MindMatters Panel: Module 1.2 Using data for planning and success 

Julia Zemiro:
Hello, I’m Julia, welcome to the MindMatters panel. It’s sometimes said that 99% of all statistics only tell 49% of the story and that 2 out of every 3 people wonder what happened to the third one. To help us figure out what I just said, and how schools can use data to improve mental health, we have Principals Australia Institute senior research officer, Dr. Katherine Dix; Principals Australia Institute executive consultant, Tracy Zilm; school psychologist, Sarah Inness; and deputy principal Rob Blackley. But first, let’s get some inspiration from the staff at Eagleton high.

Eagleton High clip:
PHILLIP
Thanks Eugene.
Data driven. That’s my mantra. Data driven. Evidence based. Charts and graphs.

TRISHA
Well, we’ve got the results of the parent survey. 

PHILLIP
Excellent! How many did we get back?

TRISHA
Eight.

PHILLIP
Eight-hundred. That’s like half the school. 

TRISHA
No, just eight. Eight. 

PHILLIP
Well, don’t keep us in suspense. What’d they say?

TRISHA
Well one of them was returned blank, except for a picture of a …. 

PHILLIP
I know who that was. Jackson. I’ll be having a word. 

TRISHA
But hey, the other seven said that the school exceeds expectations. 

PHILLIP
Seven out of eight said that. Fantastic. That’s like 80%!

EUGENE
87.5. 

TRISHA
87.5% actually. But I don’t think we can use such a small sample. 

PHILLIP
Course we can. 87.5% of parents say school exceeds expectations. 
We can put in the newsletter.
Optimism Trisha. It’s a protective factor. 

Julia Zemiro:
How can someone who types with two fingers be that good at maths – I’m jealous. All I got was BOOBLESS: still funny, after all these years. Now look, seriously, how can you use data and evidence in a school mental health strategy?

Dr. Katherine Dix:
It’s a fantastic opportunity for schools to find out where their staff are at, where their parents are at and where their students are at.

Julia Zemiro:
Because you don’t know sometimes do you?

Dr. Katherine Dix:
No, not at all and MindMatters has these lovely surveys for parents, for staff and for students and it’s that opportunity to engage that whole community by the fact that they are sitting down, reading these items, thinking about what it is a mentally healthy school should look like and that really starts to make it real and bring it home for the whole school.

Tracy Zilm:
For some people, having the hard facts, if you like, even though it’s people’s perceptions is what can be the driving force for getting people on board. For some people, that’s what they need. I want to see, prove to me that this is something we need to be doing and so it can be a really good vehicle for getting buy in from people and an opportunity as Katherine said to celebrate successes as well as much more clearly identify where we need to go and when you re-do the surveys 12 or 18 months later, to be able to test out and find out whether what you’ve been doing has made a difference, because schools are busy places and often doing lots but, you know, rarely having the time to go back and check whether what we’re doing is actually making the difference that we hoped.

Julia Zemiro:
Why use it, Rob?

Rob Blackley:
There are a couple of reasons why you use it. First, well one of the most important reasons is, I think is that if you take it to the students, you’re actually hearing from them, you know, we did a simple survey a couple of years ago. Our toilets - this was really terrible conditions – they hadn’t been changed in 30 years – the feedback when we did it with the students was “fix our toilets” so we did. But they could see that we acted because they said they weren’t safe, they weren’t clean and they just wanted a better environment and so that was us also responding to their particular needs and that.

Sarah Inness:
It makes it authentic doesn’t it, if you start listening to those voices and that’s where the data is incredibly invaluable, is that you’re being very specific about what you’re targeting by the voice that you’re getting back through those surveys or through the data that you’ve accessed.

Julia Zemiro:
How do you get data? Is it always surveys?

Sarah Inness:
No, no look, we certainly use the surveys because it targeted the MindMatters areas really nicely and told us which areas we could start looking at for our training, but we also use my counselling numbers, my data that comes though – not the names of course of the people coming to see me but maybe I get a really good sense of the reasons the people are presenting, is it a social skills issue that’s more common in this age group or is it depressive symptoms that are presenting. There’s also discipline reasons are we seeing that, in our school at the moment greater misuse of technology and we need more education around how we use those sorts of resources properly in the school. Attendance rates, attendance at the school but also attendance at the healthcare where our nurse sits: what reasons are people coming out of class? So there’s a whole host of places within the school that you can access for that information.

Julia Zemiro:
So Rob, how do you use data in your school?

Rob Blackley:
We use it to inform the path, the directions we want to take or the programs we might think about introducing and we use a whole range of different data; the surveys on MindMatters provide really valuable information in the area of mental health. We’ve got a whole range of other data that we can also be using. We can look at our absentees, our late to school, our discipline points – are there particular things that are coming up there and then also some anecdotal data where you might sit down with a small group of students in some sort of focus groups and talk to them about particular things of concern. It may be related to teaching and learning or it may be related to particular programmes that are running in the school.

