Imagine: Jimmy starts high school and has difficulty with math. Although he does well in other subjects, he has low motivation in class and forgets when homework is due. Despite the teacher’s best efforts to encourage him and give him extra help, the student continues to struggle. As the semester continues, the teacher runs out of ideas for helping Jimmy and he falls farther and farther behind his classmates.

With the right plan and technology in place, this scenario might never have played out.
Simply put, early intervention is key to identifying struggling students. But, early intervention can only be successful if schools have a solid structure in place to access relevant data and act on it quickly.

Take my school, Battle Creek Central High School in Michigan, for example. We struggled with inconsistent intervention processes that didn’t produce dependable results and left some students feeling behind. Before long, we discovered the value of a set intervention plan paired with technology. Ever since, our teachers and staff are more connected to students and finding personalized solutions that get them back on the right path earlier. If your school is attempting to improve its student intervention strategies, I encourage you to consider the following lessons we learned.

1. Establish a plan
Having a vision before using technology is paramount. I’ve worked with districts who started using intervention modules, iPads, 1:1 initiatives, and other technology before having a vision and implementation plan in place. When that’s the case, things fall apart fast. It’s easy to focus on the benefits of technology, but the foundation my school built beforehand has sustained our intervention model.

If your staff doesn’t understand what intervention looks like without technology, they are going to struggle recognizing technology’s added value. That’s why our first step was to map out what interventions looked like using pen and paper.

Our high school administration team and I started by determining what interventions were offered, what entrance and exit criteria existed, and much more. Next, we worked with interventionists and teachers to understand how and when to enter intervention referrals and actions. After you have a good outline in place, visualize the process and finalize it in a document that is shareable for staff. My high school’s leadership team illustrated our intervention process in a chart, detailing the separate tiers, behavior infractions, and response strategies. This kept staff on the same page and ensured consistent responses throughout our school.

Overall, our foundation helped us identify what we needed our future intervention software to do. For example, we knew that Google Sheets helped us capture the right data, but identifying trends was proving difficult. Therefore, we identified the need, set a vision, and implemented the solution that fit us best, which brings me to my next point…

2. Find intervention technology that fits your needs
Your intervention team could be full of high performers, but if they don’t have the necessary tools, their ability to respond with fast, effective solutions are hindered. That’s where technology comes in.

If your school or district is new to intervention technology, I recommend starting small and simple. In fact, my school looked to our existing student information system, Skyward, for our current intervention software. It didn’t take us long to discover how technology could enhance our ability to streamline intervention data, improve communication, and help staff respond and analyze faster than ever before. As a bonus, staff were already familiar with the system, which lessened the learning curve.

Here's a tech-based approach to keeping students in school #earlyintervention #edtech

Many people ask why we don’t track interventions on a spreadsheet, which is a reasonable question but one with an easy answer. Prior to Skyward’s intervention tool, we tracked interventions on Google Sheets, which was a place to start but not a place to end. While spreadsheets identified important data for interventions, the lasting nature of interventions was limited. A teacher could collect data on his or her 25 students for a given year but transferring that information to the receiving teacher the next year was very tedious. With a more powerful solution, school personnel have the tools to personalize interventions and monitor progress over time.

Schools need to identify small, quick wins with any new technology and focus on those first. Luckily, we found an intervention solution that followed that same logic, and I can confidently say it has kept students in school.

3. Emphasize positive intervention
With a detailed plan and technology in place, you can take interventions to a new level by applying a holistic approach to individual students. For example, our teachers develop plans to support students that include interventions, baseline data, and goal setting. By tracking data, teachers have real-time insights that allow them to take more proactive and personalized measures with each student. Better yet, we include the student, parents, and guardians in every conversation around the student’s progress, which increases support and accountability.

By formalizing the structure of support between interventionists, teachers, students, and parents, we have been able to better plan for student needs at a classroom level and reduce the number and severity of behavioral issues for individual students. This has helped us reduce out of school suspensions by 20 percent from the 2016-17 school year to the 2017-18 school year. In schools or districts larger than my own, this could mean hundreds of students.

The results we’ve experienced under our intervention model are exciting, and numerous schools in our district are intrigued with the work we’re doing. Still, no intervention model is one-size-fits-all and each school has unique traits that influence the strategies that work best for them. I encourage you to find what works best for your staff and students by pushing new boundaries and considering new ideas. If even one strategy I mentioned helps, this was a success. No student should end up like Jimmy.

About the Author:

Mitch Fowler is the administrative director of student data and innovation at Battle Creek (MI) Public Schools. You can follow him on Twitter at @fowlerm.