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How often should you check-in with your students

For almost 4 years our team has worked extensively on designing the student wellbeing check-in and arguably the most common question we get is ‘how often should we check-in?’. 

Our research found that 53% of students want to be given the opportunity to check-in once a week and almost all (97%) want to be checked in with at least once every three weeks. Typically, our schools start by checking in once a week or fortnight and adjust as required. That said, and this may be a somewhat disappointing answer, there is no clear science that suggests there is a ‘right’ frequency. Each school and each student is unique. There are also moments in the school schedule you might need to check-in more frequently.

So, rather than giving you an exact number, I want to provide you with four brief case studies and key considerations to support your thinking around finding the right frequency. 

Case studies

  1. Event Based Check-Ins: The very first school to implement Skodel checks in on average once a month and it is often centred around important moments/events in the school calendar or external factors such as COVID and remote learning. To launch Skodel Check-In they did a month long period of weekly check-ins to to get a good baseline score and familiarise students with the process. The school left self check-in functionality on for students to check-in as they please after this. They would then periodically check-in, typically during exam blocks, sporting events, speeches, school programs, before/after holidays, and in the case of remote learning, check-ins were sent out fortnightly. This school has a high level of engagement on student check-ins with over a 90% completion rate and has built up a rich body of wellbeing data over time in a light touch manner.
  2. Weekly Wellbeing Day: Schools have introduced specific wellbeing days or periods e.g. ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’. These are days where there is structured time for wellbeing and schools start these days/periods with a check-in. Framing check-ins around initiatives like this is a comfortable way to break the ice for students on difficult conversations. Schools adopting this approach have stated a major benefit of having tangible wellbeing data flowing through on a weekly basis is that it helps with classroom and behaviour management, and eases the pressure for teachers in observing potential wellbeing issues.
  3. Monday/Friday Check-In: Some schools have adopted the approach of checking in with students at the start and end of the school week. They have often customised the check-ins to ask relevant open-ended questions such as ‘How was your weekend?’ and ‘What’s one highlight and one lowlight from the week?’. This has established a nice routine for students to check-in with themselves and establish patterns and trends in their moods over time as they reflect on their own check-in data. It also provides the school with insightful data around student positivity on different days of the week.
  4. Attendance check-in: We have also seen schools use Skodel to replace the traditional marking of the roll, opting to use Skodel Check-In as a daily wellbeing check. This was done during COVID and has helped housemasters and tutors maintain connection with their students under difficult conditions. 

Key considerations

The ‘right’ frequency very much depends on your approach to checking in, particularly:

  1. How long is the check-in for the student? We have found 30-45 seconds is the sweet spot for student engagement (3-4 questions).
  2. What medium are you using to check-in? Digital is best for the purposes of checking in for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes it more manageable for your school. Secondly, students feel comfortable to start the dialogue online, remember though, the conversation should be taken offline where appropriate.
  3. How extensive and user friendly is the reporting? I.e. is it going to create a whole lot of work for your teachers each time you check-in? We recommend a layered approach wherein classroom teachers can get fast, easy to action feedback within 2 minutes, and senior leaders can dig deeper to inform future wellbeing planning.

Perhaps most important to the frequency question is ensuring that you are checking in frequently enough to meet two of the primary objectives of the regular check-in:

1. Early identification of at risk students

Research out of UNICEF found that 1 in 4 adolescents reported 2 or more mental health symptoms more than once per week. This could be feeling sad, excessively worried or other symptoms. So wellbeing does fluctuate rapidly, and approaches to managing it should be reflective of that.

If you are checking in less frequently, you can account for this by empowering students in two ways:

  • To check-in on their own accord, on Skodel this is known as a ‘self check-in’ and it allows a student to check-in unprompted by the teacher. A regular check-in should begin to break down the stigma and fear around having open and honest conversations about mental health. Normalising it should in turn encourage students to reach out proactively. 
  • To open up in such a way that they are able to communicate whether they are doing well, simply having a bad day, or facing a greater struggle. Solely asking if someone is feeling sad or happy may only tell a small part of the story. A student may be worried due to exams, or, they may be worried due to something that may be more concerning such as bullying or body image. At Skodel, we use age appropriate illustrations and gifs to depict common drivers associated with different feelings such as worry, sadness, happiness and others, and allow free text responses. This way you can quickly understand if further follow up is required.

2. Collecting data over time to inform program planning

Checking in as infrequently as once a month, schools are still able to map out key moments in their schedule and what to look for during these moments. Some of these may be instinctively known, others not so much. Schools can also compare across cohorts to identify which year groups bullying is most prevalent, when social media starts to play a bigger role in young people's lives and correlations in drop off or increase in positivity due to this. 

For example, check-in data shows there is a disproportionate increase in friendships as a driver of positivity and negativity during the transition from year 6 to year 7 compared to other year groups. During this transition, students largely fall into one of three categories:

  • Positive about making new friends
  • Positive as they have their best friends coming with them, or
  • Losing their friendships and feeling highly anxious about making new ones 

Schools can use this data to shape their programs and target their resources more effectively. In this instance, friendships should be a focal point of your transition program, particularly, overcoming fears of meeting new people and how to make new friends. Checking in during this transition enables schools to identify which students fall into which category so that they can provide targeted support.

So, how often should you check-in?

Ultimately, you must work with your students through this and adjusting the frequency along the way is perfectly okay. The above highlights that checking in as infrequently as once a month for 30 seconds will still provide considerable insight into student wellbeing, both to assist in early identification and collecting data over time to inform program planning. At Skodel, we suggest starting at a cadence of once a week or fortnight and adjusting this frequency as you see fit.

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