Not only has the New Cairo British International School (NCBIS) in Egypt recently been awarded by the International School Awards for Pastoral Initiatives, but the recent British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection team also highlighted the effective pastoral provision as ‘excellent’, as part of overall student welfare. We at YouHue, were delighted to learn that our app has been an integral part of recent well-being developments at the school. Primary Mentor Lizzie Dunn kindly agreed to share her experiences, allowing us to delve deeper into the inner workings of well-being provision and the role of YouHue at the school.
This case study will share with you how NCBIS has cemented YouHue as an integral part of the everchanging well-being landscape.
Whenever a new initiative or product is introduced by management teams to educational staff, the first thought typically springs to the teacher workload. With cluttered curriculums and heavy admin requirements, introducing something new can add pressure to already-thin seams. However, at NCBIS, the process of introducing YouHue was seamless.
The management team shared YouHue and its benefits with the primary staff via a short presentation, outlining how user-friendly the app is alongside its benefits and features. ‘What happens next?’ followed from the teachers, after understanding the initial logging of emotions from the children. With assurances that the pastoral team would be picking up the ‘flagged’ logs and monitoring data closely, and that the admin office would take care of usernames and passwords, the primary staff was very quickly onboard. Shortly after, the second team was introduced to the app and staff have successfully embedded YouHue as another component of well-being provision and communication.
The school board and parents were included in the introductory processes. Parents were assured that the app is not for ‘getting information from the children’ but rather another outlet for them to express how they are feeling internally, especially for those who are not comfortable with finding time to speak to their teacher. Almost all parents were supportive and had spoken with their children about the app at home. Teachers often introduce data from YouHue during parent-teacher meetings to reassure parents of how children are reporting daily, which is often positive.
YouHue and Safeguarding
Initially, the primary children were using the app to log how they were feeling about day-to-day things in school, for example, ‘I have too much homework’. They found the app useful to share their feelings in their context of being a primary-aged child. Over time, students started sharing their feelings with more depth and exploring their inner world to a greater extent. One child logged his emotions and shared that a grandparent had sadly passed away. A staff member was in the classroom, available to speak with the child before he had even put his iPad away in his bag. This was crucial for the child and a walk around the field with the staff member enabled him to express his sadness when he needed to.
Within secondary, more serious aspects of mental health difficulties have been referenced, such as self-harm and suicide. All students in school are made aware of which staff members will be able to see their comments when they log. With students logging serious difficulties they are facing; the level of trust is apparent. They know that action will be taken, and support will be in place. These indications have enabled the school to intervene. The secondary students at NCBIS are using the app daily and feedback has been that they feel someone is listening to them when they need it most. A secondary mentor responds to most of the comments shared by the students using the new, readily available ‘comments’ feature. A time and space to talk is also offered to those who have flagged comments and trends, or are even just reporting as ‘okay.’ At times, secondary students have many flagged words in just one of their mood logs. Students have reported that having an instant response is comforting as they are not always able to leave class or find time to speak with a mentor or guidance teacher directly.
Not feeling seen or heard can have deep impacts on overall psychological well-being, as can internalizing emotions and stressors. Lizzie believes that having an outlet to share feelings can safeguard the mental well-being of students. Keeping students safe is a huge part of school life and by opening lines of communication further within the realm of wellbeing through a tool such as YouHue, a crossover is bound to take place amongst departments. Best practice ensures the triangulation of safeguarding, pastoral and teaching teams around students within the school, with parents and outside agencies included in the process.
“Being heard is such a huge part of well-being. YouHue helps us with this; it is so valued.”
Overall Benefits for NCBIS
The main benefits for this school are ‘definitely reassurance and understanding.’ Now, the staff is finding that students are tackling more contentious issues through YouHue, such as arguments from home or worries about divorcing parents. This in turn, effectively informs PSHE lessons which can become more impactful and real-time relevant for students.
Although mental health is moving to the forefront of education globally, Lizzie feels that as a global society, we are still far from accepting the thought that it ‘is okay not to be okay;’ we still face a barrier of stigma. At NCBIS, she says YouHue breaks down that barrier. With there being a ‘shame’ element typically connected to mental health difficulties, YouHue’s colorful, user-friendly interface makes the experience of checking in with emotions and logging about them an approachable one for students.
Now, most students in the school know how to talk about and express their feelings. Some more than others use YouHue, as their preference is to write to an adult; they may not always want to initiate a conversation about how they are feeling. Also, children are much more aware that every emotion has a place, they know it is ok to feel the stronger emotions, like anger or loneliness, and they appreciate the outlet to express these. NCBIS believe that generally, overall subjective well-being feels higher as children are now more comfortable with expressing how they feel.
Standout Moments from Using YouHue
With many standout moments to choose from, NCBIS compiled well-being studies within the organization to share with the recent inspection team. Extensive therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) were carried out with a primary student who had logged an unsettling comment about death on her YouHue account. It was clear she wanted to talk to someone but weas unable to initiate this conversation in person. Art therapy sessions followed supporting the child to express her feelings through art, which transitioned over time from very dark drawings to bright, colorful doodles and motivational quotes; a sign of inner changes. To identify such difficulties so early on through YouHue was pivotal for this child, believes Lizzie. She also stresses to this day she does not believe that the depth of the child’s feelings would have been uncovered without early intervention through the safe space YouHue has provided in the school for students to freely express their emotions. A marked improvement in this particular child’s overall emotional well-being is a real-life example of why mental health provision is paramount in education.
As COVID-19 brought extensive challenges to education, distance learning became the norm for many. The NCBIS school maintained the use of YouHue throughout and for one student in particular, the space to express feelings became a powerful tool from across the globe. This student was in the UK during the first initial stages of lockdown due to a family member receiving treatment for severe illness. Understandably not wanting to speak to their teacher during Google Classroom lessons, YouHue became a crucial form of communication. Pastoral calls were then set up for the child so staff could check in and be with them when they needed it. When the family returned to Egypt, the child continued to express how they were feeling and dealing with their relative’s illness through YouHue, which in turn enabled staff to visit the student and open a conversation. YouHue was a huge indicator of that student’s emotional experiences.
What if YouHue Disappeared? (It won’t 😊)
NCBIS believes they have opened up so much emotional dialogue within the school through YouHue that they cannot now, imagine well-being provision without this tool. Although many students are confident enough to speak with staff about their feelings and experiences in person, there is a portion of students who would prefer to share through the app. Currently, the high level of engagement is working well, particularly in secondary school.
The secondary pastoral department is busier than it has ever been and there is now a confidential, safe space to truly express how they feel to trusted adults. The expression of their feelings has increased hugely. Students are aware of procedures and know that relevant adults will be informed should outside support be required.
At the primary level, the school would love to invest in more iPads in order to encourage the children to log more frequently. More access to devices would enable the children to log at different times throughout the day, which in turn would increase the scope for overall data capture within the school. Year group provision could then be tailored to the data accordingly to a greater extent.
With staff well-being also being high on the agenda, the board suggested having YouHue available for adults to track overall well-being. Although this is still a work in progress with disclaimer forms being written about confidentiality and staff protection, it could be something the school moves to as part of staff wellbeing provision in the future.
This case study was possible due to the kindness and openness of NCBIS. YouHue is hugely grateful to the staff members who contributed their time to share with us.