Second period on October 31st, 2017 was just like any other ordinary second period on All Hallows Eve in my classroom full of 12th graders; a few students were in their Halloween costumes and others had the audacity to dress up as high school seniors. I was busy reading the temperature check data that was coming across my Google Sheet which included some formative data on a recent lesson I taught on the Cold War. As is always the case, before asking students to prove to me that they’ve retained important content, I always ask two questions: “How are you?” and “Why?” The “Why?” portion of the temperature check is always optional and I never draw attention to a student’s choice to not respond; it is entirely their choice.
“Oooh we got some folks in here wearing some pretty fly shoes!” I said at 8:39AM leaving the student nameless on purpose as always. I followed that up with a blanket statement of solidarity to express my disdain for Chemistry so that the many students in the room who were fresh off of their first period Chemistry exam felt supported (my wife is the Chemistry teacher so really, it was just to express my audacious belief that History is better than Chemistry). “Hey folks, don’t forget! Playoff soccer tonight! Be there!!” I do this for the playful stuff to show students that I care enough to read what they’re telling me. But some students are in no mood for play as I learned 11 seconds after 8:40AM when a student checked-in at a 2 with this for their why: “I’ve been struggling with depression for a long time and I hit my lowest point yesterday. Nothing I generally want to talk about. I had a long night and I’m thinking of talking to my parents about seeing someone.” The student scored a 12/14 on their (I will use gender-neutral pronouns so as not to remotely reveal the identity of the student) quiz and without having the audacity to ask how they were doing, I could have easily assumed they were doing just fine.
Immediately, I went into that mode that any teacher who has ever experienced a student in crisis knows all too well. My inner voice was frantic. “Alright, don’t show any change in demeanor or those 32 pairs of eyes looking at you will immediately know something is off… alright, think… think... DING!” I opened up my email and sent the student a message. “Hey, just saw your temperature check. At 8:43, raise your hand and ask to use the restroom. When you step out, stay there. I’ll be there in a minute.” I asked my entire class to check their emails as I had responded to a few students individually and then I stepped into my neighboring teacher’s classroom and asked if they could keep an eye on my students when I stepped out in a few minutes (we share a common door so this was pretty easy.) The teacher agreed. As I was now finishing up reading the rest of the temperature checks, the student’s hand went up and a minute later I was out in the hallway thanking the student for sharing and walking the student down to our counseling office where we’d support the student over the course of the rest of the day through the crisis. Two months later I would receive a letter from the student thanking me for saving their life that day.
This is serious business and by no means do I tell you this story to paint myself as some sort of hero of my own story here; that would be audacious. Many of our students are in a state of crisis today and if we have the audacity to only assess their retention of material in our respective classrooms, we are failing to assess the whole child. Imagine the magnitude of the pain our students and staff would have experienced if nobody had taken the time to ask, “How are you?” Imagine the additional liability if I had asked, “How are you?” but failed to actually read the responses?
The temperature check is a really simple tool you can use on a weekly basis to collect formative data on student assessments as well as student wellbeing. I myself typically check the temperature of my student population on Fridays but do checks more often toward the beginning of the school year while I’m building relationships. If you are a Google district or a Microsoft district, it’s as simple as making a Google/Microsoft Form and asking a “Linear scale” question. I’ve been doing these for several years now and can’t fathom not having this tool at my disposal. From time to time, students will have the audacity to ask, “Hey Mr. Slater, we haven’t had a temperature check in like a week… what’s the deal!?!” and I’ll quickly make a copy of the previous week’s temperature check, change the date, and send it out. It takes two minutes and I’m always thankful for what I learn about my students after issuing it.
Some pointers: If you’re going to have the audacity to give these out, you have to read all of them. Failure to do so opens you up to some very serious liability legally, but more importantly relationally. Second, the “why” portion of the temperature check must always be optional. Third, in the description portion of the linear scale question, put how you’re doing. In the description portion of the “why” question, explain to the class why you scored yourself where you scored yourself. What better way to help your students know how you’re doing than to share it with them while they’re sharing it with you? An example of what that looks like is below:
If you’re not interested in using technology for this, it’s as simple as asking students to take out some scratch paper to write it out instead of typing it out. It is my position that there is never a wrong time to have the audacity to ask how our students are doing and we can’t do it enough. Imagine the day a student walks into their last class period of the day and says, “Arghhh… another one!?! Every single teacher has asked me how I’m doing today!”
Bryan Slater is an experienced classroom teacher who has taught high school Social Studies in Tacoma, WA, Lagos, Nigeria, and Sumner, WA since 2002. He currently teaches IB 20th Century Topics, Advanced Leadership, and Theory of Knowledge to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders at Sumner High School. Bryan's passion centers on helping teachers and students understand the importance relationships play in developing a culture of learning and trust in the classroom. He believes the Eight Essentials are the key to those relationships and works hard to challenge his fellow colleagues and students to think about how they are creating their "Character Brand" as teachers and learners through the 1,000's of choices they make each day.