Checking in to prevent checking out: Building relationships and addressing students’ emotional needs by using daily check-ins


David Lerner


Applicable to all

Denver Center for International Studies - Montbello (DCIS-M)

To use daily check-ins to:

  • Give students increased voice in the classroom about their emotional well-being and specific needs for the day.

  • Acknowledge students' emotions and feelings to build trust, understanding, and stronger student-teacher relationships.

  • Communicate the importance of mental health within an academic setting and allow teachers to adapt to the needs of their students.

Relationships and Culture


David Lerner is a 7th grade science teacher at the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello (DCIS-M). In addition to wanting to teach his students science lessons that are applicable to their lives, he also wants to learn more about his students' lives and apply this to his teaching.

David has started a check-in system with his students in order to better understand their feelings and emotions each day. As part of the daily "do now," which is a set of content-related questions that transition students into class, students rate how they are feeling on a scale of one to ten. One indicates that students are feeling very negative and ten indicates that students are feeling very positive. Students can then include a brief explanation of why they feel that way and describe the specific accommodations they need to help them cope with their emotions. In addition to helping David understand how best to support his students, this also allows him to learn more about the positives in his students' lives.

This practice helps strengthen relationships between David and his students by building trust and a more common understanding of what each student needs to learn best each day. David has learned more about the importance of relationship building by participating in Growth Through Connections (GTC), a program aimed at supporting teachers in connecting with students with which they may not have many shared experiences.

The Imaginarium, with the generous support and partnership of the Janus Henderson Foundation, created the GTC program to combat inequities in education and to find innovative solutions that benefit students nationwide. The goal of our GTC collaboration is to equip educators with the tools and knowledge to:

  • Recognize their own beliefs and biases.
  • Understand leaners' life experiences and communities.
  • Build deep relationships with students and their families.
  • Create an equitable, inclusive classroom culture.
  • Develop the whole child.
  • Manage the classroom so that they have more time to work directly with individual students.
  • Develop instruction and practices that are personalized, culturally relevant, engaging, and meaningful for each student.

The Importance of Building Relationships

Excerpts from Emdin's book?

"You can really quickly get an idea [of what students need] by asking ‘hey what can I do to help you succeed today?’ and they know what is best for them. Some will say 'I need a break halfway through class' or 'I need to sit in the back of class for a little bit and put my head down.' And right off the bat, you’ll have them on board because you showed that you care about them. You showed that you care that they have successes and that they are well that day. If you can show that you care that they’re doing okay that day, that means the world to them and to me too. That’s more important than what we’re learning, just starting with their well-being and going from there."

-David Lerner

How are you building relationships with students?

This year, David has been intentional about treating each student as an individual with unique needs and feelings and adapting his classroom to reflect that. David uses a "do now" slip to check-in with students on how they're feeling each day. By providing a place for them to write out how they're feeling, why they feel that way, and what they need to cope with their emotions, he is building trust in his classroom and conveying to his students that he cares. This gives students voice and the opportunity to advocate for their needs. 

What is your goal for your class?

Because students are at different places in their learning and lives, David hopes that he will impact how students think about school and their relationships with teachers. He wants to see students who dislike school and may be struggling start to see the importance of school. He hopes that they will start to invest in the relationships they form with teachers and see the relevance of academic achievements in their lives and for their futures.

What challenges have emerged?

The biggest challenge to the implementation of this practicehas been trying to learn more about each student. Some students tend to be more reserved and less willing to share, so they may require different strategies than other students. Adapting to each individual can be an undertaking, as it is sometimes a difficult process to learn what works for each student.



How have these practices impacted your mindset?

David came into teaching with a set of strategies from his initial training that he expected to work. Through additional experience teaching and by participating in GTC, he has learned that these strategies don't work for all students. He has learned that what is really important is building relationships with students in order to better understand each individual student and address their needs.


How have these practices impacted students?

David has seen students put more effort into class and their learning because of David's increased emphasis on building relationships. When students feel more connected to their teacher and the content, they are more engaged. He thinks that students are now seeing the value of learning more than they did before.



How have these practices impacted student-teacher relationships?

Because of the daily check-ins, David has been able to better understand his students and help them convey what they need from him. This has increased communication by providing students with a way to exercise their voice in the classroom. By establishing that he cares about his students, he feels that he has been able to better engage them in his class and build stronger relationships. 



Special thanks to...

David Lerner, DCIS Montbello, and the Janus Henderson Foundation for engaging in this challenging work to close our persistent achievement gap and to help every student succeed.

Report by Molly Baird, Danna Ortiz, and Sophie Gullett.

Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks that teach in the hood ...and the rest of y'all too. Boston: Beacon Press.