- Making the right data accessible to the right people so it is easy to understand and identify patterns
- Ensuring your various systems are well connected and paint an overall picture about where the students are, not just at a moment, but longitudinally as they’re moving through time
- Having a multi-leveled approach to school wellbeing – from pastoral care to academic life, and through every level of school.
- Using Pulse identified data to reach out to support the individual students
- Having relationships with students is important for the data to work
Note: This piece is a transcript of Educator Impact’s webinar on ‘using wellbeing check-in data to inform decisions at your school, featuring Dr. Nicole Archard, Principal of Loreto College Marryatville, and Jesse Manners, Leader of Wellbeing at St. Philip’s Christian College Gosford. The webinar was hosted by Educator Impact’s CTO and co-founder, Dr. Joe Thurbon. The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Joe Thurbon: Welcome everyone. I’m proud to host Jesse Manners and Dr. Nicole Archard in today’s webinar on using wellbeing check-in data to inform decisions at your school, to support the wellbeing and learning of your students.
Through today’s conversation with Jesse Manners, Leader of Wellbeing at St. Philip’s Christian College Gosford, and Dr. Nicole Archard, Principal of Loreto College Marryatville, you’ll gain insights into data-informed decision making, from two educators who have a wealth of experience.
Before we dive into the conversation, here’s a top-level look at what Pulse is all about.
The challenge for schools in supporting the wellbeing of their students is simple to say but hard to solve. The challenge is connecting students with the help they need at the time they need it. That kind of help could be a cohort-level intervention, getting an expert to talk to the whole school, a targeted intervention for a small group, or an individual student. So whether that’s using a program, like Headspace, or just a conversation with a teacher who that student trusts, the landscape of wellbeing can be really complicated to navigate.
EI Pulse is a system that’s designed to help schools navigate that landscape. It does three things.
- Makes data collection easy by enabling weekly, 60 second check-ins. This helps teachers to identify individual students who are at risk.
- Allows schools to understand the student experience. We partner with ARACY to give schools a comprehensive picture of the students’ experience at that school.
- Helps to build healthy habits. The new gratitude feature has allowed almost half a million students in the last year to reach out and say thank you to each other, and to their teachers. This strengthens relationships between students and their teachers, and makes gratitude a part of their daily practice.
MAKING DATA ACCESSIBLE
When we were preparing for this webinar, one of the strongest points that came about was that if you want your school to be guided by data and see positive outcomes (like Loreto and SPCC are,) is it imperative to make data easy to access.
Joe Thurbon: The first thing I would like to talk about is what are the systems that you put in place to make data easily accessible at your school by teachers and administrators?
Nicole Archard: Loreto is a data-driven school. We’ve spent the last three or four years making sure that we’re collecting the right data, and that it’s easily accessible by teachers. Teachers are short on time and we want them to be able to easily identify data patterns.
So we have worked hard in integrating our platforms, and through our learning management system (Schoolbox), we can directly access pulse data. This allows our students and staff to go to one place to access their data. We also have a data dashboard that records the data for every student across the school, from kindergarten through to year 12. This dashboard combines students’ wellbeing data, learning data, attendance data, aptitude data – all in one place. This paints an overall picture about where the students are, not just at a moment in time, but longitudinally as they’re moving through time (moving classes, moving between junior or senior year, or moving to a new teacher in a different level).
Joe Thurbon: So one of the challenges in that scenario is if there’s data from all those different places, how do you make sure that the right data is getting to the right people?
Nicole Archard: It’s how we set up our internal systems through the school. In our senior school, we have mentor teachers that are assigned to a group of students and in our junior school, obviously, that is the class teacher. We then build responsibilities for those teachers on when they can access the data, and subsequently what they’re going to do with the data. And that’s just one level of how we use data on that day to day.
Joe Thurbon: Okay, thanks. Jesse, you’ve got a slightly different approach at the moment. Can you run us through how SPCC makes it easy to get access to data?
Jesse Manners: When students are looking at the request for help option, we’ve got various levels of “pulse champions”, and I oversee the whole school. On top of that, we’ve got heads of schools, and all the way down to the pastoral care level.
