Social-Emotional Check-ins for In-Person Learning

After the chaos and disconnect of the past 18 months, students — especially girls — need community, connections, and grounding more than ever. Even before COVID, gender expectations, which many speculate are heightened by social media engagement, led to girls experiencing anxiety, depression, and stress at about three times the rate of boys. This mental health challenge is then compounded during this pandemic by an increase in caretaking responsibilities for some girls, destabilized home environments, and challenges in access to healthcare and mental health services (including health-related activities such as sports), all of which disproportionately impact girls. For these reasons social and emotional learning (SEL) — the process of developing personal and relational awareness, communication, and decision-making skills — is an essential priority as we return to in-person learning.

SEL provides the tools to help young people process experiences, feel supported, and build skills to cope, heal, and thrive. This work begins with building connection and trust in our shared community. The good news is there are so many opportunities to create social-emotional check-ins for in-person learning, and when we get this right for the most marginalized students in our classroom, we make our classroom communities stronger, and everybody benefits.

One of the connection and reflection exercises in our newly revised guide, Social-Emotional Check-ins for In-Person Learning, focuses on grounding anxiety. Given the current levels of anxiety for adolescents — especially girls — exercises like this are prerequisites to learning, building community, or any authentic communication. This mindfulness and self-compassion exercise takes 5–10 minutes and works for all ages. It is a simple way for students to pay attention to their bodies, clear their minds, and connect to the present moment.

Note that any type of grounding exercise or body scan is always an invitation and not a requirement. For girls and gender-expansive youth who have experienced trauma, a body scan can feel scary, awkward, and uncomfortable. We know that trauma lives in the body, not the event. When asking girls to engage in any grounding or mindfulness activity, it is important to frame the exercise as an invitation. She always has the right to choose how she wants to engage.

Download the Guide!

Social-Emotional Check-ins for In-Person Learning: Anxiety Grounding Exercise

Invite students to write or draw responses to the following prompts (allow time to write or draw between each prompt). If members of your class have limited sensory capacity in one of these senses, simply remove that exercise.

  • 5 things they can see…
  • 4 things they can feel…
  • 3 things they can hear…
  • 2 things they can smell…
  • 1 thing they can taste…

Anxiety Grounding Exercise Discussion Questions

Once students have finished responding to the prompts, ask the following questions. This activity can also be done in pairs.

  • What did you notice in this exercise?
  • Were some prompts more challenging than others?
  • Why do you think it’s called a “grounding” exercise?

This exercise helps provide the foundation to ground students in a brave space, a space that is built on trust, acceptance, and accountability. Modeling vulnerability and giving students the opportunity to share their voice will go far to build a sense of community where learners both rely upon and push each other. One way a teacher can model vulnerability is to share how they were feeling before and after the activity. For example, a teacher might say, “Before the grounding exercise, I felt worried because of what I’ve been hearing on the news regarding the pandemic and all the suffering around the world, and now I feel more connected to my own breath and more present with you all.” Use this activity as a check-in at the beginning of class, check-out at the end, or other transition time during the day.

For the 25 additional exercises, download our Social-Emotional Check-ins for In-Person Learning guide!

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