If there is one skill that I have truly loved learning while at Oberlin, it’s facilitating a meeting. It didn’t happen on purpose: bit by bit, in student organizations, clubs, ExCos, and miscellaneous other gatherings, I have witnessed students my age guide and teach groups of people from the moment I got to Oberlin. As a first-year, I delighted in observing and absorbing the ways they moved. Some of the third- and fourth-years who led the activities I got involved in seemed so present and fearless and ready to hold the space. I started to believe that I might love facilitating too, and that I might even, at some point, have a chance to do it often. Fast forward a couple years, and on a regular basis—in ways both scheduled and completely by surprise—I am slipping into the role of facilitation.
The exciting thing about facilitating in a place where so many other students do is that you get to watch first, and then add your own flare to it. It really struck me, when I first got to Oberlin, the prevalence and persistence of what everyone was calling "check-in questions." At the start of a gathering, the person leading it would say something like, "Let's all go around and say names, pronouns, and… anyone have a good check-in question?" To which someone would answer, after a brief moment of silence, "What's the best thing you ate this weekend?" It was surprising and wonderful that there seemed to be a general consensus already in place across Oberlin's campus that we begin meetings with these obscure and oddly specific queries. They were a way of acknowledging each person one layer beneath the surface, a kind of ritual inviting each other into the space.
So I took it and ran with it: I really love check-in questions. I love that they can serve to center people in presence. A check-in question does not pretend that we are machines existing in the same place to complete a task; it holds space for the variety of experiences that might be entering the space at one time and lets them be. (We don't all have to be having a good day.) No matter how task-oriented a gathering is, when you begin with humanity, it sets the tone for the rest of your time together. At their best, check-in questions can give people permission to bring their whole selves.
Because I love check-in questions, I'm often the one to bring them up when planning a meeting. I come up with new ones a lot, and I keep a google doc full of them. You know, just in case everyone runs out of ideas. I reserve the right to brag about this: when check-in questions come up, everyone I know looks at me.
Whether or not you'll be facilitating a meeting anytime soon, I thought it would be useful and fun to share some of the check-in questions that I've either written, gathered, overheard, or word vomited during my time at Oberlin. They definitely don't have to just be for meetings, if you're into asking people juicy questions.
Here it is, folks!
- If you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be, and why?
- What is one thing that has surprised you today?
- If you could do one thing to take care of yourself right now (no limits on scheduling, budget, or physics), what would it be?
- If your mood right now was an Oberlin building, which building would it be?
- Give a brief summary of the most recent dream you remember/feel comfortable sharing.
- What is one piece of clothing that you've worn so much, it's become a part of your identity?
- What is one piece of media you want to recommend?
- What is your favorite plant?
- If you were a plant, what species would you be?
- What three emotions have you felt the most today?
- What is the most impulsive decision you've made in the last week?
- What is one song that you found at a point in your life when the lyrics seemed really relevant to you?
- If your mood right now was an article of clothing, what would it be?
- What was the last realization you had about yourself?
- What are your top three favorite emojis?
- What emojis do you most identify with? (Different question!)
- Describe your day using emojis.
- What was the last thing you put a lot of effort into?
- What are your sun, moon and rising signs?
- Where is your happy place?
- What is the last thing that annoyed you?
- What is one thing you are glad to be leaving behind?
- What is your favorite Vine? (The dead video app, not like plants.)
- What do you need from the people who care about you right now?
- What is something you've been saying a lot recently?
- When was the last time you surprised yourself?
- Who has been guiding you?
- If you were a dog, what breed would you be?
- Three words to describe how you're feeling, go.
- What is one topic that you could give a 20-minute presentation on with no preparation?
- What was the last emotion that you felt viscerally (in your body)?
- What is your favorite mood of sky to look at the sky? (There is really no other way to say this, don't try.)
- What is one thing that you love about your child self?
- What is your Chipotle order?
- Share one of your favorite words.
- What are you feeling physically right now?
- If you were a piece of furniture, what would you be and why?
- Share your favorite and least favorite foods without saying which is which.
- Who do you think you were in a past life?
- What is your favorite check-in question?
- What is the worst advice you have ever received?
- When do you feel the most human?
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