Teachers all over the world have known this intuitively for years but More and more research now shows us that student well-being has a direct impact on academic achievement.

Not only that, but it’s important to stay abreast of student well-being to detect any problems and take action before more significant problems arise later on.

So how can schools keep tabs on student well-being and ensure support when needed?

One way is to survey students on how they are finding school, their studies and life in general, thus obtaining information on their state of mind.

Take the initiative

We started doing this like after the Covid-19 hit, when we noticed a significant increase in mental well-being difficulties. We reflected on different approaches that would allow us to be more proactive.

We realized that we needed a tool that would allow us to quickly capture a snapshot of our total student body and highlight any difficulties, so we could respond before they escalated.

There are many commercial products that can help, and we have decided to adapt an existing and freely available tool, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), as part of our efforts in this area.

As our school uses Google for Education, all of our students are registered with a secure individual user account. We adapted the SDQ and recreated it as a Google Form. This is linked to a spreadsheet that auto-populates with student responses and calculates individual scores in the areas it measures: hyperactivity, emotional issues, conduct issues, peer issues, and prosocial skills.

Students can only fill out the form through their school account, with strict access rights dictating who can see what. For a school using Office 365, a Microsoft form would work just as well.

By using the SDQ through our platform, we have complete ownership of the data we collect and can adapt our approach as we grow and develop our datasets.

The only addition we’ve made to the SDQ at this stage is a general text box where students can list any other concerns or concerns they may have.

Encourage involvement

Once the SDQ was recreated for our school, we scheduled a week into the calendar for students to complete the questionnaires during tutor time. It took about 10 minutes to compile.

We have introduced the SDQ to our students as a useful tool to gauge how they feel and let them know it would be seen and read by staff.

While some were a little skeptical at first, once they realized the staff genuinely read their responses and engaged with the results, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

After analyzing the results (with color-coded cells for scores of significant concern, following the criteria of the SDQ manual), we schedule follow-up meetings between tutors and students.

Training is provided to staff on how to open up a dialogue, build rapport with the student and engage them in supportive dialogue about the potential problems they may be facing.

To help tutors manage the sheer volume of check-ins with each of their students, trained support staff and senior leadership team members also help and meet individual students.

These follow-up meetings are then recorded in the main Google Sheet and any decisions are noted, for example “follow up with the consultant”.

The great strength of controlling well-being in this way is that it allows us to “find the hidden ones,” the students who are silent but silently struggling.

And because the SDQ is designed to be completed twice a year, it gives us a powerful research-based tool to continuously monitor our students’ well-being.

Build an image over time

Additionally, by logging the information into a central spreadsheet, we are able to import this data as a comma-separated value file (wwhich allows you to save data in tabular format) in our school administration system.

This means that we can build a picture of each student individually over time and identify any trends in strengths and difficulties, individually or by cohort.

Alongside the SDQ, we have developed and implemented a simpler Google Form called “Kellett Weekly Check-In” (KWCI) for our high school students.

This check-in is designed to be quick, taking no more than a minute or two, and provides a snapshot of how a student is feeling that week.

It consists of eight questions on the topics of workload, happiness, sleep and stress. Mentor conversations and counseling interventions based on the KWCI help resolve lower level issues along with the more meaningful measurement of the SDQ.

Where the KWCI captures brief week-by-week control points, the SDQ reflects long-term social-emotional development.

Interventions from the additional support team, our school counselors and pastoral staff are then based on identified problems and can proactively address anticipated problems based on past information.

With the self-reported KWCI and SDQ, ownership of any potential difficulty is immediately recognized by the student, which helps with potential resistance to interventions.

Following the success of the SDQ at our high school, we are currently piloting a similar approach at our prep schools using a different questionnaire.

The significant value of the SDQ is that it is self-reported, but the individual version is only available for ages 11+. There is a similar, but simpler questionnaire for primary school pupils: Me and My Feelings.

As evidence this academic year, we will evaluate the effectiveness of this tool for our community. Like the SDQ, it is freely available online and has a strong research foundation.

Student feedback from these pastoral conversations and individual follow-ups has been overwhelmingly positive. They say they really felt seen and heard by our staff when they spoke to them about their personal issues.

After three years of school interruption due to Covid, these tools are helping restore our community as we move forward.

Jaap Marsman is Vice Principal for Further Support and Wellbeing at the Kellett School, the British International School in Hong Kong

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