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Check-In: The Power of Asking How You're Doing

By Julianne Morgan

Head, Heart, and Hands

There is a magnifying glass on mental health and student success right now from the pandemic and the pressure of learning remotely. But, let’s be clear: looking for signs of distress and asking students how they’re doing is not just connected to the online modalityNor is it just for the realm of students! In fact, it is a central tenant of the Marianist mission:

"The Marianist tradition of education emphasizes the integration of head, heart and hands. Education must provide ways to promote connections across and integrity among our ways of thinking — knowing and believing, our ways of feeling — our desires, emotions and passions, and our ways of relating with God and others." - Common Themes in the Mission and Identity of the University of Dayton

For some of us, the ideas in that quote could feel entirely unnatural and unsuitable for a class. What does it mean to promote connections from "knowing to feeling" in our students? What does sharing emotions and passions have to do with learning Advanced Polynomials? The truth is, maybe not that much. Not every class, not every instructor is suitable for the kinds of vulnerable discussions this quote asks of Marianist educators. But, from a more practical standpoint, study after study show that students' academic performance is impaired when they are dealing with mental health challenges. Not many of those advanced polynomials are going to get through if your students are dealing with depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc.! I think it goes without saying that many, if not most of our students (and us!), are experiencing some level of all of these things, and have been for almost a full year now. It's not enough to just focus on educating the "head" anymore. As educators and colleagues, we also have to extend our hearts and our hands. 

This is easier said than done for many instructors at UD. As noted earlier, for many, it doesn't come naturally to engage with students personally - it almost feels like it's crossing some kind of boundary. Moreover, some of our class sizes and topics just don't lend themselves well to building personal relationships. It's hard to want to connect with students when our own lives are more stressful than ever. Lastly, it's exhausting to extend yourself and get nothing in return. 

Student Survey Results

That said, we know that even just the smallest acts of hands and heart can help students push through their challenges. At the end of the Fall 2020 semester, we asked students, "What is the most helpful thing instructors have done to help you learn?" The answer was pretty resounding: instructors showed that they cared. Below are a few of the comments from the survey:

  • She constantly checked in with us as humans, not just students.
  • She always brought her passion and excitement to class, gave us many resources to support us, checked in frequently, answered questions quickly and thoroughly
  • He understood the struggle students went through and offered anything to help us succeed. He gave recordings of the lectures, copy of notes, and checked in on his students.
  • Did a great job this semester - always took the time to hear from us and really seemed to care about us and our well-being.
  • Takes a great interest in his students and wants to make sure they succeed

How Can I Check-In?

Some of these quotes make it sound like a lot of effort to check-in, but it really can be very simple. Here are some examples of check-in methods that will help your students feel more connected to you, the course content, and to UD. 

  • Add the Check-In tool to your Isidore site (1-minute video demo) to collect non-anonymous feedback to customizable questions.
  • Add the Online MID tool to your Isidore site to collect anonymous feedback to three standard questions (1-minute video demo).
  • Add the Flyer Emoji Ratings tool to your Isidore site (3-minute video demo) to ask a single Likert-style question with Rudy Flyer emojis.
  • Ask students how class is going on the Commons tool on your Isidore homepage. Get creative with it! Tell them you'll give a bonus point to the student who provides the best constructive feedback. 
  • Create and deliver an anonymous Google Form (3-minute video demo).
  • Create and share a Google Doc to collect semi-anonymous feedback (5-minute video demo).
  • Send an email to your class or an individual student asking how things are going. Consider ending with a call to action such as, “I would urge anyone that is currently struggling in this class or having a hard time to send me email. I WANT to know if you are facing challenges that could impact your ability to be successful in this course."
  • Ask a student to stay after class for a brief chat. This time-honored technique, which can be done in-person or via Zoom (after making sure any recordings are stopped), is a fantastic way to connect with a student and see how they are doing. 

If the concept of asking students how they're doing is a bit awkward for you, start with something small, indirect, and more academic than personal. Each of the tools can be tweaked / framed to collect either academic or more personal feedback. Just pick one thing and try it once to see how it goes! You checking in may be the thing that will get a student over whatever hump they are currently facing. Remember, though, if you've asked for feedback, do try to follow through on at least addressing the feedback you received, even if you don't take any other action.

Now is a good time, too, to check-in with any friends, family, or colleagues with whom you may have lost touch. Just one small act of sending a quick text or email can make a world of difference to someone - and to yourself. 

So, how are you doing? Let me know at I'd love to hear from you.

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