Has COVID taken a toll on your student's wellbeing? Show them that you understand and support them by giving them an easy way to share their worries, concerns, and needs.
Julia Brown is a middle school teacher in Texas who had a simple but clever idea to help her students communicate their needs or wants in a casual and comfortable way. It allows her to address their needs so they can clear their minds to focus on their learning.
Her idea was inspired by a student survey where one of the questions asked them to name an adult at school they were comfortable talking to about anything. When around 10% answered they had no-one to turn to, Julia wanted to give her students a voice without feeling embarrassed or self-conscious.
When I came across Julia's post from 2018, it spoke to me, so I spoke to Julia. I was keen to share her idea so more teachers could help their students offload their worries, especially since kids all over the globe are struggling with extra stressors (due to the pandemic) that impact their mental health and wellbeing. Julia agreed. "We’ve really seen the effects of Covid in the social/emotional maturity of our students. They need to know there’s someone there for them."
Julia's Original Post
"I’m trying something new in my classroom.
I’m calling this my “I need” box.
I’m going to set it out with notecards and pencils. If a student needs something they are not comfortable voicing aloud, they can write it on the notecard with their name and put it in the box.
I just want to let my students know I’m there to help them with anything they need. We’ll see how it goes."
Julia's Second Post
"A few weeks ago, I posted about the “I need” box I was starting in my class. I wanted to give everyone an update.
If you recall, it was a way for my students to ask for help without having to come directly to me. They would write it on a card and leave it in the box.
The first week, two boys let me know about a bullying situation. We got it taken care of. The next week I changed the format a little and started having EVERY student put a card in the box every day. They didn’t have to write on it, but every student visits the box daily. Since then, I’ve had a plethora of “needs” submitted. They range from specific supply needs, seat changes, special handshakes when entering class, after-school help, bullying situations, and even daily hugs. What’s even better is students are starting to come to me directly with issues/challenges they are having bypassing the box completely.
I’ve been teaching middle school for 15 years, and I can honestly say this is the best thing I’ve ever done to reach my kids this early in the school year. Thank you to everyone who liked, commented on, and shared that original post. I hope many other teachers find it as successful as I have."
Questions and Comments from Teachers
"Do you have a different box per class period, do you empty it each period just so that you know what needs are from which period? Or do you have every student from every class put it in the same box and look at the whole thing at the end of the day?" - Michael
"I empty it after each class period, but the kids also write their names on the card if they have a need." - Julia
"I LOVE this, would you have any ideas about how to make this work in the primary (1st grade) setting?" - Lindsey
"Lindsey, maybe try pictures or symbols to represent the need." - Julia
"Love this! Can I ask how you framed and presented this idea to your students (specific verbiage, concepts, etc.)?" - Maggie
"What sorts of expectations did you set with this box? Did you place any restrictions on what they could submit? Or tell them that things may not always be addressed? Just trying to get a sense for whether or not you’re able to address everything that’s submitted (as that could become very stressful and difficult to do over time). I absolutely love this idea and think you’re truly amazing & inspiring!!" - Shannon
"I gave them non-examples such as candy, Xbox, etc. So far I’ve been able to help with everything." - Julia
"You should let the students know that it’s ok to write the note somewhere else and then slip it in the box! I feel like sometimes they might not want others to know they’re putting something in there! Just a thought!
The box is a GREAT idea!"
"I’ve changed the system a little. Everyone has to put a card in the box every day. They don’t have to write anything on it, but they have to put it in the box." - Julia
"Great job! I love this idea - did you start at the beginning of the year or could this be incorporated later? Second quarter or semester, in your opinion?" - Eileen
"I started the second week of school. I think you could start immediately. Tell them you were thinking about how you could help them more." - Julia
"Great idea. I wonder, though, just how you dealt with the bullying." - Joanne
"I turned the report into the counselor and administrator. They investigated and resolved the issue." - Julia
"Years ago, I had a student with many problems. He needed, wanted, and demanded attention, good or bad. The other children were constantly telling on him for one thing or another. He was driving them all crazy. He was very happy because he got loads of attention.
One day, I sent him out of the class on an errand for me. I quickly introduced my box. They were to write the date of their complaint, approximate time, and all the details of what happened. They were no longer allowed to tell on him the old way.
I moved my desk and his to the back of the room where the children couldn’t see him, and he couldn’t perform for them. Not only were the children getting practice in writing sentences, but I also had lots of data on this child’s behavior.
I gave him work he was capable of doing. He quit getting the attention for bad behavior and the children and I gave him way more attention than normal on any and all good behavior. I also kept a log. It didn’t take too long for his behavior to start improving. Everyone was happy in the end!" - Judy
"Perfect management! Kudos to you!" - Julia
Share your ideas
I'm always on the lookout for great ideas to share with other teachers that help their students communicate. Being able to talk and get things off their chest is a hugely important factor in keeping kids happy and healthy and it's an important social-emotional skill.
If you have any strategies that work well in your classroom, please EMAIL me with your photos and comments so I can share them with others.