- Finding the right help for the right student at the right time
- Real-time data allows leaders to put big picture measures in place while simultaneously caring for the individual needs of students
- Normalising help seeking through building a culture where students know that there is a safe and secure pathway to reach out for help
- Empowering teachers to act on relevant and time sensitive information to enhance the wellbeing of their students
- Integrating gratitude into student life, allowing students to feel valued and supported by their peer group
This piece is a transcript of Educator Impact’s webinar ‘The power of knowing – Using check-in data to support every student’s wellbeing – In and out of the classroom’, featuring Kylie Power, Deputy Principal at Iona College, and Ben Peacock, Stage Six leader and Director of Wellbeing at St. Philip’s Christian College Cessnock. The webinar was hosted by Dr. Joe Thurbon, Educator Impact’s CTO and co-founder. The following has been edited for length and clarity
Joe Thurbon: Welcome to today’s webinar. My co-hosts today are Kylie Power and Ben Peacock, who will spend the next hour sharing their insights on using check-in data to support every student’s wellbeing, both in and out of the classroom.
Over the next hour, Kylie Power, Deputy Principal of Iona College, and Ben Peacock, Stage Six Leader and Director of Wellbeing at St. Philip’s Christian College Cessnock, will share their expertise in and enthusiasm for whole-child wellbeing, as well as stories of how Pulse has allowed them to find the right help, for the right student, at the right time.
About ei Pulse
Before we get to the meat of the webinar, let’s talk briefly about what Pulse looks like for users.
Wellbeing is all about finding the right help for the right student at the right time, and Pulse helps schools do this through a one-minute check-in where students can do three things:
- They can tell their teacher how they’re feeling. This is identified, so teachers can help students who are at risk.
- Students can anonymously tell the school what it’s like to be a student at home, in the classroom, and in the playground. Pulse allows schools to see what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
- Pulse can also be used by students to show gratitude to each other and to staff. Since launching the gratitude feature, around 75% of students will send or receive gratitude when checking in.
Pulse is different from other wellbeing tools in the market like annual surveys. Leaders have access to a wealth of knowledge; they know what’s happening across the school broadly, and they can look at each student’s check-in data to understand what is really happening for a particular child. Checking in on a weekly basis allows teachers to respond to the immediate wellbeing needs of each child, and empowers teachers to meet students where they’re at in the classroom. Kylie will talk about this later, but the features of Pulse that allow teachers to look across different domains of wellbeing let them know if they’re living up to their end of the bargain when we talk about providing a safe environment for students.
The Power of Knowing
Today we’re going to talk about three kinds of knowing. The first is what you know based on the data, what you can read off and put percentages on. The second is harder to quantify, it’s what we call ‘cultural knowledge’, and it tells you about the attitudes and behaviours students and staff have about wellbeing. The third one is knowing how to turn knowledge into action.
Lessons from Data
What I would like to start with is talking about that first area of data. For leaders in schools, what do you learn when you start looking at week to week data like this?
Kylie Power: The dashboard has been an absolute godsend for us because we are a new school. We have limited capacity for a student support team, so it’s on us to get that snapshot and get that big picture to leaders, to know who to chase up and see how we’re tracking for week to week.
Our Pulse check-in is every Tuesday. We went into a very short lockdown recently, and we were told Monday at 4:00 pm that we were coming back the next day, and the next morning I got all this data on the students, and that quick change and uncertainty mucked up their results a little bit, but then you look at it the next week and it settles down a bit. It’s that real-time data that lets leaders put big picture things in place, but also drill right down to the data on specific individuals as well.
Using Data to Manage Lockdowns
Joe Thurbon: There was a lot of talk comparing data before and during lockdowns, and it showed that almost everyone’s wellbeing took a little dip, but you were saying, Kylie, that returning from lockdown you saw a similar dip?
Kylie Power: I think this was lockdown 6.0, so everyone was getting a little tired. But because this was such a quick comeback, they were really unsettled. Normally we’re getting 75-80% in the green, but that week it was 70% green, and far more in the yellow zone.
Joe Thurbon: Ben, I know that Cessnock has recently gone into lockdown. Would you mind walking us through that experience for you?
