Planting Seeds for Student Growth

As a former farmer/rancher and avid gardener, I associate spring with the labor-intensive work of preparing the soil, planting crops, and planning for the upcoming growing season. The fruits of my labor pay off in high dividends as I am ready to respond to weather conditions, insect infestations, and other unforeseen calamities because I have created an environment where my crops and plants can grow, thrive, and perhaps resist problems before they occur. Ironically, our school year is based on the same agrarian calendar but we rarely allow time in the spring to till the soil and plant new seeds to help ensure that students learn skills that allow them to resist the problems they might encounter within their own environments.

In education, spring labor entails completing standardized testing, ensuring the required curriculum is taught, grading student work for report cards, and dealing with families and students stressed about upcoming changes. The fast-paced rush to the school year’s end results in exhausted teachers and administrators who are struggling to cross the finish line. There is little time to reflect on accomplishments, identify opportunities for improvement, and develop a plan that ensures student growth and ongoing success. If we are not taking the time with our staff to thoughtfully assess how well our systems are working, come up with solutions to problems and develop plans to address lagging student achievement, we will never be able to plant the seeds that help move the dial in school improvement.  

Administrators are likely to save time by taking time out to meet with staff in the spring and assess whether or not goals have been met and begin strategizing for the upcoming year. The National Center for Rural School Mental Health has made this a little easier by creating a variety of tools to help leadership teams assess current practices through the Early Identification System (EIS). The EIS helps to identify gaps and needs with the intervention alignment form and develop implementation plans with the installation form that increases the probability that the upcoming year will yield better results. Your team can be guided through this process by taking the Creating Lasting Change Course on our website. Your students will reap many benefits from this planning in the years to come.


Carol Ewen, MA, EdS
Director of School Mental Health Programs
Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development
University of Montana | College of Health
[email protected]

About the Authors

Carol Ewen

Carol Ewen
Licensed School Psychologist

I have worked at the local and state level developing and implementing school mental health interventions for the past 23 years. I am currently the Director of School Mental Health Programs at the University of Montana’s Center for Children, Families, and Workforce Development.

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The current Early Identification System model includes:

teacher and student-report assessment tools
A dashboard system in which
these data are shared with schools and linked to a menu of evidence-based interventions that schools can choose from to implement
A dashboard system in
which these data are shared with schools and linked to a menu of evidence-based interventions that schools can choose from to implement

Web-based professional development and coaching to support the implementation of selected interventions

Tools to monitor
the progress and effectiveness of interventions selected