Crete students use emojis for daily mental health check-in

Emojis aren’t just for texting and Facebook anymore.

Those little smiley faces – or angry faces – are being used by educators at Crete Public Schools to get ahead of student mental health concerns.

Karen Williams, Ed.S, school psychologist at Crete Intermediate School, said the morning check-in has helped many students set themselves up for more successful days by getting their concerns out of their head as soon as they start classes each day.

Students spend just a moment filling out a Google form, choosing from a set of five emojis that illustrate how they are feeling that morning.

The results are sent to their homeroom teacher, who then follows up when a student selects an emoji that indicates something might be weighing them down.

“Putting their thoughts and ideas first thing in the morning check-in allows them to decompress and for staff to have more meaningful and intentional conversations with them,” Williams said.

Students at Crete Intermediate have been using the system for the last five years, though it has evolved and changed in that time. Crete Middle School students recently joined in, too.

“This idea was inspired by The Incredible 5-Point Scale book by Karl Dunn and Mitzi Curtis,” Williams said. “We used this book to train staff (including paras) to teach and practice what each point in the 5-point scale means to get more accurate data when students were rating themselves.”  
When Crete began the morning check-ins, it was done manually, not digitally.

“Students would pick up a stick that had their name on it, and they would put it in the cup that had the number and face of how they were feeling,” Williams said.

Students who placed their sticks in the 3, 4 or 5 level would first speak with their teacher in a non-invasive, confidential way. The teacher would use their professional judgment on whether a referral to the school psychologist was needed.

During the 2019-20 school year, the district switched to an electronic method, where students now check-in through a Google Form on their Chromebooks – a more efficient and confidential way to collect the data.

Students who rate themselves at a 3, 4 or 5 then answer a follow-up question: “What is making you feel this way?”

The data are uploaded onto a DataStudio site, where responses can be charted to monitor individual, group and the entire building’s social-emotional health on a daily basis. Filters allow staff to see response patterns by date, grade, class and student.

“We were able to collect data in this manner and identify patterns in students’ responses,” Williams said.

The information helps her and other school staff provide individual behavioral, social and emotional interventions when needed.

“Students whose data indicate significant emotional instability (based on the grade’s average and standard deviation) meet with the school psychologist or school counselor,” Williams said.

Mental health resources are provided to students through small groups at lunchtime, individual counseling, counseling with the district’s psychotherapist, or referrals to community mental health services or other agencies.