Educators on checking-in with students

Samia Zaidi, Daniel Motta, and Laura Tollis talk on Zoom.

In the past year, educators took on more responsibilities as the world transitioned to life in a pandemic and as students’ learning shifted from the classroom to the living room. To help connect with students during this time and as a way to develop relationships going forward, some educators turned to digital tools to check in with students. The result? Learning a lesson in the importance of checking in — a lesson that will last beyond the pandemic.

This year during the Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar, educators came together to discuss the power of the one-on-one check-in. We’re excited to share some highlights below.

Utilizing digital tools

The simple truth is that all students are different. Some are eager to open up in person. Others…well, not as much. That’s where a digital tool like Along can help.

On the panel, Daniel Motta, an educator at LEAD Innovation Studio in Kansas City, Mo., said, “I use Along—it allows me to record a message and send it to my students. It gives them time to sit with the question, and it gives them the time to come up with what they want to say […] I think once you break down that barrier, and you find out how [students] are comfortable communicating with you, and knowing that you’ll give them the time to think, and you won’t just put them on the spot…that’s when the relationship kicks into gear.”

Motta was able to overcome some students’ initial hesitation by communicating with them in a manner they felt comfortable with. Students could respond on their own time — and in their own way through text, audio, or video messages.

Empowering students to be involved

A one-on-one check-in with a student is so much more than just a passive hello. It’s a way for educators to reach out and show that they really want to hear what a student is thinking. It opens up a two-way street. Educator and EWA panelist Laura Tollis of Saline Middle School in Saline, Mich., shared, “As teachers, we do a lot of really quick checking in […] Thumbs up, thumbs down. How are you feeling today? But the one-on-one check-ins get us to: Why are you feeling that way? What’s going on?”

This way of checking in creates a foundation of trust and camaraderie between educators and students. It communicates: You have a say in this relationship. “I have a conversation with my students about what this relationship looks like for you and me.” Tollis is continually impressed by her students’ goals and honesty in communicating what they need from her as their educator.

Creating a safe space for all students

Long before the pandemic, students have felt the social burdens of speaking up in front of their peers. For educators, this can be a roadblock to forming meaningful relationships. Individual check-ins provide a solution, giving students a place to voice their thoughts without external pressure. Once students learn they can be their authentic selves with educators, the benefits are enormous. As Motta explained, “Creating space for students to feel comfortable allows them to trust you, and then they also begin to trust their other teachers too.”

With this foundation of trust, students know they have an advocate on their side. Motta continued, “Now more than ever, educators need to address social and emotional issues. The only way to do that is to develop one-on-one relationships [with students] if we’re going to make headway in education.” Check-ins help students understand that they are seen as individuals and not just as a collective classroom.

From developing stronger relationships to empowering student voices, one-on-one check-ins are the ultimate path for supporting a student’s development. An extra piece of good news is that the practice doesn’t need to take precious time. By using digital tools like Along, educators can check in with students when it suits their schedule. But perhaps the best part is the change that educators have seen in themselves. About her experience with check-ins, Tollis said, “I’m more empathetic and understanding, which is what my kids need.”

Watch the full EWA session here.