A teacher has come up with a unique idea to keep tabs on the happiness of her students – by introducing a mental health ‘check in’ board.
Erin Castillo, who teaches children with special educational needs in San Francisco, devised the simple - yet achingly effective - method after spotting a digital version on the #okayteacher Facebook group.
Castillo asks her students to write their names on the back of a Post-it note and stick it next to one of six different descriptions of ‘feelings’ when they come in to class in the mornings.
The options range from “I’m great”, “I’m okay” and “I’m meh”; through to, “I’m struggling”, “I’m having a hard time and wouldn’t mind a check-in” and “I’m in a really dark place”, next to a graphic of a broken heart.
She said it helped her keep an eye on students in the bottom two sections who were having a difficult time but didn’t know how to talk about it.
“I explained the green section as them struggling, but speaking to another adult or trying to work through it themselves,” Castillo wrote on Instagram.
“I was able to start some check ins today, and holy cow these kids. I love them. My heart hurts for them. High school is rough sometimes, but I was happy that a few were given a safe space to vent and work through some feelings.”
She added: “I also like that students could visually see that they aren’t alone in their struggles. It was a beautiful minimum day focusing on self care and mental health.”
Castillo said she was prompted to act because in the past five years, a number of her high school students had attempted suicide.
“So many people think they’re the only ones struggling,” she told INSIDER. “Kids need to hear that they’re not alone and what that support looks like.”
Castillo even went as far as to add a free, printable version with detailed instructions so that other teachers could do the same in their classrooms.
Her idea quickly went viral, with other teachers sharing their own versions.
Some people said the idea was so good it should be replicated in staff rooms for the teachers themselves - as research shows that as many as 75% of teachers have suffered from work-related conditions including depression, stress, panic attacks and anxiety - and in other workplaces too.
When she saw how popular her idea had been, Castillo said she started crying. “My husband asked me why I was crying, and I said, ‘because kids are being saved everywhere’.”
It’s also part of a growing trend in focusing on children’s thoughts and feelings. In October, a US kindergarten teacher revealed that kids are able to choose the way they like to be greeted in the mornings by their classmates: from hugs, to fist bumps, to handshakes.
I asked my seven-year-old daughter how she would feel about being presented with a ‘mental health board’ when she got into class.
“I want to do that,” she said. “It’s a good idea because the teacher would know how you feel and could ask if you’re okay. They need to know how you feel because you can’t just keep it in, it doesn’t feel nice if you do that.”
From the mouths of babes...
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.