George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

Using Social and Emotional Data to Promote a Positive School Culture

School leaders can combine traditional data with social and emotional data to get a full picture of the school experience of students and staff.

March 11, 2022
SDI Productions / iStock

As our collective school experience continues to morph through the pandemic, it has become increasingly valuable to incorporate social and emotional skills into daily practices. Educators who have excellent interpersonal relationship skills are easy to identify; they might greet their students with personalized handshakes each morning or drop a subtle reference to a student’s favorite Avenger character during class.

Those educators inspire students to put forth their best efforts. If we all think back, it’s those types of emotionally centered interactions that made us love going to school and being part of the community.

Warm data gives both dimension and measure to an individual’s and group’s social and emotional status. The visual representation of this information and analysis can cause positive shifts in school culture. Highlighting warm data to support both relationships and social and emotional learning creates infinite possibilities and promise for our students.

What Is Warm Data?

Warm data points are social and emotional in nature. They represent how a person feels in a certain time and space and in relation to something else. Named emotions are then given a measurement and dimension so that they can be viewed as qualitative data points.

Cool data points are a series of structural data sets such as enrollment, attendance, and academic proficiency that typically are the bedrock of school-based analytics. Knowing your cool data is imperative. However, cool data combined with warm data points gives a unique perspective into the realities that exist within school systems; they are paramount to understanding interpersonal relationships.

Here are some examples of warm data:

  • Students identify their current emotional mood on a matrix with different degrees of pleasantness and energy before engaging in learning (we were inspired by Mark Brackett’s work).
  • Teachers guide students into creating an awareness around their emotions.
  • Teachers can ask students to move smiley face stickers to appropriate mood scales before entering a classroom, which creates an awareness of their own social and emotional intelligence.
  • Students describe reflective feelings toward their schoolwork, using emoticons or Likert scales.
  • Students’ caregivers and various stakeholders respond to a survey concerning remote learning experiences.

Warm data can be measured, graphed, and interpreted just like any other data source. This information is integral when developing responsive leadership strategies.

Collecting and Leveraging Warm Data 

As students’ and educators’ social and emotional status is increasingly highlighted, it’s important for leaders to find strategies that capture and leverage information related to these interpersonal skills. In our experience, we have found the following tools to be helpful when you’re ready to collect these warm data points from either a classroom of teenagers or a faculty room filled with teachers.

  • Plickers is a formative assessment tool to glean information from students through the use of unique QR codes.
  • Google Forms can be used in tandem with Google Analytics, or charts to create instant visuals of warm data.
  • The Mood Meter app was conceived by Marc Brackett and Robin Stern from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Once educators are able to view warm data in a clear, artful, yet poignant visual, they can begin to layer more meaning to the information—they can begin to author a story with this data. They can judge and prioritize the information, creating actionable steps. When harnessing this level of understanding of interpersonal relationships, schools can support students successfully in the following ways:

  • Advisory groups can create community through practicing communication skills and SEL best practices.
  • Flipped classrooms can use student interest as motivation with a twist on information presentation.
  • Personalized learning takes the place of traditional academic intervention services (AIS), so that teachers can prioritize a combination of enrichment and intervention.
  • There is a reinvigorated multilevel approach to professional learning communities; conversations on student data will take both warm and cool sources into account.

Grow Emotional Space in Your School Community

Supporting students to meta-cognitively understand their various emotional states throughout the school day is an essential part of teaching. Gleaning real-time social and emotional information from students regularly and having it accessible is a necessary part of building the practice of utilizing warm data.

The aim of utilizing warm data is to teach students how to recognize their emotions, express them, and self-advocate. Beyond that, teaching whole-class strategies on reflexivity and group care develops social consciousness within the classroom. Individual students have experiences, and so does the class as a whole, in a collective sense.

You can encourage a warm data focus in your school or district in the following ways:  

Build a reflective practice for students. Provide sentence stems and similar cognitive prompts. They might be something like “I typically feel like _____ when we are _____” or “I can _____ to make myself feel less anxious.” Be sure to allow students to view and analyze trends in their own warm data points. Recognizing their own trends and patterns of emotions throughout the school day and in different classes is a key element to students’ transference of these skills.

Teachers can also facilitate whole-group or small-group conversations. Build these interactions around warm data points to illuminate group dynamics and characteristics.

Trend analysis can go beyond a single class or grade. In your school or district, you might want to create conversation about how to scope out a trend analysis to get a transparent sense of the emotional ecosystem.

Create space for individuals to reset. A strategy to increase a positive trend in warm data is to center individuals’ interests. Frameworks such as genius hour, 20 percent time, and passion projects can be excellent ways of personalizing school experiences. And passion projects can be used for staff as well.

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