There can be significant pressure on us to find a ‘meaningful’ job. As a digital marketer for 3 years at HardyGroup (HG), I invested a good chunk of my time spreading awareness of jobs that I hoped would provide one deserving individual with a sense of meaning and purpose. I relished the opportunity of coming into HG with a blank canvas and enhancing their online presence to do this. Together with my identical twin, Ian, we rebranded HG, built a new website, boosted their social media presence, re-energised HGinSIGHT and gave HG the digital footprint it deserved… and introduced the team to the world’s best cheesecake!

The time has come for Ian and me to pursue a dream that has been 10 years in the making. That dream is called Skodel and I would like to share the Skodel story with you.

For a number of years, Ian and I had been intrigued, for lack of a better word, by the idea that we may be building a world that is better in almost every way and yet ironically we could be worse off. This curiosity was driven by our own personal experiences with mental illness at school. Many of history’s most recognised thinkers from across the different fields of science, psychology, literature, economics and philosophy alluded to this in their work – the road to a better world is fraught with danger. This holds true if we examine the relationship between traditional measures of living standards and mental health. On balance we are afforded greater civil liberties and more opportunities than previous generations yet in spite of this anxiety and depression are on the rise.

How can that be?

With any change a psychological adjustment must take place. With such rapid social, cultural and technological change, as it has been in the last 60 years, that adjustment can become more challenging. It’s tough to gain a footing. Our quest for truth can erode meaning and greater freedoms can make it harder to find purpose. Fewer problems can leave us without direction.

Ultimately, the journey of self discovery toward a meaningful purpose has become profoundly more difficult.

This is a significant risk that must be managed in our pursuit to build a better world. There is no doubt, greater opportunities, fewer problems and more freedoms present challenges for the human psyche. The answer of course is not to restrict such freedoms and opportunities, or halt progress, but instead, we must consider what this means for younger generations. How do we help our youth connect with a meaningful purpose when their path is not so clearly laid out for them?

Before Skodel entered the ideation phase we had been involved in education for nearly 7 years and it was clear that the industry was largely aligned in its thinking – the current model was no longer fit for purpose and would not provide the answers we needed to the question above. We are now sitting on the precipice of a significant shift in education toward a new way, with a strong focus on managing the increasingly complex wellbeing issues our youth face today.

Many school communities are now working toward the goal of being able to provide individualised wellbeing support. Wellbeing is really the gatekeeper to mental illness and by fostering positive wellbeing in students we can reduce the impact of mental illness. To do this, it’s imperative we understand what wellbeing actually looks like at the individual and collective level. Many in education refer to this as ‘knowing the whole child’ and schools need structures in place to get to know the whole child. It is particularly challenging to develop a structure that works across the whole school for a number of reasons. Primarily:

  1. Time: Schools don’t have much time to collect, organise and make sense of data.
  2. Meaning: There are an infinite number of domains that make up wellbeing, and each individual will value them differently. This means that frameworks, at best, work at the group level but not at the individual level.
  3. Competing needs: Senior leaders need detailed insights to inform decisions and report to the community, while students and teachers need it to be simple, quick and engaging. This creates a dilemma.

In order to get detailed insights, we tend to produce overly prescriptive and complicated models. They’ll take the form of a large scale survey that breaks wellbeing down into multiple domains. Whilst they provide detailed insights, students are disengaged and teachers are left with an enormous administrative burden. Overly simplistic models on the other hand are quick but don’t provide sufficient insights. They leave many questions unanswered, only telling part of the story, leading to undesirable outcomes through misinterpretation.

We knew we had to strip back in order to make this work in a school setting, however, in doing so we couldn’t compromise the level of insight achieved from larger-scale models.

Acknowledging these challenges, we commenced the build of Skodel with a mission to give every student a voice that is heard and acted on. Self-expression promotes self-discovery and by providing school communities with visibility of students on this journey they are better placed to positively guide them through it. Ultimately, more children can go on to discover a meaningful purpose, helping them lead a fulfilling life and make a positive contribution to society.

There are two distinct components to our mission at Skodel

  1. Give every student a voice
  2. Ensure that voice is heard and acted on

Student voice: all students, irrespective of backgrounds and abilities must be given a voice. The questions we ask, the way in which we ask questions, the way we deliver questions, question saliency and timing all matter, very much. Failing to create an engaging experience for all students to communicate their wellbeing means we are left without student voice and the process of getting to know the whole child becomes distinctly more challenging.

Ensuring that voice is heard and acted on: how we communicate data throughout the school determines whether or not student voices are heard and actioned. Two quotes underpinned our approach to this:

“Just as the ability to devise simple but evocative models is the signature of the great scientist so over-elaboration and over-parameterisation is often the mark of mediocrity.” ~ George E. P. Box, 1976

“Statistics may reveal the truth but simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional stories are more likely to persuade others to act or think differently.” ~ Heath & Heath, 2007

We need to translate student voices into simple and evocative stories that bring to the top the most pertinent information. It needs to be fully streamlined to reduce any admin work and it needs to work across all levels for all stakeholders. This required us to synthesize 100s of pages of reporting into a single interactive dashboard that could be understood by classroom teachers, senior leaders, parents and the broader community.

We will continue to be guided and inspired by the pursuit of helping more students discover a meaningful purpose and we are appreciative of those who have helped us along the journey to date.

The team at HG holds a special place in our heart as they encouraged us to chase our dream and they continue to cheer us on from the sidelines. There are very few organisations I know that would be as supportive as team HG has been. Thank you.

Lastly, if you found this interesting and know any thoughtful wellbeing leaders at schools, we would love to connect (cheesecake provided upon request).

Ian’s Linkedin

Julian’s Linkedin