Pastoral care teachers are responsible for providing time in the pastoral care sessions for students to log on to pulse, once a week. These teachers actually log on to Pulse themselves to create more accountability and understanding and watch in real-time as students ask for help.
Once we go up to the next level, we’ve got year advisors in our senior school. A year advisor is a little bit more intensive as they are closer to home. I actually sit in on the year advisor meetings and we unpack pulse data together. I do the same thing in pastoral care groups through to middle school.
Then we go to the next level, where we’re looking at whole school data, or sub school year level data around the various levels of student wellbeing. One thing I know about teachers is you can literally be a click away from getting a teacher to engage with a new initiative, and minimising clicks and minimising pages and actions is incredibly important.
So what I do there is, I actually unpack all of the data that’s coming through Pulse, I split it into pastoral care level and year level. And then I also split it into sub school levels – middle school, senior school. I then go through that data myself and highlight key areas that require immediate attention and send it out to teachers.
We’ve got another resource called school TV. In my viewpoint, Pulse is the data that drives actions and we use that to select what school TV resources to use. We’re incredibly passionate about actually having data to inform actions, and being purposeful with funding. School TV, is the evidence-based support (resources) that matches the data.
I unpack all of the data, I look at the trends that are occurring, and if there’s a trend, I find specific links to resources that are going to help, whether that’s going out to family, students, or even the teachers themselves.
Joe Thurbon: I actually reached out to school TV and we’re going to have a conversation later. So you can consider me inspired with that one, Jesse! We’ve also been inspired by the way that Jesse has been approaching this, so we are trying to build some automation to help make the reporting process really easy.
Jesse, once you get the Pulse data, which is really easy to collect, about how long does it take you to put together a bunch of resources, say from school TV?
Jesse Manners: In my opinion, it’s quick but it also depends on what you’re actually invested in – what’s the actual end goal that you’re working for. My end goal is to get wellbeing support out of the counsellor’s office and into the classroom. And in order to do that, I need teachers to be on board. So even if it took me a long time (it doesn’t), it would be worthwhile if it means that teachers are getting upskilled, and the support is getting out to students on a daily level, not just once a fortnight when they can see a counsellor.
Joe Thurbon: Nicole, you were saying that once you’ve got all that data, you can really change the way you approach a student for a wellbeing conversation. One approach when I was at school was asking, “Hey, how are you going?” Your approach is much more targeted. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Nicole Archard: Similar to Jesse, we have multiple layers regarding our intervention and how we’re using the data from teachers, wellbeing counsellors, up to myself as principal.
We have a flag system that we use through Pulse. It can identify when a student is in the red, and reach out to them or those orange and yellow categories where they are feeling a bit negative and feeling neutral. If a student is feeling negative, or feeling neutral, over successive check-ins, then it’s time for us to initiate a conversation.
And that conversation doesn’t have to be “Oh, by the way, I saw in Pulse check-in that you were feeling negative.” It might be just as simple as a teacher reaching out and saying, “How are you today?”
Because of Pulse, we have visibility on how every student is doing, and every fortnight, the teachers will discuss the conversations they have had with their students. These are meaningful conversations because they’re data-driven conversations. And we’re saying what we need to do for every child individually, both for their wellbeing and their learning. That’s the other nice thing about Pulse, we talk about it being a wellbeing tool but it’s collecting a whole host of learning data as well.
Joe Thurbon: I’m going to close this section by saying that making data really easy to access is important. And that doesn’t just happen inside the school. One of the decisions we made at EI, was to share our data, anonymised and aggregated, with the Australian research community. We’ve signed research agreements with ARACY, and research groups at ANU and QUT. We’ve also been sharing data with John Hattie and the Grattan Institute.
If you want to make good policy decisions, just like if we want to make good individual intervention decisions, then we want to be doing it with comprehensive data.
One of the things we talked about was getting in and talking to individual students or intervening really early, I want to make sure people have a sense of what that looks like inside Pulse.
After logging on, every student is asked the same question, every week – “how are you feeling on a scale of, ‘I need some help’ through to ‘I’m feeling great”.