Ben Peacock: I might start actually with last year, going into the very first lockdown. I think the real advantage of Pulse is those students who might not otherwise have an outlet to ask for help for something small going on, actually can ask for help without it being a huge issue. Students who check in on Pulse in a way that is really constantly needing help, or students that have big, significant issues, those students would probably be picked up, from a wellbeing standpoint, without Pulse, because they’ve got these big issues that present everywhere. It’s students that are just a bit better than that that Pulse is really good for.
Heading into lockdown 18 months ago, and then nearly two weeks ago heading back in, Pulse gives us a real chance to keep on top of those students who might just be struggling a little bit. It’s picking up those students who might otherwise fall through the cracks is my biggest observation of what Pulse can do.
Often you’ll have a student who’s struggling, and there’s some sort of big bust-up that happens that’s born out of the fact that they’re really struggling with something else in their life that nobody knew about. Giving them the opportunity to say they’re struggling means that those types of incidents can be reduced. They can actually let us know about what they’re going through, even if it’s just ‘I’m finding things hard, I don’t need any help right now, I just want to let you know’. Those are the sort of levels that this has been really useful for.
Insights into Student Life
Joe Thurbon: You were also talking about the attitude towards learning data being useful to plot your approach from the leadership level during these periods of transition.
Ben Peacock: The sentiment data I find really useful, and I really like that it’s done in a confidential way. The first question is not anonymous, you’re telling us how you’re feeling and we need to be able to put a name to that, but the other five questions you’re asked are anonymous. Sometimes students feel a little more comfortable giving honest responses if it is anonymous, and students have fed that back to me that they like that feature, and what we’re able to do with that is look at, for example, how students are feeling in their learning.
As a school, we have been working on an independent learning model with our stage six year 11 and 12 students, where students are prompted to use their time more independently and take ownership of their learning. We could ask you’re traditional once a year, twice a year survey about how they’re feeling, but that almost biases students a bit. If you’ve just had a great day or terrible day, that can sway things. The way that the pulse questions are asked, they’re very intentional but also very gentle, and that’s helped us see what students are feeling about their learning in response to the changes we’ve made.
And certainly, as we continue to use pulse and gain longitudinal data, looking over say, a three to five year window, and seeing what year nine goes through each year. Is that dip in their ability to deal with this social phenomena just a year nine thing, or is it specific to this particular cohort? Or watching our class that will graduate in 2025 and seeing how they tracked with their wellbeing. Those are things that I’m looking forward to doing in the future, but they’re all scope as to what we can do with that sentiment data.
Kylie Power: For us as a new school with limited resources, the sentiment data has been amazing. Especially in that area of a positive sense of culture and the identity of the school, because we think we’re doing a good job, but how do we know we’re doing a good job? It’s a really positive fact that students have agency and have a voice in actually saying ‘I do feel connected’, ‘I do feel that I belong’, ‘I do feel a sense of identity growing’. Building a culture from the ground up is difficult, but to have this data and be able to track it over time, and celebrate, that you know what? for a new school, these kids feel like they belong. They do feel connected to their teachers, they do feel connected to their peers, and that they feel a sense of identity.
Joe Thurbon: And that idea of celebrating success is just so important. It’s so easy to come to a wellbeing conversation with the perspective of remediating issues, but a really important part of turning things into action is mindfully celebrating those successes. And I know Kylie your uniform policy is a really interesting one, and it came through in that data.
Kylie Power: It was something to celebrate as a staff. Because we’ve got a younger cohort of year seven and eights, we really wanted them to feel comfortable to learn in the classroom, and we wanted them to be as active as possible in the breaks. We decided that they would have a suite of uniforms, and it is their choice what they wear to school each day. 90% of the boys wear their PE uniform most days, but on the flip side, we have people who feel really comfortable in the formal uniform and wear their blazer every day.
But when we did the health section of the ARACY questions, we saw that they were physically fit and moving more, above the Australian average. It is interesting data, which really gets you to analyse decisions you make and policies you put in place.
Normalising Help Seeking
Joe Thurbon: On a slightly different note, we had a really interesting conversation when we were talking in preparation for this, around when critical services get full, it’s often the kids in the middle that miss out. So it would be interesting, Kylie, to hear your perspective on normalising help seeking in terms of a cultural shift.
