienced, such as, “What is college like?” or “Where would you recommend traveling based on your experiences?”
- You may need to limit student questions to one per week to finish this activity promptly!
Fun Fact Friday
Nothing kicks off a Friday like some feel-good, fun facts! For ‘Fun Fact Friday,’ students have the chance to look up a fun fact about any topic they wish! I have students share their fact with me via Google Forms so that I can ensure the content is appropriate before it is shared with the class.
Next, I share the list of fun facts aloud to the class! We often pause to laugh or look up an image of a rare animal, for example, that may be mentioned in the fact. It’s a fun way to learn some trivia and start the day with lighthearted entertainment!
A few notes on ‘Fun Fact Friday’:
- Ask students to limit their facts to one sentence. Short and sweet works best for the young attention span!
- Ask students to submit only one fun fact per week to keep this activity short. Imagine how exhausting it would be to read 60-90 facts if your 30-student class had unlimited fact submissions!
- Remind students to keep the content appropriate for most audiences – what may seem funny to one student might upset another. Let’s keep our classmates in mind!
Your classroom climate will follow your lead. Using these socioemotional check-ins will help you respond to the students in your classroom and their ever-changing needs. Additionally, this practice will establish a routine that your students will learn to expect. Such a routine will help start your class smoothly, capture students’ attention, and lead to an easy segue to your daily lesson!
Q: At which point in the class do you use these check-ins?
A: These check-ins would likely work best at the beginning or end of class, but I prefer to use them at the beginning to check in with my students before the class begins. A little extra knowledge about how students are doing helps me to be a responsive teacher to them throughout the class period.
Q: How long do these check-ins take?
A: When you are introducing these check-ins at the beginning of the school year, it takes about ten minutes per check-in. When the students learn the routine of each check-in after a few weeks, these daily check-ins take about five minutes per day. It is helpful to set a timer for each activity, such as two to five minutes for students to submit their questions, fun facts, write their emails, and more.
Q: What if students do not engage with the check-in?
A: It is completely fine if students do not check in! The important thing is that students have the option to connect with you in any of these ways. Some students may not have much to share in one week and have a lot to share the next. The point is not to force sharing or connection, but simply to offer and let the student lead.