Each teacher has their class identified data about how those students are traveling. This makes it easy for them to find out which students are feeling negative. And that’s how it looks in the user interface that helps either student reach out for help explicitly, or for teachers to get some sort of early warning signs.
It also lets you look at those students who are feeling positive or feeling great, and help lean into those students to possibly lead conversations to help the ones who are failing in the middle, turn into students who are flourishing.
On average, teachers tell us it takes them about 10 minutes a week to go through this data. Instead of spending the rest of their week trying to work out who needs their help, they actually use the rest of the week helping, which is an amazing transformation to watch.
USING DATA TO HELP STUDENTS
Joe Thurbon: I’m going to move into using this data for helping individual students. Jesse, can you tell us a little bit about your approach? I know you’re big on the NTSS model and I know that you’re also big on helping students get into that flourishing area.
Jesse Manners: We are grounded in positive psychology, positive education in the support that we’re providing St Phillips.
The last 100 years of psychology was all about ‘what’s wrong with people’ and ‘how do we get them back up to the zero to start afresh’. Whereas, positive psychology is being able to say, ‘Well, actually, how do I get you from where you are to flourishing?’.
If I’ve got a student that’s been appearing in the yellow category for four consecutive weeks, I wonder what it is that’s going on there, and what are the slight changes to be made or conversations to be had that can pop them back up into the green, get them a better quality of life. It can be something happening at home, or about their education. There are many different areas.
The other side of things, when we’re looking at asking for help, all of the data isn’t going to work unless you’ve got relationships with the kids. So if relationships are there, then you’re going to see more people actually utilising the data. What the data does do though, and having it online, is being able to create that bridge that can happen with some kids who are a little bit more enclosed, or maybe a little bit more disengaged, or potentially a little bit more anxious and withdrawn from teacher relationships, that helps create that last little step to cross the modal line. We’ve worked with people who have asked for help and were not on my radar at all. And suddenly, you start to unravel this whole thing that’s been going on.
Many times it’s high achieving students that have been dealing with anxiety that has impacted various levels of their life and haven’t told anyone for years until Pulse came along.
It’s provided the opportunity for us to be able to say, ‘hey, you’ve been in the orange for five consecutive weeks, just wondering what’s going on’ and study their responses. Regardless of where students are, we’re finding it really, really helpful. Even if we’ve got students that are up in the green category, then we want to understand what is happening in their lives and how we can replicate that for other individuals and other classrooms around the school.
Joe Thurbon: We debrief with all of our schools after they’ve been using Pulse for a little while and a theme that consistently comes through is that there are students who surprise the schools about how things are going for them. Schools aren’t sure whether to anticipate a flood or a famine of students using the reach out functionality. But it turns out that it’s a manageable but significant number of students who do.
Nicole, when we were preparing for this webinar, a phrase you mentioned about no invisible child stuck with me, can you walk us through that approach?
Nicole Archard: It’s such a key part of our school. In practice, we do very well in knowing visible children. And it’s not a throwaway statement, we actually really mean it.
As a principal, a thing that I love about Pulse is that I can see where every single student in the school is at. I think that is so powerful from a principal’s point of view because you can start picking up trends with students and key times to look at that.
We find when students are coming back after holidays, you see a different level of perhaps anxiety in students about ‘will my friends allow me to sit with them’ or boarders coming back from a break (Loreto is a boarding school). That’s a big period of transition so we track our boarders separately.
We were worried that everyone would reach out for help and that they might do that on the first day. But you can easily put structures and communication in place about what the appropriate reasons to reach out for help are. We put in three layers of people that girls could reach out to – a mentor/teacher in the senior school or class teacher in the junior school. Then it’s the head of junior school or leaders who will be doing an academic career in the senior school. And then the third level is me as the principal, our school psychologist, or the deputy principal, and they can choose between those different layers.
I get girls who reach out to me and I love that as it opens up my accessibility to students. Pulse offers us to communicate with students where they’re at. They use technology very easily because it’s a part of their daily life. So for them just to be able to hit a button and say, I’m really struggling at the moment, I need assistance is great.
