Key questions leaders can use to build an effective whole school approach to digital wellbeing, from Digital Technology Department Head, Clare Erasmus.

Digital wellbeing is maintaining a healthy and balanced relationship with technology and its impacts on our physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. It encompasses a range of practices and strategies aimed at promoting healthy technology use, reducing dependence and minimising the negative effects of technology on our lives.

Every UK primary and secondary school should be delivering the statutory KS2 or KS3 Computing curriculum, including the thread covering digital wellbeing, with topics such as online presence and privacy, digital citizenship and cyberbullying. The curriculum also addresses the negative effects of too much screen time and encourages students to find a balance between online and offline activities.

But should a school be expected to have a whole-school digital wellbeing strategy to promote the safe, responsible, and effective use of digital technologies for everyone? There has been much talk and guidance about what schools should be doing to support young people, but what would a whole-school approach look like in practice? Consider these action points.

1. Leadership and management: How is the school providing visible senior leadership for digital wellbeing?

  • Write digital wellbeing into the school values and ethos.
  • Appoint a digital wellbeing lead. Ensure their role is clear and they are either on, or work closely with, the Senior Leadership Team.
  • Ensure your school is aware of reporting routes and that improvement plans and relevant policies (i.e., your Acceptable Use Policy) reference digital wellbeing.

2. School environment and culture: How does the school promote healthy online interactions?

  • Build a whole-school community approach towards online critical thinking and tackling online misogyny, homophobia, racism and negative stereotyping.
  • Call out fake or harmful news.
  • Create safe spaces for individuals to talk through concerns about online activities.
  • Offer a range of appropriate offline activities in school.
  • Advocate for device-free time during the day, encourage screen breaks and lead discussions about the impact of technology on mental health.
  • Be aware of how much time young people and staff spend on a screen and factor in a curriculum embracing physical and outdoor education as well as an active after-school club curriculum.

3. Staff digital wellbeing: How does the school support its staff’s digital activity?

  • Inspire a healthy online/offline social media presence.
  • Place a moratorium on emails after 5:30pm.
  • Streamline and reduce emails with a weekly SLT email.
  • Promote a ‘be kind’ culture in online and offline interactions between staff.
  • Talk about self-care, work-life balance and the need to unplug.

4. Student representation and digital wellbeing: How does the school engage its students?

  • Involve student voice in decisions that impact on their digital wellbeing.
  • Survey the students and ask them to suggest decisions promoting digital wellbeing. Resources like Tranquiliti, Bounce Together and YouHQ can help with this.
  • Host student class debates encouraging critical thinking around online information, e.g., ‘Fake or true?’
  • Foster relationships with students to identify signs of digital distress and intervene before problems escalate.
  • Provide training on the signs and symptoms of technology addiction, anxiety and depression.

5. Curriculum, teaching and learning: What focus is given within the curriculum to promote digital wellbeing?

  • Use the statutory Computing Curriculum and the wider curriculum through lessons such as RSE and citizenship to promote digital wellbeing.
  • Ask each faculty/department to pick one strand from Education for a Connected World such as ‘Self-image and identity’ and weave crosscurricular work into a scheme of learning.

6. Early intervention and support: How does the school ensure timely identification of students who would benefit from targeted support?

  • Survey students twice a year on their mental wellbeing, including questions and activities on sleep hygiene and anxiety and depression related to technology use.
  • Closely monitor attendance and progress and its links to unhealthy digital wellbeing factors.
  • Offer resources for students who feel overwhelmed by technology, such as relaxation techniques, digital detox challenges, and stress reduction activities.
  • Train staff and support parents to look out for the signs of an over-reliance on technology, exposure to abuse or online harm, poor online/offline balance and other negative impacts.

7. Working with families: How does the school work in partnership with them to promote digital wellbeing?

  • Encourage parents/carers to adopt a ‘Home Technology Agreement’ agreeing boundaries and usage, which includes no tech times (e.g., mealtimes and an hour before bed) and no devices in the bedroom.
  • Recommend the use of parental controls and filtering options for apps (where necessary).
  • Advise parents to adhere to social media age restrictions.
  •  Educate parents who are new to the school on digital wellbeing, the whole school’s strategy and the importance of role modeling responsible digital behaviour at home.
  • Support parents to adopt a healthy online presence as they interact with the school and other parents..

8. Working with the community: How can we create a positive counterculture to our digital world?

  • Collaborate with external organisations (local charities, tech companies) to support digital wellbeing.
  • Build a ‘community aware’ youth who are given volunteering opportunities. This could be through organised programmes like the Duke of Edinburgh.

9. Promote tech-inclusive schools: How are we closing the gap and ensuring digital equity?

I believe access and equity are a significant part of building a culture of digital wellbeing.

Ensure all students have access to the digital tools they need to participate fully in their education, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

• Have a target to enable each child access to a digital device outside of school for school purposes.
• Provide suitable internet connection and access to cloud computing and storage.

Implementing a whole-school digital wellbeing strategy requires a collaborative approach involving teachers, administrators, students, parents and community stakeholders. It will need to be embedded over a longer time as you build a culture where wellbeing, kindness and equity become the foundations of your school.

Author

  • Clare Erasmus

    Clare is a digital technology department head undergoing an apprenticeship in 'Whole School Digital Strategic Leadership'. Together with students and Gaia technologies, she created a bespoke mental health and wellbeing app which won the ‘Bett 2019 Impact award.’ She is also a WomenEd network lead and author.
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