Student Well-Being

Subtle Ways to Check on Students’ Well-Being

By Denisa R. Superville — December 06, 2022 3 min read
Illustration of holding hands.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ashley Bowling learned to be attuned to every child’s needs while working as a special education teacher.

Now an assistant principal at the 700-student Florence Middle School in Florence, Ala., she’s using those skills honed in her teaching career to support students who are struggling and need individualized—and often subtle—support.

“Kids don’t want to stand out” in middle school, Bowling said. “They don’t want to seem like they are in need of anything—other than their peers. This is a way to get their needs met without making them feel socially awkward.”

Color-coded folders

One strategy Bowling relies on is a color-coded folder system. A folder’s color signals to a teacher the type of assistance a student needs or the person in the building they’d like to see.

For example, a student who puts a yellow folder on their desk may be telling the teacher they need to see a counselor. Taking that action allows the student to slip out of class without lifting their hand or saying anything.

“We just try to find very discreet ways they can get the help they need,” Bowling said.

Even at the counselor’s office, the student has the option of speaking with the counselor or simply taking a moment to themselves before returning to class.

Students choose the colors of the folders—and what they’ll mean. Different colors mean different things to different students, which helps keep their specific need a private matter.

This helps get buy-in from students, and teachers and everyone involved in the child’s education know what the colors mean and where students are heading once they leave class, Bowling said.

And their destination doesn’t have to be to the counselors’ office.

“It may be a librarian; it may be to one of the administrators,” Bowling said, adding that it could be any trusted adult in the building “they feel they can talk to.”

While adults may have the agency to remove themselves from stressful situations, students don’t always have that option during the school day, Bowling said.

“Just by the design of school, kids don’t have the liberty to do that,” she noted.

The folders give them a “socially appropriate way to do that.”

Improvement cards

A second system uses “flight cards,” which help students meet expectations they’ve set for themselves. (The school’s mascot is a Falcon, hence the name for the card system.)

The card, for example, may indicate that a student is working on developing the skills to respond appropriately in class. It may include tips that students can use to meet their goals, such as raising their hands and waiting for the teacher to call on them before beginning to speak.

Bowling and the teachers work with students to define their expectations and what they’d like to accomplish each day.

“It has to be very individualized,” Bowling said. “Or it will never work. This is 100 percent student-driven. … If they don’t have buy-in, it’s a waste of their time and your time.”

Ashley Bowling

Students check in with Bowling at the beginning of the day about the behaviors they’re working on. Teachers give feedback on how the student measured against their goals at the end of the day.

Students may start using the card system after being sent to the office twice for issues ranging from lack of preparedness for class, disrespectful behavior, talking over the teacher, tardiness, and inappropriate use of electronic devices, for example.

Incentives are also built in to help students stay on task, such as more time on their Chromebooks, time with a friend, or snacks.

Both programs started just before the pandemic in 2020 but have since been expanded. The school has also created opportunities for students to request to see a counselor online.

Bowling stressed that these strategies are meant to be short-term efforts. Students often use the cards for short periods, about 10 days or so, because the idea is to help them transition to the appropriate behavior.

But for those who use the cards longer, Bowling has found that “we are not addressing the right behavior. So what is the problem?”

Bowling said for the most part, she’s found that the system has worked to get students on track.

“A lot of time what we found is that the kids start thriving because they have somebody checking in with them in the morning and afternoon,” she said.

“They really wanted that positive attention where someone is checking in with them and acknowledging that they did a good job.”


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being In Their Own Words These Students Found Mental Health Support in After-School Programs. See How
3 students discuss how after-school programs benefit their well-being.
6 min read
Vector illustration of a woman sitting indian style with her arms spread wide and a rainbow above her head.
Student Well-Being Cellphone Headaches in Middle Schools: Why Policies Aren't Enough
Middle schoolers' developmental stage makes them uniquely vulnerable to the negative aspects of cellphones. Policies alone won't help.
6 min read
A student holds a cell phone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
A student holds a cellphone during class at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., on Jan. 25, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Student Well-Being Teachers Want Parents to Step Up to Curb Cellphone Misuse. Are They Ready?
A program from the National PTA aims to partner with schools to give parents resources on teaching their children healthy tech habits.
5 min read
Elementary students standing in line against a brick wall using cellphones and not interacting.
Student Well-Being Schools Feel Less Equipped to Meet Students' Mental Health Needs Than a Few Years Ago
Less than half of public schools report that they can effectively meet students’ mental health needs.
4 min read
Image of a student with their head down on their arms, at a desk.
Olga Beliaeva/iStock/Getty