2.5. Intervention

  • On school level by the leadership 
  • On EWS team level
  • On teacher level
  • On student

Intervention means the actions aiming to help potential drop out students. Since we have identified at least three distress signals at each student in danger for ESL (which may be three different ones) it is very unlikely that we will find a one-size-fits all solution. It is also a rule of thumb that one signal or phenomenon does not have only one cause. Each intervention for each student must be tailored to the individual. 

Interventions are not focused only on students. Many times the causes lay with teachers or group of teachers, their methodology or philosophy, or sometimes school level structural inadequacies. 

2.5.1 On school level by the leadership

If and when a cause or a group of causes are on a school level and are structural these can usually be treated by simple actions. If, for example, many classes are missed by a group of students who live in another settlement and the missed classes are mostly the first ones in the morning the team may find that bus schedules do not match the school’s and students could arrive either way too early or miss the first hour of school. It is one way to treat the problem to convince students to get up an hour earlier and spend another hour in the school hall before classes start but for those who have ever tried it sounds to be a mission impossible. School level action may be

  • To negotiate the bus transport company to change the schedule or
  • Start school (first class) earlier or
  • Start first class later (to fit bus schedule) or
  • Offer students an activity before the first class that appeals to them and is motivating.
  • Any other idea?

The morale of the story is that sometimes schools should align their operations to the students and it may help sorting out problem situations.

Similar issue is the question of "behavioural problems" stemming from breaking the house rules in schools. It is obvious that the more rules we have statistically the more deviations will occur. Less rules – less opportunity to break them. Annually overseeing the house rules should be a must for all schools. Rules must be in line with the values of the school. When revisiting the rules we find something that has no relevance to our commonly accepted and shared values it should be thrown out. A school should have a few but strictly enforced rules to make everybody’s life easier.

The next level of intervention is the staff level. Again, we are speaking about staff and not only teachers. Clerical staff, technical workers, cleaning staff etc. are in touch with students and their behaviour is effecting students as well. They have to understand this responsibility and also identify themselves with the shared values of the school.

On EWS team level

EWS team is a permanent team responsible for running the EWS system in the school. This team is working on all the levels of the intervention.

Tasks of this team are:

  • Handle and keep up to date the data collection; 
  • Interpret the data;
  • Help goal setting at school level against dropping out
  • Plays leading role in delivering, revising and improving the school level action plan
  • Keep studying the situation of distress signals;
  • Pay attention when a student has 3 distress signals;
  • Reveal the causes of distress signals;
  • Initiate and organize the intervention of at risk students;
  • Organizing and managing the supporting network of the student; 
  • When the cause is related with a teacher or a class try to handle the teachers;
  • Cooperate with and support the case managers; 
  • Organize the temporary development team to work with one student at risk;
  • Organize and lead case discussions;
  • Care for the personal development plans;
  • Mentoring teachers in intervention process;
  • Collect, build and maintain relationship with external experts, organizations in favour of the students.

An important school level action is to create a network of partners and actually a pool of outside resources. There are several organizations and authorities who are in touch or should be in touch with the young people who are at risk or their family or social environment. The relevant authorities are usually organized in the government way, departmentally where each “department” (authority) has its own scope of tasks and these are exclusive. Even if everything works well due to the departmental organizational system a constant coordination is needed among social, welfare, health, educational, non-governmental organizations and the coordination task is not always clear.

It is not the task of the EWS team to solve governmental organizational development problems but the school which is mostly in contact with students may take the guardian role and be responsible for the individual. If the school takes the effort to identify students at risk then it could facilitate a network of professionals at various organizations around the student and jointly make complex efforts to support him/her until it is needed. A teacher, a psychologist, a welfare system official and a family therapist together, communicating with each other may have a way better result than departments working hard side by side.

The action taken on a staff level may be planned when the search for causes reveals that some distress signals are related to one or more teachers, subjects. It is obviously the responsibility of the teacher when one third of a class fails in mathematics. The teacher may argue that the students are coming with a weak knowledge from elementary school and know nothing, plus they are unmotivated and arrogant. But failing them would help any of the above? Class retention would make them more knowledgeable in maths or will they be more motivated? Would this change the attitude of the students and will they be more polite and humble? And here comes the next riddle: “Now what?” On staff level all sensible and professional discourse to solve a problem starts with this simple question. 

