Reimagining the Diary: Reflective practice as a positive tool for pupil mental health and wellbeing

How can we build on existing research into the benefits of diary keeping to improve student wellbeing? Can diary keeping improve the mental health of secondary school students?

In 2018 an Ideas Exchange between Lucy Kelly and Grace Huxford called ‘Writing and well-being for busy people’ looked at why have people written diaries, now and in the past? Whether private diary writing could help promote well-being? And whether it was time to ‘reimagine’ the diary for the contemporary era in an era where people publicly share life-stories on social media? This project developed into a larger Experimental Partnership in 2019 called ‘Reimagining the Diary: Writing and well-being for busy people’ in which Lucy Kelly, Grace Huxford and Catherine Kelly worked with local primary and secondary teachers and the interactive design studio Stand + Stare to work creatively to reimagine the diary format. A core outcome of that project was the development of a Diary Toolkit and the generation of data on its efficacy for improving teacher wellbeing in the UK. That was implemented in the Brigstow funded project ‘Reimagining the Diary: diary-keeping as a positive tool for teacher wellbeing’. This next stage of the progress explores how these findings can be used to assist pupil mental health and wellbeing.

Alongside a wellbeing crisis amongst the teaching profession (as evidenced in the latest Teacher Wellbeing Index (2021)), there is also a crisis in pupil mental health and wellbeing, which undoubtedly has an impact on those teachers working with them. According to The Independent, a teaching union found that pupil mental health is the main concern of school staff (The Independent, 7th June 2021, accessed online). Furthermore, a recent article in the Guardian states that ‘rates of mental illness in under-18s have risen by half in the last three years’ and, in order to try and meet the needs of these young people, the government have invested ‘£79m to expand children’s mental health services and accelerate the rollout of mental health support teams, which will give nearly three million children in England access to health experts through school or college by April 2024’ (Guardian, 11th March 2022, accessed online).

What did the project involve? 

The aim of this research was to gain new knowledge around pupil mental health and wellbeing through developing a bespoke version of the Diary Toolkit (DT). This also enabled the team to contribute to research literature on this important topic. Specific goals of this phase were to:

  • Upscale data-set and reach of the project, working with a whole Y12 cohort (250 pupils in total) for a full academic year (pilot April-July 2022, with full roll-out Sept 2022-July 2023).
  • Gain new knowledge into how reflective practice through a bespoke DT can support pupil mental health and wellbeing in the aftermath of COVID-19.
  • Use knowledge and data-set to develop the project and seek further funding.
  • Produce academic outputs and develop policy recommendations on teacher and pupil wellbeing, which would contribute to the research literature in this field.

This sought to enable the researchers to generate new knowledge on pupil mental health and wellbeing, and see if a DT specifically designed for pupils has the same effect on them as it does on teachers.

This phase of the project involved the design and production of 250 physical 2-part DTs by Stand+Stare. These were aimed specifically at Y12 pupils and comprise a 3-week starter kit for each person, followed by the personalised package for the customised stage. A focus group will be held in May 2023 to capture reflections to date on the project, which will be supplemented with an end of project survey in July 2023.

The project also intends to trial the diaries with a Y8 tutor group over the summer, to test the launch of the diaries into KS3 and KS4 next year.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Lucy Kelly (School of Education, University of Bristol) is a researcher and author whose main research area is diary keeping as a positive tool for teacher wellbeing.
  • Catherine Kelly (School of Law, University of Bristol) research focuses on the law’s interaction with science and medicine in both historical and contemporary contexts. She has a particular interest in the history and regulation of the professions.
  • Stand+Stare is an interactive design studio that combines digital and physical experiences to tell stories that connect people.
  • Pen Williams (Education, University of Bristol) is a researcher focusing on critical citizenship in post-16 students. She is an RA for Reimagining the Diary and has worked as a research associate for TESF (Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures).
  • Jennifer Daniel (Education, University of Bristol) is a researcher affiliated with the Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. She is dedicated to understanding the factors that contribute to the success of women in technology entrepreneurship, with the goal of shaping better policies and practices for the transformation of developing economies.

What were the results?

Alongside future funding bids, this phase of the project will inform at least one 8-10,000 word academic article and conference presentation, develop and strengthen our policy report, and lead to further engagement with stakeholders. Lucy and Catherine will be co-writing this article over the summer of 2023.