Jesse Manners: I want to add on to it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the red when a kid is reaching out for help to us. We’ve had students that have consistently been in the green, and then suddenly, they’ve been in yellow for two weeks, or even students that have disengaged for three weeks in a row. There’s a lot of different ways to utilise the data, and kids use it to reach out in their own unique ways.
Joe Thurbon: We’ve had close to a million check-ins now and so we can say, with a bit of confidence, about half a percent of check-ins result in a reach out. So if you’ve got a school of 1000 students, maybe you’ll get 5 students who reach out in any given week and about 4% of your cohort across a given year will reach out for help. There’s a bit of variation between schools, but on average, that’s sort of where it comes out.
Nicole, you also had an interesting story around some of the ways that staff have initiated and identified an intervention that had to happen, not only by using Pulse data but using it in conjunction with other bits of data as well, can you just walk us through that process?
Nicole Archard: The lovely thing about Pulse is we are collecting the data on individual students, but we’re also collecting more extensive wellbeing and learning data on student groups, cohort groups, and the whole school.
An area of interest that came to our attention was the number of our students that weren’t eating breakfast. When we went into the layers and tried to investigate the reason, to which a stereotypical response would be that it was a body image issue. The real reason, however, for skipping breakfast was because the girls had sports training in the mornings and there was no gap between sports training, eating breakfast, and then coming to school.
Data tells a story, it prompts questions.
It allowed us to gather information regarding our school structure and we could implement change enabling girls to have breakfast before coming to school.
Understanding data is multifaceted – looked at in a simplistic way, you will just be looking at it as kids are okay, or kids aren’t okay. Having access to layers of data means that as a principal, I can have a conversation with a staff member and say I saw this student asked for help, was it resolved, what did we have to do, tell me what’s going on with them and more. Just being able to initiate a conversation across staff is very powerful.
Joe Thurbon: Before we go on to the final theme of the webinar, I’d like to do a poll. The poll is on what you think are the big drivers of wellbeing and Ill being in your school. While people are answering that I’d like to ask two questions that came up.
The first being is it compulsory for students to complete Pulse? And do you have any students who refuse to complete Pulse?
Dr. Nicole Archard: It’s certainly not compulsory. About 99% of our students check in to Pulse. However, you do need to allocate time.
It’s most successful if you have a dedicated time set each week in homeroom, for example, to maximise the check-ins. Students can also check in multiple times during the week, at home or wherever they want.
Every student gets an email notification as a reminder to check into pulse, and we also get email notifications reminding us to check our student pulse data. We don’t have any rebellion or misuse to using Pulse. Sometimes, individuals will get caught up with classwork or absence and other circumstances and that would be the only reason why they wouldn’t check in.
Jesse Manners: Very similar. It’s not compulsory, there’s no point forcing someone to answer those questions, you’re not going to get good data. What we did notice, though, when we started utilising Pulse was, there were pockets of students not engaging. And when we investigated or went to pastoral care classes to talk through Pulse, we just weren’t telling the story well enough to the students, we weren’t actually showing them where the data was going. Although we were doing the applications, and we were running different events, and strategic nights and information sessions, we weren’t communicating to students, and so they weren’t seeing any purpose in it.
Since then, we’ve done a lot better at being able to notify students and we’ve seen a higher student engagement. If a student is not engaging, that tells a story too, it shows a need for building relationships and finding out what’s going on with the young person.
Joe Thurbon: We recommend that schools don’t make it compulsory.
We did a lot of work early on – we randomised the time that students were asked to check-in, we reminded them a different number of times, but those two things you mentioned like providing a little space that’s regular in the school week, and visible results, they are dominating factors.
The average engagement rate that we’ve seen in schools nationally is about 85%. And the engagement gets stronger the more those two things happen.
The next question is specifically talking about students reaching out when it’s urgent, say at night or on the weekend, and what’s the experience? Have you had those sorts of things happen and how did that result?
Jesse Manners: We haven’t had any students reach out over weekends. If someone was going to do that, most likely it would end up falling through me. And all students are aware that we’ve got a policy around staff communication outside of hours. So they know they’re not going to be getting any sort of interaction outside of our time. When we implemented Pulse, we spoke about that and made sure that was clear to our cohort.
