Based on a NAB survey of over 1000 Australian families, 1 in 3 independent school attendees have either switched schools or are considering doing so. Of those who changed or are considering a change, 33% listed wellbeing as one of the top 5 factors in the decision.
Ranked much higher than academic performance, quality of facilities or even value for money, wellbeing is clearly a key focus for parents.
However, whilst schools will often have formal wellbeing programs or related policies, there also needs to be transparency around wellbeing and pastoral care information for parents to understand what's happening with their student's day to day school life.
For the students themselves, it's vital that they feel supported at school, and have a sense of agency over their own education and wellbeing.
There's no right or wrong way to achieve this, but there are several ways that the technology at your school could support improved wellbeing outcomes, and the perception of these outcomes, for your students and families.
The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) has done significant research on this topic, collected in their recent publication: Principles of Practice to Support Student Wellbeing and Mental Health.
Number 9 of their 11 tips calls for schools to "Actively cultivate and encourage proactive parent partnerships". More specifically, they advise:
Families can play a critical role in educating and supporting young people, both in and out of school. Where possible, share information with families and be in regular communication with them. This will provide support to families, as well as opportunities to draw from their insight into their child’s life. (p.9, AISNSW)
This can be achieved through the deployment of a Parent Portal (like TASS’), which allows schools to provide parents with more transparency around the things happening in their child's school life.
When disseminating this information, ensure parents are given balanced updates on different types of events. Informing parents of negative behaviour such as uniform infringements or detentions is obviously important, but the same attention should also be given to more positive activities, like good teamwork, leadership, merits, or winning an award.
Further consider providing parents with a way to acknowledge that they have seen these updates, so that your school has records to show that parents and carers are up to date on student activities and aren’t missing any crucial information.
Number 4 of AISNSW's list, "Creating opportunities for authentic student voice and engagement", covers the importance of giving students the opportunity to share their perspectives.
Of these tips, the need for schools to have multiple methods for students to share feedback and concerns is highlighted:
Provide a variety of methods for students to raise questions, concerns, and feedback (e.g., via spoken dialogue and writing, collectively and/or individually). Providing multiple opportunities for questions and feedback can promote inclusivity, respect, and equity to all student voices. (p.3, AISNSW)
Deploying a regular student wellbeing survey solution (such as the wellbeing pulses available in TrackOne’s Learning Analytics Suite) gives students the opportunity to share how they're feeling about their progress and other various school activities. This can then alert mentors and school leaders to early warning signs and potential concerning trends, ensuring a timely and proactive, instead of reactive, approach to identifying student wellbeing needs.
Another consideration is students who may not project concerning behaviours or ask for help, but still need support.
In this instance, technology such as this can offer a unique advantage of identifying students who may be closed off or at risk of disengaging, ensuring no student slips between the cracks - whether they’re visibly struggling or not.
Identifying Risk Factors
Principle 6 on AISNSW's list, "Articulating clearly defined school processes that include identification of emerging signs and indicators, provision of support and regular monitoring" refers to the need to actively monitor for wellbeing and mental health warning signs.
Particularly relevant to schools looking to use technology to improve or streamline their wellbeing activities is this advice:
Implement early risk identification methods and regular monitoring of at-risk students. Processes for screening students could be put in place to identify protective (e.g., social connection) and risk factors (e.g., anxiety, irritability, sadness, poor attendance). (p.4, AISNSW)
There are again many ways this can be implemented using technology on a school-wide level, whether it's individual teacher observations or a larger-scale identification of risk factors.
Schools hold a vast amount of information, from attendance to behaviour or academic results, and it can be easy to miss key insights when being overloaded with information. Bringing all of your data together using analytic style tools (such as the Learning Analytics Suite) allows you to build visual insights into individual students or whole cohorts, for an easier way to identify students at risk, whilst having access to all the data in one place, for further investigation and monitoring.
Encourage Students to Seek Help
To finish is the first and arguably one of the most important of AISNSW's recommendations, "Creating a safe, supportive, and inclusive whole-school school climate."
This goes beyond the classroom, or any one system in place at your school, but there are ways that technology can help with some of the key areas flagged:
Experiences of high stress or trauma elicits feelings of helplessness and unpredictability. Therefore, it is important that the school environment is a safe, stable, and supportive place for students to express themselves, process their experiences and emotions, and cultivate a sense of agency and control.
Schools may consider creating a physical safe space for students to “take a break” during the day when needed. This may help promote self-regulation. (p.2, AISNSW)
For senior year levels in particular, where students will be growing as independent learners and want more control over their lives, schools may find it difficult to balance their duty of care with the need for student autonomy.
How this is achieved will depend on your unique school environment, but implementing a system where students can check themselves in and out of various appointments, such as learning support and counsellors, can help maintain that delicate balance - giving schools a way to ensure they keep track of student whereabouts, whilst giving students trust and freedom.
For students who need more space for self-regulation, the same tool could also be used to check into dedicated safe spaces, with current location information visible from classroom rollcall and student profile screens, ensuring student privacy, whilst also providing staff with comfort around students' whereabouts.
Regardless of what systems you use, proactively monitoring for students at risk allows you to identify early warning signs before they get become larger issues, whilst improving transparency for parents can give them peace of mind that their child's wellbeing is just as important to your school as it is to them. For students, technology can bridge gaps that may otherwise be hard to cross, when it comes to seeking help, sharing concerns, or giving feedback on school activities.
Although these are just some of the ways you can take advantage of technology to support wellbeing initiatives, they're a great starting point to contemplate whether your school is considering a key requirement for students and families.