It is no secret that there has been a sharp rise in rates of depression among college students (Alamo et al., 2020), which may be caused by a reported increase in anxiety and stress (Sahin Baltaci, 2021). Islam et al. (2022) found that among first year university students, 69.5% had extremely severe levels of depression and 61% had high levels of anxiety.
In response, universities have found success in decreasing anxiety through intervention programs to provide support for students who may struggle. Additionally, programs to increase student engagement on campuses are equally important as a sense of belonging may positively impact students’ mental health. A sense of belonging in the context of the school environment is greatly affected by student-teacher relationships and peer interactions (Allen et al, 2018
Proactively fostering a sense of belonging by building community in the classroom can only improve a student’s outlook. One strategy teachers can use to build community, foster supportive relationships with students, and to help students develop positive personal characteristics is to utilize regular check-ins. In a classroom setting, check-ins are a way to touch base with students about how they are feeling and to get to know the students, and are a great strategy for fostering school belonging by building classroom community. Below are six check-in ideas to build community in college classrooms. These suggested strategies can be used as bellwork when students enter the classroom, they can be used as a break during a lesson, or as a wrap up as a way to end the class.
By providing students with opportunities for personal reflection, teachers are demonstrating that they are caring and empathic while fostering self-reflection skills, which are key to developing positive personal characteristics.
- Survey: Teachers provide students with a Google Form to complete at the beginning of class to answer short questions, such as “How are you feeling today?”
- Victory or burden: Students are asked to think of a victory or burden, and sharing aloud is optional. A victory is something that the student would like to celebrate and a burden could be something like a big deadline approaching or a personal loss. The teacher then models appropriate responses and encourages others to provide praise or support as well.
Integrating laughable moments can help relieve stress and build classroom community through humor.
- Meme Mondays: The teacher posts a meme and gives students time to consider a humorous caption. Students who want to share can post their caption.
- Go Noodle: Although Go Noodle was designed for delivery in the K-5 classroom, university students may also enjoy some of the silly and interactive activities. For example, students have found enjoyment from the videos in the Sensory and Motor Skills or the Movement Type categories, such as Fist and Flat or Hand/Foot Challenge (Go Noodle, 2016).
- Corny joke: Pausing for a silly joke in the middle of class helps students reset, it breaks up the monotony, and lightens the mood.
Another check-in to help build community and lower stress levels is to take time for a mindful moment of movement.
- Meditation: Instructors ask students to move slowly through positions while being mindful of their breathing and various body parts. For example, from a sitting position, students can sway their body from side to side as they sway like a tree or progressively shake out different parts of the body to burn off excess energy.
- Stretch: Instructors could use Somatic stretching, such as the back stretch to reach for the toes to help students release tension, or lead students through a simple stretching routine.
- Dance break: Teachers can put on some music and have students move or do a quick silly dance to relieve tension.
Activities that increase emotional intelligence can be integrated in the classroom or space to help build community because it gives students the awareness and skills to understand and react appropriately to their emotions and the emotions and actions of others.
- Online inventories: Teachers have students complete an emotional intelligence inventory or a stressor survey to help students discover their areas of strengths and weaknesses and things that may cause stress. Then the teacher discusses the components of emotional intelligence and related coping skills.
- Worry jar: Instructors have students write their worries on a paper jar and then models how to discern between ones students need to leave in the jar to address later and ones and ones they can make a plan for to deal with.
- Kindful moment: The teacher sets a timer for a designated amount of time and tells students to focus on kindness-sending positive and loving thoughts out into the world, including themselves, classmates, families, friends, and strangers. At the end of the activity, students may want to share with other students around them or the class to create positive energy.
By providing students with statements to consider or asking students to think positively about their own traits and characteristics, instructors can help to teach students the value of thinking in a positive way.
- “I am…” statements: Have students write three statements about themselves that express something positive, such as “I am good at basketball.” Students are encouraged to put them in a place that they will see periodically. Maintaining positivity and reflecting on strengths is important to positivity.
- Give and take board: Teachers have students write statements on Post-Its, such as “Don’t give up,” and place the positive statements on the board. As students leave class they are encouraged to take what they need to help them maintain positive thoughts.
- Journaling: Using prompts such as, “What are five things that make me the happiest?” “What makes me feel useful and helpful?” or “What do I love most about myself?” can direct students’ internal thoughts to optimistic thoughts.
Setting goals helps establish new behaviors, provide a focus, and promote a sense of accomplishment.
- Vision boards: Students create boards, either electronically or on paper, and post pictures of things that symbolize the goals they want to accomplish. Students are encouraged to add to them throughout the year to stay focused on their goals.
- SMART goals: Instructors ask students to create one or more goal statements that fit the specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely criteria. These goals can then be revisited throughout the school year to help students refocus.
- Focus words: Instructors provide students with a list of inspirational words (i.e. strength, joy, thankful) and ask students to choose one word to focus on for a set period of time. Students should be encouraged to continually come back to that word and reflect on whether they have maintained their goal to live that way.
By concentrating on the six foci for student check-ins, instructors have an opportunity to greatly impact student-teacher relationships and peer interactions for university students, creating a sense of belonging that may not only increase student motivation and enjoyment in the classroom (Pedler, Willis, & Nieuwoudt, 2022), but may lead to better persistence and retention (Gopalan, & Brady, 2020).
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