We’ve got the relationships with families to be able to contact them, pass information to them, and allow them to do what they need to do to help support the individual. So if I’m getting an option to do that, then I’m stoked with that. But around our staff, we want to have clear boundaries, so that we can support them just as well.
Nicole Archard: Being a boarding school, we operate 24×7 and Pulse forms a part of a much larger program.
We have our social-emotional academic seed (SEAD) program through which we have an online portal where teachers, students, and parents can access all resources. We communicate this to students on a regular basis. Through the portal, they have direct links to kids helpline, other emergency services where they know in case of emergency during after-hours, these are the numbers to call. If it’s boarding students, they are most likely to reach out to the boarding supervisor.
Joe Thurbon: In the last pages in Pulse, after they have reached out for help, schools can customise the helpline numbers they want to provide. Expectation setting at the beginning is always the best way. And then we reinforce that through the app as well.
Coming back to the poll. Thank you to everyone who answered.
There is no surprise that there are four things that dominate and compete across most schools.
Challenging emotions, which is by far the longest one, and anyone who reads the mission Australia reports or any status of Australian wellbeing will know that anxiety is the top driver on it.
Anxiety, we know nationally is the most commonly reported area of driving ill-being in students, but for about 20% of our schools, it is not even in the top 10 of drivers. So what that says to us is that if schools are using national data to work out what their wellbeing initiative should be, then the problem is missing a trick. And if it’s really easy to get cohort-level data, then we should be doing that instead.
This is the other side of Pulse – aggregated anonymised cohort level data.
It builds a comprehensive picture of the school across six areas of wellbeing. It lets schools navigate easily for a given class or a given year, or the whole school, what are the big places where we’re doing well (the dark green areas), and what are the places where we’re seeing opportunities to improve the wellbeing and the experience of our students.
Nicole, you talked about the breakfast story, I can’t help but recall as a boarding school graduate, myself, how important the right little changes can be – wellbeing doesn’t have to be about grand annual initiatives. Sometimes it’s about just responding.
Joe Thurbon: Jesse, you had a story around the connect conference at your school around student teacher engagement. Can you just walk us through that intervention that you made?
Jesse Manners: Particularly after the effects of the first lockdown in New South Wales, looking at data around student teacher connectedness, we were seeing some trends around that being an area for growth for our school.
Going off Pulse data, we created a Connect conference that had a range of different passion areas that students could then select, to go into with various teachers and their strengths. These are solely focused on how we can connect with our students better on a more social level. We know that the long-term effects of improved relationships will be seen in the classroom, and academics can improve their wellbeing, relationships, rapport, and the rest of it too.
We also saw a recurring theme across multiple year levels that students were struggling with emotional regulation. So one of the most recent initiatives at the moment that we’re working with is actually developing a parenting educational course, and partnering with some external providers to be able to help run that for us. We already have zones of regulation and emotion regulation strategies happening at school. But we want to be one doing proactive work rather than heavy duty intervention. Rather than the data coming from middle to senior school, we’re actually going to focus it down to the primary to middle area, so that we can continue to make that a support area for our parents around how they’re modelling our regulation, how they’re reacting to students needs, in the hope that now we’re going to hit that proactively. That’s all thanks to the data.
Joe Thurbon: Nicole, you were also talking about the importance of contextualising things like time in the year and the age group of the students? Can you talk about that?
Nicole Archard: I think there’s the need to recognise between reactive and proactive responses to data. Reactive, and we’re doing that all the time in schools, is when an issue arises with the students, then we need to address that.
The proactive response is taking this powerful data, and seeing what it is telling to then design the student wellbeing program in a fluid way. We don’t have an off-the-shelf program that we use instead we’ve designed our framework, that is unique to what our girls need.
It’s about students voicing and contributing what their needs are, rather than us doing this total guesswork all the time or weekly goals, need sessions on, you know friendships or anxiety or study habits. This is telling us exactly what they need based on what they’re telling us their needs are.
