A role in rules

Covert schools Superintendent Bobbi Morehead interacts with elementary school students during a classroom discussion. The district is celebrating a novel discipline approach that appears to pay dividends.

COVERT — When it comes to classroom discipline, teachers make the rules and hope students comply.

But Covert schools is taking a different approach to helping students establish good behavior traits.

Students and staff sit down together to set up classroom rules – and their efforts are paying off with fewer office referrals and improved relationships between youngsters and adults, the district reports.

It’s all part of Capturing Kids’ Hearts, a nationally known training program created by the Flippen Group, a company that develops training programs for educators and businesses.

“It has totally transformed our culture,” Superintendent Bobbi Morehead said. “Some powerful data that supports this work is a huge decrease in out-of-school suspensions, improved student and staff attendance, and better grades.”

Morehead instituted the training initiative in 2014. The Flippen Group was so impressed with Covert’s improvements that it named the district one of its National Showcase Schools for the 2017-18 school year.

Founded in 1990 by educator, author and psychotherapist Flip Flippen, Capturing Kids Hearts (CKH) gives teachers a set of tools and strategies to help them create positive relationships with students. The program’s goal is to reduce discipline problems and help students achieve academic success.

Their program’s slogan is “If you have a child’s heart, you have his head.”

Among the program’s features is the “social contract” reached between students and their teachers.

“It is basically where the students and the teacher discuss and agree on classroom and behavior rules together,” said school district Director of Communications Brittany Millan.

“The philosophy of having them do this together is that it will give the student ownership and responsibility for the classroom rules,” she said. “It empowers the student to make better choices because they will actually be following their own rules they helped create. I personally love the social contract and have done them with my volleyball team that I coach.”

The social contract further teaches and reinforces essential behaviors students will use in the adult world. Courtesy, effective communication, patience and caring for others are just a few examples.

If a student misbehaves, two things can happen – the other students remind him/her of the contract and the teacher can ask a series of scripted questions that refer to the contract the student helped create. In most cases, the disruption is stopped without the student being sent to the office or receiving a consequence.

“Since our entire staff is trained in CKH we all know the process of creating one and can use it in many ways, even if we are not in an actual classroom with students,” Millan said. “I work in an office as the director of communications, and also coach, but I have applied everything CKH has taught me in all aspects of my career and life.”

Training staff for the CKH program was not cheap. With a $50,000 price tag covered by federal Title II professional development funds, every staff member, including bus drivers, kitchen staff and custodians went through training.

Shortly after the program began four years ago, district leaders started to hear positive feedback.

“We’ve heard things from staff such as ‘I’m a better mother, daughter, friend, person and teacher as a result of participating in the in-depth training,’” Millan said. “We have also seen a huge decrease in referrals and reflections.”

Students who get in trouble are given “Reflection Sheets” to fill out as to consider their behavior.

“Reflects” went from 1,446 in the 2014-15 school year to 1,267 in the 2016-17 year, while referrals decreased from 605 to 170.

During this year’s Teacher Appreciation Day, students made a video thanking staff. One student said, “Mrs. Baker, thank you for always being there for me and being so helpful. When I am upset you are always calm and willing to help me.”

Other students thanked teachers for helping them with school problems and personal ones. One student thanked teacher Rachel Symonds, saying, “Thank you for being so supportive and amazing. You always understand my problems and have a good personal relationship with all of us. I like how you know me on a one-on-one level.”

Covert administrative leaders credit the increased level of trust between students and staff to CKH.

“I believe that the implementation of CKH is why our staff and student relationships are so special because students know they have a supportive group of adults that they can trust and depend on,” said Millan. “When trust is built between staff and students, the students are more open to learning and listening to what teachers have to say.”

Morehead agrees.

“Students and staff feel respected and empowered to create self-managing, high-performing teams at every level in the district. We all take responsibility to care for each other and every student so that the student’s school experience will be emotionally safe. In the season of school violence, this type of initiative is what creates safe environments – working on relationships.”