Kylie Power: I think the way we have launched this to our parents, is that checking in with our students is just what we do. We’re normalising that help seeking, we’ve built it into our program, so they actually do it with their homeroom teacher every Tuesday morning, we give time to the staff every Tuesday afternoon in the staff meeting to have a look at that data, and any student who says ‘I need help’, they have someone touch base with them before they leave for that day.
We’re in Geelong, and last year we had a number of youth suicides. And what has resulted is a mental health network that is not coping with the demand. As a result, teachers are feeling quite apprehensive that all of a sudden those middle of the range kids who may have been able to seek help in those early stages are no longer being picked up because the high risk kids are being picked up. Schools are being relied on to support them and their families.
And it’s allowed us to build confidence in our staff. Every staff meeting we talk about how to have a conversation around that Pulse data. It’s upskilling into staff, but it’s not daunting because we have really accurate data so they’re not guessing. Students are actually speaking out, and teachers are feeling confident to reach out.
Joe Thurbon: SPCC was the school we worked with to launch the very first versions of Pulse, and we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the way that you handle these sorts of things. Ben, do you want to talk us through how the actual reaching out for help plays out?
Ben Peacock: We’ve had to put a good triage process into place, and Pulse has been a critical part of that. I had a conversation with a young man last week who’d reached out for help, and he said ‘sir, I’m struggling. I shouldn’t be struggling, there’s no particular thing I’m struggling with, I’m just finding things tough.’ And that’s not setting off alarm bells, but it is looking at how we can triage that and put some things in place to help him with that.
Pulse gives students a range of levels they can escalate to, so that if they do need to go into that red category, they have a degree of choice and control. It could be just their pastoral care teacher, they need to flag that with the person they see in the morning each day, all the way up to actually needing to see the Deputy Principal because a student is dealing with a big thing absolutely outside of their control.
It’s about being able to get students to actually see that help seeking is normalised, but also help seeking at the right level. Recognising when things are not going well and you need to be referred to the right places.
Kylie Power: I agree with Ben, I think very early on we realised that students with additional needs for example, who might not have the emotional literacy to understand what it means to hit red.
We had one student who just loved to press red because she knew the principal would come and say hello. And we’ve just had to educate her that maybe you’re not really red, you might just be in the middle. And that’s been really valuable too, and it feeds into how the bigger picture of the data can tell you you’ve got an issue in a certain area.
We’ve linked in with Headspace in schools for example, who are running some wonderful mental health workshops, and that was because the data told us it was something the year eights needed. And then the year sevens were a little low on the emotional literacy compared to the year eights, so we tweaked some explicit social and emotional learning in some of their wellbeing classes, so it is really powerful, and you’re not guessing what the kids need, you’re acting based on what they’re saying they need.
Joe Thurbon: So there’s two little things that show up in the data here as well to support that. The first is that this is a pretty new way to ask for help, just reaching out and saying that there is a particular person I’d like to reach out to, they’re someone I trust. But even in that scenario, something like 90% of people start asking for help and don’t click ok the first time. But the amazing stat that helped me out was that there were no students who started reaching out for help and then didn’t come back later and actually reach out for help.
It requires some bravery to ask for help in any setting, but Pulse is a good way to lower the activation energy for that, and make it so that you don’t have to be quite as brave as you would need to be to visit the counsellor’s office.
Wellbeing and Behaviour Management
Ben, one of the things you were talking about is that a lot of wellbeing conversations are hard to distinguish from the behaviour management conversation that you’re probably having because that’s when the wellbeing issue probably came to light. Do you want to talk about that a little?
Ben Peacock: I think those two things typically run hand in hand. In a lot of students typically displaying behaviour and learning issues, there’s probably an element of wellbeing to most of those conversations as well. So for the teacher to have something to hang their hat on, numerically be able to say ‘hey, you’ve checked in this way, can we talk about that?’
I recall a student last year who consistently for a few weeks, always checked in ‘I’m feeling negative’, and anytime we would ask her about it, she’d respond, ‘I’m ok, that’s just how I feel, I don’t need help.’ We talked to her pastoral care teacher, I was her year leader, I talked to her, and to everyone she just kept saying, ‘This is just how I feel, I’m ok with it, I know how to manage it, it’s a season of life.’
