In March of 2022, the OECD published a policy brief based on the views of over 150 youth organisations across 72 countries. The key message that youth organisations around the world are most concerned about is the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on mental health, followed by its impact on education and learning outcomes. This was echoed in the same week by a special report from Fairfax (SMH/TheAge) describing the pandemic’s toll on youth mental health as an urgent national priority.
"There is convincing evidence of a relationship between wellbeing and academic attainment” according to Oxford University's research. So the question going forward is, how can we better help our young people bounce back from the last two years? More specifically, how can schools activate a culture of early intervention (or even prevention) in order to ensure better learning outcomes for students?
Schools must demonstrate that adults care about their welfare
Another vital component to improving students’ outcomes is making them feel that authority figures care about them. According to McCrindle, “there is a strong correlation between teacher-student relationship and academic achievement.”
Supporting the wellbeing of students comes naturally to school staff. Intuitively, we all know that prevention is better than postvention. It’s the reason why we all strive to NIP it in the bud (Notice, Inquire, Provide). With busy schedules getting busier, how can schools show students that they really care?
Historically, schools have relied on large, long form assessments of wellbeing to get a sense of how their student body is feeling. However these anonymous surveys rarely gave students the reassurance that a figure of authority at their school ‘had their back’.
Weekly check-ins like ei Pulse are designed to create connections between students’ mental health and school support. If students respond to a check-in with the response, “I need help,” they’ll then be connected to trusted adults, who will check in with them about their wellbeing struggles. Not only can students choose the support figure with whom they want to connect, but they can also send messages directly to them.
Student voice should guide frequent interventions
Student responses to weekly check-ins also provide leading indicators into cohort-level trends. If schools adopt a culture of weekly check-ins, they can easily review results and look for emerging trends at a class, group, or cohort level.
Beyond just collecting data, schools must then implement data-informed interventions frequently. One of the reasons that students lose faith in the annual survey approach is because too often, no changes are perceived as a result. By publicly making small changes to school life, school leadership send a strong signal that student voice is not only important, but also a key driver of change and improvement. This further reinforces to students that the adults in their life care about them.
Encourage students to pay attention to their wellbeing
By encouraging students to check in on their emotions on a regular basis, they become active participants in improving their own wellbeing; a crucial step in breaking the barriers to ‘help-seeking’. It is through this process of normalisation that schools can build an effective culture of early intervention.
The Pulse app from Educator Impact (EI) checks in with students about their wellbeing once a week. A simple “How are you feeling today?” encourages students to examine their feelings. They can answer the check-in with responses like “I’m feeling great,” “I’m feeling in the middle,” or “I’m feeling negative.”
Schools and school staff are increasingly the front line for dealing with the growing mental health challenges facing students; they are the essential workers helping our young people. Faced with a large and growing problem, they can’t act alone. Teachers and School Leaders need to engender a culture that fosters trust, and normalises help-seeking. Culture is hard but the key is to make the future state easier than the current state. This can only happen by building habits and making their adoption easy. Weekly check-ins are that habit that unlocks a preventative approach to wellbeing.
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