Temperature Check: A Simple Wellbeing Check for Real or Remote Classroom
If I were to ask you ‘How are you?’ the real answer would likely be too big or too complicated for the time we have today. So ‘I’m fine’ would do and we’d move on. This is especially true now as we navigate a pandemic and mental exhaustion mixed with moments of sadness, joy and boredom.
‘How are you?’ is an impossible question to answer because it’s so weighty. This is especially true for children experiencing grief, according to Carole Henderson from Grief Recovery, in an incredibly informative interview with TES about how to support students during lockdown.
If, instead, I ask you to give me a number to represent your wellbeing today, right now (1 being the lowest and 10 the highest), the question becomes more manageable in the moment. This is a temperature check—a great activity to do with students because it allows them to share their emotional status in a low-risk way.
TEMPERATURE CHECKS in the classroom
Temperature checks are quick check-ins to see how students are doing using a number or symbol. In the physical classroom, I’d explain to students: ‘Let’s take a temperature. What number would reflect how you are feeling today, based on a scale of 1 to 10.’ Then I would show them a scale, like the one below.
After a few seconds of think time, I would say, ‘On the count of three, show me your temperature using your fingers. One, two, three …’ A glance across the room would quickly give me some insight. I look for low numbers, those children who may need a smile. If I have built up trust with the class, I may ask students to say their temperature aloud to the whole group or a partner, and let them elaborate if they want to.
TEMPERATURE CHECKS from a distance
Wellbeing checks are more important now more than ever during this period of prolonged weeks of school closures and the impending ‘new normal’ of physical distancing when schools do open. Temperature checks have a place and are still a great strategy that can be used with remote learning. The Temperature check can also become a practised protocol that can be used across different settings, so if you start using it now for home learning, you can carry on with the strategy when you are back in the classroom. Here are my suggestions for using during remote learning:
If the lesson is synchronous (you are teaching in real time via video), you can use the same strategies as above because you can see the students (such as Zoom, Google Hangout Meets or Microsoft Teams). Students can show the numbers with their fingers, write it down on paper or they can submit the number via chat. (I’m sure there are other great online strategies, such as polls or instant surveys, that teachers are using.) You can also ‘take temperatures’ at the end of lessons and use this opportunity to offer some positive advice. ‘If I’m feeling worried, I take a deep breath and make sure I tell someone.’ or ‘I set small goals for myself each day.’
If your lesson is asynchronous (or not in real-time), create an assignment and insert a simple questionnaire using google forms or a similar format for collecting responses using a scale like the one above (1-5-10) or multiple-choice options: ‘I’m great.’ ‘I’m OK,’ ‘I’m having a hard time.’ For students who do not have access to a device, this means a phone call home or a text. You can use Temperature Checks as a conversation starter.
For younger students, align the choices with happy/neutral/sad faces that show varying degrees of emotion. Just screengrab the one I created below. Create an optional open-ended question to ask if there are particular needs that can be addressed. (See Student Well-Being in Times of Crisis for ideas on how to develop individual self-care plans for students and check with your school protocols and safeguarding system.)
A Tool for Students and Teachers
Sharing negative emotions with someone we trust can reduce stress and help students to cope. Mental health of youth is of paramount importance during this time of Covid-19, and temperature checks offer students a tool for raising self awareness, which is a key social emotional learning skill. Students can be encouraged to take a daily temperature check on their own to assess their emotions and consider tools and resources that might make them feel better, advises Nina Dibner, contributor to Conne
ct the Dots and executive director of Powertools, which runs courses to help students handle stress.
Temperature checks also create opportunities for teachers to gain insight into students’ wellbeing or safety concerns. Over time, look for
any patterns of students giving ‘low temperatures’ or who give reasons such as a lack of sleep or difficulty concentrating (compared to previously) or students who may disconnect and do not do the temperature check at all. Follow-up with a phone call home or text. When following up with students, Henderson suggests that teachers start by asking students if it’s okay to talk right now and equip themselves with resources they might need or talking points. (See Grief Recovery Method for answers to a lot of your questions about how to talk to students.) Keep in mind that you are not expected to be a trained counselor. Your role here is provide support and listen. Seek further help, if needed.
TEMPERATURE CHECK with staff in school
Temperature checks are also a great strategy to use with adults. This variation works well with staff because it is both about getting a wellbeing check but also discussing patterns. Use big chart paper to create a thermostat number line drawn with numbers 1, 5 and 10. Post it on the wall with space in between for sticky notes, below – one poster per 30 people. Have at least one sticky note per participant.
Ask participants to write down their number on a sticky note. They then place their sticky on the thermometer or number line posted on the wall.
Discuss with staff:
What patterns do you notice?
What can this activity teach/remind us?
Why might this activity (or a variation) be helpful to use in your classroom?
What strategies do you use when energy is low in your classroom?
This warm-up reminds staff that a group of individuals will have individual energy levels, moods, backgrounds and attitudes that may vary from day to day.
It also can be used with students to raise the level of self-awareness, discern energy level of class, identify patterns of low energy from specific students and support social-awareness.
This can lead to a discussion (individually) of what students might need in order to feel engaged or safe. If a teacher notices that a large number of students have a low number, it might be a good idea to conduct a short icebreaker to lift the mood or evaluate which students might need checking in with after class. Remind staff and students of the safety measures in place. Anxiety is often triggered from uncertainty.
In Connect the Dots: The Collective Power of Relationships, Memory and Mindset, myself and Nina Dibner, contributor to the book and former teacher like me, cover numerous other ways for building connections in the classroom and across the whole school. For now—in this new norm—we must adapt and reflect on previous practices.
I would love to hear from you if you tried this or if you use something similar. Please get in touch via Twitter @triciatailored or firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about Connect the Dots at Amazon or on my website: tailoredpractice.com. Illustrations are by Oliver Caviglioli and me.
The Tes Vodagogy series on Mental Health is an amazing free resource. Two videos that influenced me to write this blog are:
Supporting student and staff wellbeing remotely with Professor Tamsin Ford, which has links to other resources.