It allows our development programs to be targeted. It means that every year what you’re rolling out to year nine in one year, it’s not what you roll out in the following year, because that cohort is telling you that they have a different set of needs.
Joe Thurbon: Thank you, that draws a good conclusion to those three themes. We’ve had a bunch of questions from our attendees:
Q. Nicole, what dashboard do you use?
Nicole Archard: We use Schoolbox as our learning management system and our data dashboard is TrackOne Studio. All these systems integrate with each other.
Q. Can ei Pulse be used in primary schools?
Joe Thurbon: Yes. Over the last six months, we’ve been working with ARACY to bring a Primary School specific version of Pulse to the market. Currently, we use the standard, common approach questions which give good data but we’ve worked with ARACY and their partners who have given us another batch of questions that cover many of the same things but in a linguistically and cognitively simpler way.
Q. What is the uptake in primary and high school?
The majority of our schools are high schools, many of them are K to 12 and almost all of them use it for the upper years of primary and then high school years. We do have some primary schools that currently use Pulse in year 4-6. We’ll be working to bring them on to this new version when it comes out.
Q. Do you think the students are aware of things like mandatory reporting and limits of confidentiality?
Nicole Archard: We certainly make that explicit. In regards to mandatory reporting, we’ve had a commission into sexual abuse in schools, and that has set goals which schools should be working towards regarding pathways and easy ways for students to be able to report inappropriate behaviour. It’s important to remember that this program fits inside a much larger set of policies, programs, and structures that you have in place in school and ensure they align.
We have a poster in every classroom in our school, one designed for primary and one for secondary that talks about ‘ who are the people to go to’ to report an issue. Pulse doesn’t replace these measures but it complements it. A student might use Pulse in order to ask for assistance, but it shouldn’t be the only method that you have in place.
Jesse Manners: We’ve all got our own policies and procedures that we have to flow through. I think any quality wellbeing conversation at that level is already a mandated process. If you are particularly looking at keeping your teacher safe in the process, we casefile everything. We make sure that we’ve got everyone looped into that conversation as quickly as possible when needed.
Invitation to Try ei Pulse
Joe Thurbon: We’re running out of time but there’s one thing to cover quickly.
We know that it’s really hard for schools at the moment, especially going in and out of lockdown and the uncertainty around that to keep track of what’s happening at your schools.
Pulse free trial is currently available. We’ll honour that until the end of the year if the lockdowns continue. Schools like SPCC Cessnock and many others have seen Pulse both in and outside lockdown. We modify the questions to make them more relevant during those periods.
Please reach out to us if you’d like to get started with a free trial. Last year when we ran trials, upwards of 80% of schools went on to adopt Pulse. It is very easy to get started, and I really encourage you to reach out.
Now, most importantly, Nicole and Jesse, I’m extraordinarily grateful for your time today. I know I can speak on behalf of our audience, that the things you’ve had to say have been fascinating. Finally, to our audience here today, thank you so much for spending an hour of your time. I know that in schools, it’s incredibly busy now more so than ever. So we are extremely grateful.
ABOUT THE SPEAKERS
Dr. Nicole Archard is the principal of Loreto College Marryatville, a college known for its innovation and excellence. Nicole’s Ph.D. and research in girls education and women in leadership is around how to imbue girls with self-efficacy and leadership identity that will lead to greater gender equality. She has a track record in the media as a strong and passionate advocate for girls’ education, has published in journals internationally, and has received a Research Excellence Award from Macquarie University.
Jesse Manners is the leader of wellbeing at St. Philip’s Christian College (SPCC) in Gosford. Educator Impact has been working with the SPCC network for many years and has been impressed with the commitment the schools have towards innovation that supports the wellbeing and the learning of their students. Jesse’s passion lies in both upskilling staff to support student wellbeing and equipping students to navigate their mental health in education settings, including collaborating with professional Allied Health Partners. Over the last 18 months, Jesse has been building a system of a systematic and whole-school approach to wellbeing across the college. And we’ve been delighted to be a little small part of that journey.
The host, Joe Thurban is the co-founder and CTO of Educator Impact. His background is in Artificial Intelligence and he has been applying technology to improve social outcomes for 20 years.