Founders, Ian and Julian Fagan are identical twins. In the last two years of school, Ian and Julian worked together to help Ian’s struggle with mental illness. After Ian’s recovery they reflected on what they had learned and this triggered a very deep curiosity about the human mind and an appreciation for the importance of understanding how our environment, relational dynamics and life moments can impact our wellbeing. In particular they realized that young people needed support and skills to maintain well-being as a positive step toward good mental health.
Fast forward 5 years and Ian and Julian observed that mental illness was beginning to disrupt the lives and education of more and more young people and their families. Despite its prevalence, it remained deeply misunderstood and terribly challenging to communicate. Recognising the vital role that school life could play in enhancing students’ resilience and well-being, Ian and Julian, alongside their good friend and technologist, Huon Peard, set out to build Skodel.
Skodel’s vision was to create a world where wellbeing was communicated and understood by all and to do this, they strived to give every student a voice that would be heard and acted on. The notion of giving every student a voice was particularly close to Huon. Huon’s brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at a young age and doctors advised that he would never be able to communicate with his peers. Huon believes Skodel can be a voice for students unable or unwilling to call out. Voice can come in many forms and it remains the single most powerful tool we have.
A regular check-in by students is fundamental to address the growing mental illness concerns: Skodel can unlock the voices of young people in order to gain an understanding of their wellbeing. Most mental illnesses develop during youth and there are moments and dynamics that can foreshadow these; that anxious feeling of meeting new people when entering high school, getting braces on, being excluded from lunchtime groups, missing out on sporting team selection. Whether minor or major, understanding how children feel, cope and respond in the moment is critical to positively shaping their social and emotional development. In turn, this can support them in understanding their own wellbeing and through small changes in dialogue, equip them with healthier ways of thinking.
The idea of a regular ‘Check-In’ resonated deeply with Ian and Julian, however, as the team sat down to develop this, they faced a number of challenges in making this work in a school setting. Skodel strikes the balance between academic rigour and efficacy, and student engagement. For over 3 years, Skodel worked with school communities, psychologists, researchers and educators to create a loveable check-in that provided all students with a simple, fast and fun way to communicate their wellbeing. At the heart of this were the founders’ own experiences as students, not so long ago! Skodel had to engage the student voice, it had to let students tell it how it is. This meant a change in traditional survey models that relied on scales and prescriptive frameworks, instead Skodel gives freedom to express through emojis, gifs and illustrations, as well as, importantly, open ended responses. Huon’s role was then to translate these feelings into data and dashboards that gave teachers insight into individual and collective wellbeing, and allowed trends to be observed in real-time and tracked historically.
Skodel Check-In now runs thousands of check-ins every week around the world. Students are engaged and teachers are listening as they help them navigate through the increasingly complex journey of life. Skodel Check-In is an important part of a surging wave of empathetic technology that is ethical, productive and relevant to students. Skodel, along with its alumni of leading psychologists, teachers and researchers is now focussed on developing a suite of response solutions to build teacher capacity in responding to Skodel Check-In data.