Julia Zemiro:
And there’s a link between getting all this research, improving mental health and academic achievement.

Tracy Zilm:
Absolutely, and there’s more and more research these days to show that the two go hand in hand – Lots of international research that says when you build connectedness, because let’s face it in order to learn you’ve got to engage students in the learning process and they’re going to feel more engaged if they feel like they belong and this is a place that’s supportive of me and you know, I’m not worrying about being picked on outside the classroom or whatever it might be, I can focus on my studies, it kind of makes sense but we’ve got the research to back that up.

Julia Zemiro:
We had in the home delivery show I do, one of the comics we interviewed was Nazim Hussain and the first high school he went to was just bad to be smart and learn and to want to care and then he finally gets to this other school where he said it was such a relief being somewhere where every kid wanted to learn as well and he said that all the anxiety left and it was a slightly posh school, that’s true but it was more the fact that he was now in a group of people where that wasn’t even an issue, having to go out and fight for the right to be able to enjoy the work that’s in the class, I mean that fundamentally blows my mind.

Dr. Katherine Dix:
The nice thing about the MindMatters survey is that they’re specifically designed to reflect the risk and protective factors that are part of the MindMatters framework. And so it makes it very easy for schools to understand how to take that data and make sense of it and use the data to inform the planning and the strategies that they can see might need to take place.

Tracy Zilm:
And with 20 online modules it can be a case of wow – there’s 4 components and 20 modules – where will we actually start this journey, that can give you some good guidance as to either let’s build upon a strength because this was something we’re really happy with and lets go with that initially or this seems to be an area where we really need to work – let’s use that as our starting point. So making that change process manageable rather than trying to do everything at once. 

Julia Zemiro:
When you get all this data, what are the advantages of analysing that data as a group?

Dr. Katherine Dix:
It obviously brings people together around understanding what the data is saying and different people come with different perspectives.

Tracy Zilm:
The data is one thing, having all that information, but like you say, analysing it is so important because otherwise it goes nowhere and the way that you analyse it is really important, so involving as many people as possible, it might be something that the action team sit down and devote a meeting to, looking at one aspect of it and brainstorming what strategies might happen. Some schools have actually taken the data, in its collated form and used it at a whole staff meeting, encouraging people to use the technique to say “well this is what we see are the top three issues” and then using another staff meeting to say well let’s now brainstorm in small groups – what could be some strategies that might come out as a result of the data that we’ve received and what we’ve set as priorities. What could we do about those, let’s be as creative as we possibly can, doing that with student groups as well, doing it with parent groups possibly and that builds that picture of buy in with the data so it’s not something dry and boring and my experience is that once you understand data and the value in it, people actually get a little bit excited about it and I’m a bit like you I’m a bit of a maths-phob but you know, it’s a fascinating thing and it gets you to ask questions and engage in conversations and develop a shared language, which is really important around this stuff too.

Julia Zemiro:
How do you know that the mental health strategy is working? How can you know it’s reliable?   

Tracy Zilm:
You’re not going to survey people every week but over time you can know, so 12 months down the track or however you decide to plan for it – when you re-evaluate you can see movement or change. When we work with schools, it’s about getting people to, in their plans set indicators so what are some of those smaller steps that you might see along the way that will reassure you, you’re on track for your goal. So the data has told us our starting point and this is where we want to be, but along the way, can we develop the sorts of things that we might see or hear happening that will reassure us we are on the way or maybe we need to change track in the middle. 

Julia Zemiro:
Where do we find the surveys and how do they use them?

Dr. Katherine Dix:
The surveys are available to the person that’s been nominated in the school to have access to that level of information so there’s – it’s password protected and secure and all the rest of it, that these anonymous surveys collect. So basically it’s the school driving the use of those tools and they might want to do a do a middle school focus or just focus on the 8’s and 9’s parent group and student group as Tracy said, you don’t have to do everyone straight away, but you might identify some problem areas and I think it was said earlier it is really about making it manageable but the fact that it’s done online means that burden of hand-responding and someone hand-entering that information is no longer there.

Julia Zemiro:
Phil did not get a great result there, you can’t be relying on that kind of generalised info.

Sarah Inness:
But doesn’t the absence of response mean that there’s something about your parent body that maybe you’re missing too, that maybe there’s something that perhaps you haven’t accounted for within. Maybe they’re just so busy working, maybe you need to know your school community a little better and consider other ways to do that. 

Dr. Katherine Dix:
And timing is a huge thing. Do it at the beginning of the year, don’t do it near Christmas.

Julia Zemiro:
To wrap up remember these words from the technology entrepreneur, Jim Barksdale; “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”