You Can’t Change What You Don’t Measure: Social and Emotional Health in Children

May 18, 2022 Hans Mundahl

At a recent Heads Meetup, we were talking about EMA’s recently published podcast with Eric Heilman, Executive Director of Maret School’s Center for Institutional Research in Independent Schools, covering how to measure things that seem impossible to measure. The meetup’s conversation quickly became philosophical and lofty, including a discussion of schools with dedicated Directors of Institutional Research.

One Head of School shared something they had already started at their school—something that was making a difference even though they were too small to have an employee dedicated to institutional research. The question they were wrestling with related to the social and emotional health of the school. It seemed like many students were stressed out by a variety of factors. The school wanted to take action but wasn’t sure how they could measure the impact of their efforts.

Their solution was to ask the school counselor to share data they were already collecting with the leadership team of the school on a regular basis. This data was anonymized so individual students weren’t being discussed and included a monthly snapshot of the following data:

  • The number of unique students who had visited the counselor
  • The number of times those students had visited
  • The reasons for students to visit (stress, anxiety, negative interactions with peers, family issues, etc.)
  • The number of students approaching the six-visit cuttof (the school had a protocol for when a student visits the school counselor more than six times in a given time period they are referred to an outside counselor)
  • The number of students on medications related to social and emotional health

Once the school was collecting and sharing the data, they could measure the effectiveness of certain proactive steps to improve the social and emotional health of the students. They could also look for patterns. Perhaps, most visitors to the school counselor were girls. Did this mean boys didn’t need social and emotional guidance? Or, that they were less likely to visit the counselor? Were there certain times of year that were more likely to cause distress? 

The conversation also turned to ways the school could share this information with families. Not regarding specific students or even the details on how the school was doing on a given month. Rather, how the school could position themselves as partners working together to proactively and intentionally work toward greater social and emotional health in their children.

Hiring a dedicated Director of Institutional Research is not for every school. But, every school can start taking advantage of the data they already have to better serve their students!

About the Author

Hans Mundahl

Hans Mundahl is the Director of Professional Development at EMA. He has been an educator since 1995 when he first stepped into the classroom as a Fulbright exchange teacher in the former East Germany. Since then Hans has done just about every job possible at an independent school from teacher to administrator. Most recently Hans was the head of school at a K-8 day school in central New Hampshire. Hans’s spare time is usually spent with his family but he is also passionate about the outdoors and protecting the environment.

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