In 2021, we are practicing gratitude– especially after 2020. Man, that was a doozy.
A big part of gratitude for us is looking at how far we have come and where we are going (aka: that exciting news the title promised you).
So, before we spill the beans with our exciting news, first the FightSong family wants to say thank you. Thank you to the dozens of educators who have given FightSong a chance to help them stay connected with their students. Teachers, counselors and administrators blow us away with their dedication and passion for helping kids. It is amazing that every educator we work with, who already has so much to handle, also took on integrating a new system for student emotional support into their practice. In addition to being tirelessly compassionate, they must have read the same studies we did– ones that state that the foundation of the ability to learn rests on emotional wellbeing.
“Research has focused on a variety of strategies, including bullying prevention, staff modeling of care and respect, school structures and routines, high expectations of student behavior, and making sure that every student feels known and valued by at least one adult in the school.”Protheroe, N. 2007
More than anything though, we are grateful to the thousands of students who have FightSong at their schools. We know that reaching out and expressing what is going on to a trusted adult at school is anything but easy, especially when the topic is painful, stressful or embarrassing. We know that it can be impossible.
We know that because our co-founders started this app because they found reaching out for help impossible.
When FS started as an idea in February of 2018, it was in response to Jim and Staci, who, a generation apart, overcame the same lack of emotional support in school through bullying and mental illness. Despite Staci graduating high school in 2009 and Jim graduating in 1979, their lived experiences were nearly identical.
The only avenues they found to get support for what they were going through were dismal and wholly ineffective for their situations– pieces of anonymous paper never responded to, tip lines filled to the brim with false and incomplete reports– all resulting in last ditch in-person crisis conversations in a glass room (whose bright idea was it to make a school counselor’s office transparent, especially in a culture of retaliation reporting?) resulting in both students having even more mistrust for their teachers, counselors and educational system and suffering more dramatically.
These experiences were not just terrible for Jim and Staci as students– we can imagine that they must have been awful for the educators as well. No educator wants to fail their students and 99% of the ones that do are beholden to poorly designed and administered systems without support or a chance to provide meaningful feedback to improve those systems.
Fast forward a few years…so then it was February of 2018. Through the support of a fantastic family, Jim has overcome all of this and is at his desk at his successful EdTech company Twotrees. He comes across a RFP for a school looking for an custom web application to better support the emotional needs of their students, specifically through bullying. A lightbulb went on. We did not pursue this RFP but instead began work on something more transformative than we could have ever had the hubris to imagine.
Immediately he and Staci went to work to create the solution that they both wish they had. They began with the question– “What tool would I have used to tell my educators what was going on?” For Jim and Staci, the problem was bullying and not being able to get emotional support from trusted adults for the toll years of a constant onslaught of social abuse took on them. So that is where we started.
These students needed a written system that was confidential.
After we had the basic framework for reporting bullying our next step was to look at the other side of the equation– what inadequate systems were in place preventing school counselors, teachers and school administrators from providing Jim and Staci the emotional support they needed so much but could not get?
We reached out to school counselors, teachers, school administrators and superintendents to answer this complex question.
Educators, especially counselors, communicate with their students in a variety of disconnected and disorganized ways– from email to Classlink to personal text messages to physical pieces of paper…there was no centralized way to keep it straight. Anonymous reporting had lead to retaliation reporting and false reporting, flooding tipline systems and overwhelming already overworked educators. Plus, having names attached to reports created issues of discrimination and equity– in addition to protected classes of students, even speaking to a student named who was considered by that educator to be untrustworthy could dramatically impact the level of emotional support that student received. The technology and lack of support for the technology as well as being forced to adopt new technologies by superintendents, districts and states were also met with frustration by educators forced to stop what they were doing and learn a new system without support. This was all eye opening to say the least!
So, to marry all of these frequently conflicting ideas, we developed our confidential reporting system– FS reports have a device ID that can be attached to a student if needed but are treated anonymously.
A Concept becomes a Product
From there, in June 2018 we launched the beta version of FightSong! For Students, a mobile and web app that allows students to use their school issued Chromebooks and personal mobile devices to direct message with counselors, report incidents, send photos/videos/screenshots. It also allows educators to keep all communication with each student in one easily exportable thread. This information is all centralized to help prevent students from falling through the cracks as well.
By July of 2018 we were sharing FightSong at conferences around the country. In May 2018 we even won the ISTE Must See for our app! We even signed on a couple of beta schools during this time.
However, this V. 1.0 release of FightSong was specifically designed to help change the culture around bullying reporting and was entirely bullying focused. We found that educators didnt see the difference between this holistic solution and their existing anonymous tiplines. So we changed things up a bit.
For V 2.0 released in January 2019, we focused a bit more on the preventing school violence message and tweaked our functionality to match that. The idea was that if educators effectively supported their students emotionally when problems were small, it could prevent escalations leading to school violence which includes violent bullying, violent hatecrimes, self injury, suicide and school shootings. There was a tremendous amount of research to support this.
For V 3.0, we decided to take a full spectrum approach to supporting student emotional wellbeing. Students who engage in bullying behavior after all are just responding their own emotional dysregulation which also requires support. And that, especially during the pandemic, is where we have firmly stayed. We have also refined our tool to be especially effective at tracking social media bullying, a rapidly growing concern, especially during remote learning.
However we found that FightSong did not help support the emotional needs of elementary school kids so we created Emoticheck, which is planned for launch Summer 2021.
Emoticheck is an app, within the Fightsong! Platform, that is focused on kindergarten through 5th grade. Designed to facilitate collaboration among staff, teachers and counselors can track their students emotions and behavior with the ease of taking attendance.
While our main program on the Fightsong Platform is focused on Social Emotional maintenance in Middle and High School. Emoticheck works a little differently to help develop students emotional literacy while improving the counselors ability to identify the students who may needs help.
Teachers on the Emoticheck App. can link their Classlink account or upload class rosters for their classes. Then while taking attendance; or as an activity incorporated into SEL lessons, even when students are getting on the bus, the teacher or bus driver can go through their Emoticheck Student List marking the students mood on a scale of 1-5 Distressed to Excited along with any notes of their behavior.
This information is sent directly to the counselor and displayed on an intuitive interface. So counselors can see trends on behavior or mood from student to student, class to class, even month to month. This is extremely useful not only for identifying students that need help or discipline, but also for tracking the social climate and overall effectiveness of SEL programs in your school.
With the FightSong! Platform we are introducing students to the idea of reporting and discussing social or emotional issues with their counselors, along with familiarizing them with the hierarchy of talking to their teachers and then their counselors. When we teach children at a young age learn how to identify emotions and familiarize themselves with a system used to reach the counselors, then later in middle and high school they will be much more receptive in using the Social-Emotional Reporting tool to maintain their SEL skills with their counselors.