Peaks and Pits: Mental Health Check-Ins in the Classroom

Mother talking to her smiling son sitting on green chair about school

Many children come to school with much more packed in their backpacks than just their lunch. They may walk into school weighed down by family conflicts or concerns, friendship troubles, hunger, exhaustion, or strong feelings of sadness or fear. These stressors can cause students to have greater difficulty focusing, processing information, and regulating their emotional responses. Creating a safe and supportive class environment where all students feel secure to express their feelings can help students feel more prepared to learn. One way to do this is with a daily mental health check-in.

As I have advanced through my teaching career, it has become evident that my student’s busy lives, home environments, family structures, and sleep patterns were all directly related to their disposition as learners. I needed to create a space where my students felt safe and cared for – a place where they could express how they were feeling and identify why they felt a certain way. This type of environment has successfully allowed me to build both home and school connections, while combating issues that were potentially affecting my students’ overall academic success. My students have many fun and exciting things they love to share that are also causing them to be distracted. Therefore, I developed Monday morning “peaks and pits”.

Sharing “peaks and pits,” the highs and lows of the weekend allowed my students to share with their classmates how their weekend went. By providing the space for my students to “let their stories out” they were able to settle into their day and find more success in their learning. I quickly realized that this method could also help provide insight into their mood, motivation, and emotional state.

My goal for “peaks and pits” was to give my students the chance to express their thoughts and work through anything that was bothering them so they could better concentrate throughout the day. It also helped them feel they had friends to celebrate with when things went well and lean on when things did not. The stories students shared became more personal each week— a family member passing, the loss of a pet, getting in trouble in an after-school activity, or striking out in a baseball game.

Through “peaks and pits” we shared in the joy of one another’s successes and felt compassion for one another’s struggles. I watched in awe as each student in my class truly began to understand that you never know what another person is going through. As a result of “peaks and pits”, before judging another’s actions and moods, we took the time to ask and understand.

 

Julie Richardson serves as a school psychologist at Henry Barnard Laboratory School in Rhode Island. She is a U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellow.

Margaret Adair is a first-grade teacher at Henry Barnard Laboratory School. She taught kindergarten at HBS for 13 years.