Teton Middle School Evaluates meaningful data

January 30, 2015

It’s a simple spreadsheet with checkboxes next to 392 students’ names, and Teton Middle School principal Brian Ashton says it’s doing a lot of good.

“When people talk about school in retrospect, rarely do they mention a lesson or assignment,” Ashton said. “We talk about someone who reached out to [us], someone who helped us reach our potential.”

The spreadsheet is part of the school’s “Meaningful Data” program, which began this fall. Last week, it ended its first semester. The program is a way for teachers to track substantial interactions with students, and make sure no student falls through the cracks. As teachers have significant interactions—more than a high-five in the hallway, or a quick hello before class starts—with their students, they make a mark in their online spreadsheet.

“I’ll spend 15 minutes every day looking at [the sheet],” said Patrick Hogan, a seventh-grade social studies teacher. Hogan said he’ll review the list of seventh graders and check up on the students who haven’t gotten an “x” next to their name, perhaps spending time with them at lunch in the cafeteria.

“The point is for each and every kid to walk through the doors and feel safe,” Hogan said. “If a kid feels safe at school, that’s a job well done.”

Principal Ashton said the specifics of what characterized a “meaningful” interaction were left up to teachers, and that the program is already helping them see trends in who’s getting attention and who’s not. At last week’s meeting to discuss how the program had gone during its first semester, Ashton said the staff were surprised to see one trend: some students, often those who were female, academically successful, and shy, didn’t get the attention that others had gotten. Other groups, such as minorities, were on the fringes of interaction, as well.

“Every kid needs a champion,” he said. “We’re aware of that, and we’re trying to shift that.”

Ashton said it might sound strange to think of relationships in terms of a spreadsheet, but tracking interactions is helping teachers and faculty keep their focus on reaching out to each and every student. Influencing students’ lives is the reason why educators got into the business in the first place, he said, something that teachers have echoed recently.

“We’ve used the analogy of wanting every student to know that if they were absent one day, somebody would notice,” Ashton said.

A group of seventh-grade teachers was unanimous in their support of the program. Deborah Johnson, who teaches math, said she feels like she knows some students much better now. One in particular is now more comfortable talking with her before or after class.

“I feel like I know a lot more about him now,” she said.

Ashton said the school is trying to increase its recognition for students, too, and encouraging teachers to submit students’ names for monthly recognition for any number of reasons. Now, increasing numbers of students who wouldn’t traditionally receive academic recognition are getting attention.

“Maybe the student showed grit or determination,” he said. “And when they walk up to be recognized, they look as uncomfortable as you can imagine—but they’ve never experienced something like that before. For them, it’s a big deal.”