On teacher level

There is obviously no single and simple answer to the question of "Now what?" and neither there is a "quick-n-fast" solution. Staff meetings in subject groups (mathematics teachers) and class teachers (colleagues who teach the same class) may reveal successful methods or behaviours (What works for me with these kids?). Such meetings are not easy to call and to manage. It has to be facilitated by one of the EWS team members who understands that for a teacher whose students are failing in mathematics it is extremely difficult not to blame them and ask the question: Now what? It sends a message that the teacher is no able to solve a teaching problem - well, this is the case actually but still it is very hard to acknowledge this in front of other teachers. Therefore the facilitator’s task is to explain the situation with no judgments and ask the other teachers what works for them with that particular group of students or what works for them in teaching mathematics. They should talk about their own experiences. The school leadership has the responsibility that something is planned and is happening because things cannot go the way they are now.

It may be clear from the above that from a systemic point of view teacher level is actually the student level as well. Student level is always individual, however we can describe the main steps of an individual development process

On student level

What can we do after declaring that a student is at risk of dropping out? Since the causes of being at risk in each case are unique, the intervention also must be person – centred. An individual development process is proposed to carry out. The centre of this process is always the student with his/her needs and strengths. It is never effective to focus on weaknesses or problems in personal development.

Students will cooperate only with persons whom they trust. First it is needed to find the trust person in the school who will be the case manager. It is not sure that trust person is the form master but the person from the school stuff with whom the student has had a confidential relationship previously. The case manager organizes the temporary development team, the members of which are persons who might be potential supporters from the point of view of the student. They could be parents, relatives, teachers, school-psychologist, class-mates, experts from out of the school, child-protection officer, family supporter, addiction doctor, etc. The development team is responsible to carry out the individual development process of one student. Members work together until they achieve the goals defined in the Personal Development Plan (PDP). 

The compilation of the PDP is a team discussion, where all the persons involved into the development process of the student and/or into the problem actually raised with the student are present. The Personal Development Plan is the documentation of the personal development process. It is essential for personality development that the student can perform activities adequate for his/her actual personal developmental stage at school that is the external effects will reach him/her at the appropriate developmental level.. 

Personal development is an activity, in the course of which we intervene in the development process of the youngster tailored to his/her own characteristic and actual developmental process.

The basis of the consistent development is the PDP, periodically evaluated and redesigned by the development team. 

The key steps of the compilation of the Personal Development Plan: 

  1. Getting to know the student in complexity – data collection and observations by teachers, family members, classmates, etc. 
  2. Goal setting – long term and short term goals;
  3. Defining the possible ways of help with time frame and responsible persons indicated - What actions are to be taken? What resources are needed? What do we have and what needs to be developed / acquired?
  4. Evaluation of the previous period – What we have achieved and what not? What worked and what did not? Is there a need for adjustment (goals, activities, process, staffing, timing)? What should we modify?
  5. Start again the process from step 1. 

Depending on the duration of the development process development team needs to evaluate and redesign the PDP periodically. Planning the evaluation of the help and the development as a process, and sharing, rethinking it with the student and the parents is essential, because this way the student will become a responsible participant of his/her own learning and developmental process. Drafting, summarizing, taking notes, and finally signing the document containing the fields to be developed can make the student be aware of the process.

During the personal development process the case manager/trust person builds and keeps a helping relationship with the student. Helping discussions are warmly recommended week by week. The helping relationship and the development process are controlled and supported by regular case discussions with the participation of the development team members. Purpose of a case discussion: reviewing, together with the team members, the problems related to the planning procedure of the supporting activity and case management, and also that the team could contribute to the interpretation of the personal feelings of the case-deliverer and facilitate a creative solution to the problem.

Teachers like to start from this step in building an EWS and there is no problem with this. But still, this step has to be formalized even on a very limited level so that it does not remain a secluded experience but becomes a brick in building the system.

ESLplus - European Learning Space on Early School Leaving

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