At Thelma Jones Elementary School, students and teachers start their day with what they call ‘Good Things.’ It’s a few moments where students get to share something positive with their classmates.
“We literally have children walk in the door in the morning and as they walk past us they’ll say, ‘I can’t wait for good things,’” said fourth grade teacher Stacie Terry. “Sometimes their good things are so sweet – it reminds you they’re nine; it just brightens your day.”
Starting each school day with purposeful engagement is key to the ‘Capturing Kids’ Hearts process — currently being used at 13 MISD campuses. Capturing Kids’ Hearts gives educators tools to reach their students on an emotional level and effectively manage classroom behavior. The skills students develop are part of being life ready by the time they graduate under the district’s Vision 2030 strategic plan.
Teachers launch the Capturing Kids Hearts classroom management process at the beginning of the year by asking students to choose the elements they want to include in their social contract. With 26 years of teaching experience, Stacie Terry said she was a little bit skeptical of this new method when they began implementing it a year ago. It seemed like handing over too much power to the kids. But she and her teammate Kaitlin Jackson were committed to giving it their best effort.
“We were quite impressed with what the students came up with, and I think they surprised us. In some cases, they were a lot stricter on what they thought the punishment should be than we ever would have been,” Terry said.
The students included words in their contract like respect, helpful, no putdowns and hands to self as expectations of how to treat one another. Those guidelines were written on a huge piece of paper and taped to the wall. Once complete, students signed their social contract – agreeing to abide by it. And if kids behaved perfectly 100% of the time, this is where the story would end.
Capturing Kids' Hearts has a built-in system to work through the circumstances when someone violates the social contract. At that point, the teacher asks the student a series of questions: What are you doing? What are you supposed to be doing? Are you doing it? What are you going to do about it? What is going to happen if you break our social contract again?
“They have a choice right then and there to make things better or continue on with the behavior,” Terry said. “And they’re kids. They want to make it better.”
“It is helping them so much,” said Jackson. “When we have to do a social contract check, the kids have way more buy-in because they wrote those words. They brainstormed those words together. It really is more impactful.”
Jackson and Terry said change didn’t come overnight. It took about six months for the process to really begin working. Now they’re in their second year with the same students, and the system is fully established. Many times, when Terry notices someone is off track, she says she just has to walk toward the document hanging on the wall or point to it to see a change in behavior.
“It’s funny how instantly, whatever is happening just stops. They know exactly what I’m saying, I don’t have to stop doing what I’m doing,” Terry said.
Students have also developed the positive habit of regulating themselves and each other. There’s a hand signal they can use when a classmate is misbehaving – by sticking out their thumb and holding their hand sideways.
“The difference is, I now have a whole class of students who are aware that, ‘I have the power to ask my table mate to quit before you get our table in trouble, before you get me in trouble,’” Terry said. “It’s putting more ownership onto the students themselves and taking it off of me.”
Thelma Jones Principal, Mico Rhines, says data shows it is working. There has been a nearly a 50% decline in referrals to the office from year to year. Last year at this time there were 40 referrals, and so far this year, there have been 23. The types of referrals have changed, too. Last year by this time, there had already been two fights. This year, so far, there have been none.
“Capturing Kids’ Hearts is helping students regulate their emotions,” Rhines said. “Consistency with the program teaches accountability and builds and strengthens relationships.”
Those lessons will travel with the students from Thelma Jones Elementary their entire educational career in MISD. All of the schools in their feeder pattern, including Timberview High School, are Capturing Kids’ Hearts campuses. Jackson said she hopes her students will use the skills they’ve developed in elementary school throughout their lives. The basic lessons apply whether someone is a child or an adult.
“I even use it on myself sometimes,” Jackson said. “I just think if they can have that conversation in their minds, then it will help with problem solving with their peers, and eventually, at work and with anyone they encounter in life.”