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Special education teacher's "mental health check in" for students inspires other educators

Teacher creates "mental health check in"

A special education teacher from Fremont, California, made a "mental health checklist" for her students. Now, teachers around the world are doing the same. 

Erin Castillo posted a photo of her mental health poster on Instagram and it went viral. She made a version of it available to download for free, and teachers around the world are posting photos of the chart in their classrooms.

The mental heath checklist asks kids if they are "great," "okay," "meh," "struggling," "having a hard time" or "in a really dark place." Students are encouraged to write their names on the back of a post-it and stick it on the poster under the section describing how they're feeling. 

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Made this mental health check in chart after seeing @missjohnstonsjourney use a digital version for teachers on her #okayteacher Facebook page. I asked my students to write their names on the back of a post-it note so I could check in with ones in the bottom two sections. I explained the green section as them struggling, but speaking to another adult or trying to work through it themselves. ••• I was able to start some check ins today, and holy cow these kids. I love them. My heart hurts for them. High school is rough sometimes, but I was happy that a few were given a safe space to vent and work through some feelings. ••• I also like that students could visually see that they aren’t alone in their struggles. It was a beautiful minimum day focusing on self care and mental health. ••• 💟UPDATE: just added a printable version with detail instructions so you can do this in your classroom! It’s FREE!💟 • • • #mentalhealthawareness #highschoolteacher #secondaryela #teacherorganization #teachings #anchorcharts #teachersofinstagram #teachersfollowteachers #teachersfollowingteachers #iteachtoo #teachertips #weareteachers #teacherspayteachers #teacherideas #teachingideas #specialeducationteacher #teacherlove #teach #weteachsped #teacher #iteachhighschool #elateacher #teachergoals #igteacher #igteachers #teachersofig

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If they put their post-it in the "struggling" section, they know they should try speaking with an adult about their feelings. If they say they are "having a hard time," or "in a really dark place," Castillo checks in with them. 

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Life changing! Life changing is what this check-in process, created by @makingastatementinsped is! I introduced the poster on Monday and be have been doing check-ins each morning and during the day ever since. It is crucial to go through the talking points Erin lays out in the product. Make sure you are open and honest with your kiddos about how you struggle on days and have to reach out to talk with friends when you do. It’s important to create a safe space and a no judgement zone. I have already have kiddos putting their post-its on and asking to have a check in with me. The check-in process is so simple, yet it could be the difference maker for a lot of the kiddos who need someone to notice and need someone to reach out. Teaching is so much more than the lesson plan and we HAVE to be present in our students’ lives. There is a lower elementary version of this too. I would 1000% recommend starting this in your rooms ASAP! Have conversations, be open, be intentional. Again, thank you @makingastatementinsped for bringing this into so many classrooms! 💕 . . . #teachers #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram #teachersofinsta #iteach #iteachtoo #iteach345 #iteach456 #teacherlife #classroomcommunity #classroom #elementaryeducation #elementaryteacher #iteach #acceptance #suicideprevention #teachings #teachertalk #teacherideas #spreadkindness #kindnessmatters #teachingstuff #classroomposter #bulletinboard #bulletinboardideas

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The teacher knows it's important to take time and focus on mental health – especially for high school kids. 

"My heart hurts for them," Castillo wrote on Instagram. "High school is rough sometimes, but I was happy that a few were given a safe space to vent and work through some feelings."

Castillo teaches high school English to special education students, as well as a peer counseling class to general education students, she told CBS News. Her whole classroom is filled with positive messages that promote self-care and kindness. 

She created an "affirmation station," where students can write positive notes to each other. 

"Affirmations are a big part of my classroom," Castillo wrote. "When students affirm each other, powerful connections can be formed. Think about how good it feels when a colleague or principal comments on something they notice you doing well, they didn't have to comment, but they recognized you. They SEE you."

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Erin Castillo knows it's important to take time and focus on mental health. @makingastatementinsped

She has also made a section of smaller posters on rings, which can be taken off the wall and looked at up close. She did this because a ton of big, bright posters can be overwhelming for some special education students.

In addition to her wall decorations, Castillo made a table for "Starbucks time." As a reward for good work, students get to sit at the table and work quietly and independently. They can listen to music, have a snack or just take in some much-needed "me time."

Many of the fun decorations in Castillo's classroom are available online, and she has compiled links for where to find them. 

"I may have made this mental health board with my students in mind, but it definitely has kept me going this year," the teacher wrote on the viral post. 

In addition to her school lessons, Castillo's students learn many life lessons. Most importantly: she's there for them.