This spring, four Round Rock ISD elementary schools received big recognition in the area of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). The field focuses on teaching skills like managing emotions and behavior, establishing relationships and making good decisions, and it’s been gaining traction as SEL programs produce positive results in student behavior and achievement.


Voigt Elementary, Union Hill Elementary, Wells Branch Arts Integration Academy and Forest North Elementary were four of 123 schools named National Showcases, from a group of 10,000 US schools that use the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program developed by the Flippen Group. This was the second year of achieving such recognition for Voigt, Union Hill and Forest North. How did they do it? Rachelle Finck, Round Rock ISD’s Director of Social and Emotional Learning, gave us the scoop.


AFM: How does the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program fit into RRISD’s SEL efforts?


Finck: Last year, we developed a district-wide framework for SEL. The first component is a safe and supportive cross-classroom climate and culture, built primarily on relationships between staff and students, and between students themselves. Capturing Kids’ Hearts provides a system to do that. So, if I’m a teacher, it walks me through, from the minute I interact with my students until the minute I leave the classroom.


AFM: What impact have you seen on the students?


Finck: We have seen great growth, even in their ability to empathize with each other and communicate their needs with each other. We always want students to feel safe when they’re at school, emotionally safe. And having a system built on relationships first allows kids to do that, so when we need to jump into academics — because we are a school and we need to do that — they are much more able to receive that information.


AFM: What impact have you seen on teachers and administrators?


Finck: The Capturing Kids’ Hearts system has completely changed the way some teachers approach teaching and reminded them of their “why.” We don’t go into education for the money; we go into education for kids. This program connects us to kids in a way that we never maybe would have before. Our teachers and administrators say it reminds them of why they do this every day.


AFM: What can parents do at home to support a program like this?


Finck: One of the things we’ve learned is being present for good things. In every class, we’ll share good things at the beginning of the day. They’re teaching us to engage with our class from the minute they walk in the door.


I have a 1-year-old, and as a parent, it’s really hard when you come home from work and you have 20 million things you need to do. Or in the morning, you’re trying to rush out the door. But it only takes 20 seconds to say, “Tell me something really good that happened today” or “Tell me something you’re really excited about.”


To truly be present has a profound impact. Kids feel like what they say has value. And we live in a world with such negativity that I’m always looking for the positive. Leave them with that parting gift. “I hope you have a great day today.” That’s their launch for the day.


AFM: How do you measure success in this program?


Finck: Partially through feeling the climate and culture of the classroom when you walk in. It’s very warm and inviting.  But also, we have restructured our climate survey this year to ask questions of students on the role of SEL. Part of the questions were developed with our programming in mind. We ask, “Do you feel like you have a good relationship with your teacher? Do you feel like your teacher cares about you?”

Through their social contract, they talk about respect and active listening. One of our questions is, “Do you know what it means to be an active listener?” We can tie those directly back to various pieces of the model. SEL is one of those weird things to measure, because you’re usually measuring an end result, as opposed to throughout the process, but you can see through systematic implementation that those conversations shift, between students and between staff.


AFM: Tell us about the four schools that were recognized.


Finck: 2016-17 was our first year to have any nationally-recognized campuses, and they were chosen by the Flippen Group. In order for them to be nominated, they have to meet certain criteria. They have to be in at least their second year of implementation. The administrators, staff and students all fill out surveys. If they meet the criteria, we schedule a site visit with a team of National Showcase coaches. They’ll walk the campus, meet with the principal, students, teachers and parents.


Union Hill, Wells Branch, Voigt and Forest North are all very, very intentional in the decisions they make to put students and relationships first in everything they do. It very much starts with that leader saying, “This is important,” and modeling that to her students and staff. All four of those principals and teams do that. I’m so incredibly proud of them, because they are the pioneers of this work. They are some of our earliest adopters, and have just knocked it out of the park.


AFM: Do you have a story that inspires you?


Finck: Cheryl Hester is the principal of Voigt, and she was tasked with changing the climate and culture of the campus. Part of the team had already been trained in Capturing Kids’ Hearts, but the new team she brought on board had not been trained. She made the decision that everyone was going to go through it again to really bond that team together. It was slow work at first. But now you walk on that campus, and it is bright. Students are excited to be there. She’s created a place that’s warm and friendly, and it’s all about kids. It’s a positive thing that builds kids up and builds the staff up every day. That relationship is what’s most important.


AFM: That’s all the questions we have. Any last thoughts?


Finck: I’m so incredibly proud, even of our campuses that weren’t nationally recognized. They’re doing amazing things. They’re some of the best campuses I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. I truly believe that Round Rock ISD puts kids first every day.


Photos courtesy of Round Rock ISD


By Sherida Mock

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