But still for her to know that I want to have that conversation with you, and I want your pastoral care teacher to have that conversation with you, because ultimately, even if we do end up doing nothing about it and they’re happy to just leave it be, we care that much.
Joe Thurbon: And this creates an environment where teachers are having more conversations about wellbeing with students, and fewer conversations to work out whether they have to have that conversation about wellbeing. That nuance between knowing a student well enough to know that an orange doesn’t mean I have to go find them, but knowing that for some students an orange is a warning sign. Not all oranges are created equal. It’s not so much an upskilling of an individual teacher, but teachers knowing their students better because they have more time for more meaningful conversations.
We’ve talked about leaders, and we’ve talked about teachers in the classroom, but I’d love to hear some of your experiences with Pulse’s gratitude function. Do you want to just start by telling us how your students have talked to you about this ability to give gratitude?
Kylie Power: It’s funny, even this morning I was listening to them banter, and one of the boys said ‘I’m grateful for you because you’re a great guy’, and he was yelling it out as well as doing it in Pulse at the same time. I was just surprised at how open they were to doing that compared to earlier in the year.
I think they feel comfortable because they feel so comfortable online, and they do feel comfortable behind a screen, but it’s that skill of taking that feeling of gratitude and translating it into a face to face conversation where you can express that confidently. I think today was a bit of an eye opener for me. Some of the boys in my year seven class were much more confident than three or four months ago.
Joe Thurbon: And Ben, at the other end of the high school age spectrum, how’s that panning out for you stage sixers?
Ben Power: When this was first pitched to me last year, I thought students might not really buy into it. I am very happy to say that I could not have been more wrong. I was met with students straight away saying ‘Hey, I love this. I love that I can send my friend or my sibling gratitude.’
We run on a junior, middle, senior school model, so our senior school prefects can send gratitude to the middle school leaders who they work with on a project, or they can send one of their teachers or a previous teacher they’ve had, they can send anybody they’d like just a nice message in the morning as a bit of a day brightener.
Kylie Power: It’s really interesting our data, I don’t know if it’s the same for you, Ben, but they love sharing gratitude student to student, but it was a bit disheartening when in the first few weeks around 3% of gratitude went to the teachers and 97% went to the students, but it’s actually starting to improve, and it is just lovely as a teacher to get that little message.
Ben Peacock: Definitely. I speak from a selfish perspective here, but it’s really nice to get it from a student who you might not expect. And I’d imagine that’s a very similar feeling for a student as well.
The Power of Sharing Knowledge
Joe Thurbon: So that’s one end of the spectrum, in terms of students getting a sense of how important gratitude is, and how much they can shift the culture, and this almost brings us full circle. I know both of you have been very intentional in sharing the cohort level data back with the students. This was not something that we necessarily understood the power of at Educator Impact when we built it into the system, so I’m interested to hear what your experience has been in closing that loop, and letting the kids know what as a cohort their experience is like?
Kylie Power: Early on in my career, I collected lots of data, but I forgot to share it with the people who gave me the data. It became really clear to me at my previous school, that when you shared back data they had given to you, and you could say this is why as a school we’re taking this approach, and this is what we’re doing to support you because you said this. I got so much out of it. I think that’s your student voice, your student agency, and I really think that as educators we need to feedback. That general data that’s anonymous is still very, very powerful, and I think it’s really important to feed it back to the community.
Ben Peacock: I would absolutely agree. It was something that I really used in 2020, almost as a buy-in tool for the students, to actually show students that this is what I do, and I can give you an honest answer that I can do this every day.
It’s basically saying to students that this is not just another thing we’re asking you to do, this is something that we really value and want to be part of our culture, so that wellbeing is normalised, and so that your key stakeholders, your wellbeing team, your year leaders, our executive leaders, have access to this information all the time and are able to say what’s actually going on, what’s happening on the ground with these students. It gives it a lot more substance.
Q: Is there a staff portal as a check-in for staff wellbeing?
Joe Thurbon: Yes, we have a staff program, but it doesn’t use the ARACY student wellbeing framework. Instead, we’re partnering with Dr. Adam Fraser and the Flourish Movement. The staff one works very similarly to the student one, and we are launching a reinvigorated version at the start of next year. I know Kylie, you very recently started the staff Pulse?
Kylie Power: I think it’s perfect, we’re so excited. We do invest so much in student wellbeing, and we have to realise that what our teachers are going through in the last 18 months or so, so it’s really important that we normalise their help seeking and their feedback as well, so we’re really excited to add that to our program
Joe Thurbon: The data is really clear around the correlation between staff and teacher wellbeing. Teachers struggle when their students are not well, and students struggle when their teachers are not well, so looking after both, it’s a mutually reinforcing scenario
Q: Is there a primary school program?
In term four this year, we will be releasing a primary school specific version of Pulse. It’s got slightly simpler questions in the experience component and fewer of them, and they are cognitively and linguistically simpler. We built that in conjunction with ARACY and some of their experts. If you run a primary school, now is a really good time to have a talk with us.
Q: How much does it cost for a school to implement Pulse?
JT said to leave this one for the marketing department
Q: In a conversation that’s all about knowing things, what’s an insight about your school you’ve taken away based on this experience with Pulse?
Kylie Power: It is really nice to look at it every Tuesday, and get that snapshot of the whole school and realise that nearly 80% are in the green, and to remind yourself of that. Especially in the role of deputy principal, unfortunately sometimes we deal with the behaviours, we deal with some of the students who aren’t travelling so well, so it is really nice to have that affirming feedback that the majority of your school is actually thriving and doing really well.
Ben Peacock: Having been a year level leader for most of the last five years, you spend 80% of your time dealing with 20% of your students. Whether that be behavioural, learning, wellbeing, family, any combination of the above, the majority of your time gets spent dealing with students who are not always thriving, but there’s so much time that is not spent with students who are doing really well. So to actually see that come through and say that the majority of students here are doing pretty well.
Q: You mentioned ARACY a few times. Can you tell us what it is?
Joe Thurbon: We are a partner with ARACY, the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. We partnered with them to build the first school sentiment framework that’s used in Pulse. It’s based on their common approach framework, which is amazing because it is built by students, it’s built on the student’s voice and uses terms that they can understand, and it’s also comprehensive.
I might use this as an opportunity as well, if you’re looking for places to give teachers professional development, their common approach training is fantastic. It’s a really nice way to help teachers better understand how to have those wellbeing conversations.
Q: Do students and staff use their phones or is it also on a laptop?
Pulse can be used on a phone. We’ve got an app for Android and IOS, and it also works inside any web browser so you can use it on your tablet, your phone, your laptop. It’s built with security in mind, so if you’re in a shared computer setting it’s safe to use, as we log students out at the end of their sessions. We’ve built it to work in the largest schools and the smallest schools.
I’d like to thank everyone for attending today’s webinar, we’re very grateful you chose to spend this time with us.
Perhaps even more importantly, Kylie and Ben, in the current situation that we find ourselves, with schools just in a mad scramble to support their students’ wellbeing, I am deeply indebted to you for spending your time with us today and thank you so much.
Try ei Pulse
Before we finish, I just wanted to say that it’s really important to us that schools who would like to try this can try it out. We think it’s a really important part of the wellbeing landscape, and we hope that some of the stories you’ve heard today reinforce that.
About the Speakers
Kylie Power is the deputy principal of Iona College, and previous to that was the assistant principal for wellbeing at Clonard college. If you look back through Kylie’s roles, you will find that she has been an advocate of whole child wellbeing since well before it centered itself in the mainstream. In that spirit of innovation and early adoption, we at Educator Impact have been privileged to work with Kylie across both of her last two roles, and Pulse has been at the centre of that collaboration. Clonard was one of the first schools to ever try Pulse, and Iona, which really only came into being last year, has been running Pulse since its inception.
Ben Peacock is the Stage Six Leader and Director of Wellbeing at SPCC Cessnock, which was the first school to try ei Pulse, and we’ve been working with SPCC Cessnock since 2014. It came as no surprise to us that they were the first school to try Pulse, and the fact that it happened in the same week that NSW went into lockdown for the first time last year would have been enough to daunt lesser mortals, but not them. It turns out that ei pulse became an integral part of their COVID response strategy.
Dr. Joe Thurbon Is the CTO and co-founder of Educator Impact. His background is in Artificial Intelligence and he has been applying technology to improve social outcomes for 20 years.