Imagine a misbehaving student and a stressed-out teacher during the final period of the day. But imagine that THE teacher, instead of giving in to anger, poses—in a gentle tone—four questions for the student to answer.
What are you doing?
What are you supposed to be doing?
Are you doing it?
What are you going to do about it?
That approach is one of the basic pillars of the “Capturing Kids’ Hearts” program, which teachers of grades 7-12 in North Carolina’s Mooresville Graded School District say has been as integral to its improved achievement as its 1-to-1 laptop deployment. And while the approach sometimes involves resolving disciplinary issues, they say it more often includes affection and understanding.
“It is not uncommon at all to hear a teacher, a principal, a football coach, tell a kid they love them,” says Scott Bruton, a biology teacher and department chairman at Mooresville High School. “Teaching aside, I think that’s important.”
The program—a creation of the Flippen Group, a leadership consulting group based in College Station, Texas—pushes several simple but purposeful directives. Teachers are expected to be outside their doors during class switches and to give handshakes, fist pumps, and/or audible greetings as students enter class. A few times a week as class begins, teachers ask students to volunteer “something good” that is happening in their lives, a step instructors say has prompted students to open up beyond what they could ever have expected.
“I had a student last year who … put his hand up, and said, out of the blue, ‘I got my water turned on yesterday,’ ” says Jim Farster, a veteran math instructor who came out of retirement seven years ago to teach an assortment of vocational math courses at Mooresville High. “That’s the kind of atmosphere that it creates within the classroom. He wasn’t embarrassed about that or anything at all.”
Mooresville High Principal Todd Wirt, who introduced the program, says he never advertised it as a complement to the district’s technology initiatives, but privately felt the two would mesh to encourage a culture in which students felt comfortable taking more risks and teachers felt at ease yielding some control.
It appears to have worked, even for one educator students sometimes call “The Maupinator.”
“I ran a strict classroom, and I still run a very strict classroom,” says Judy Maupin, an 8th grade social studies teacher at Mooresville Middle School. “Before Capturing Kids’ Hearts, I always felt like I was the adult and I need to be in charge. I’m still sometimes the adult, but I don’t always need to be in charge.”
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2011 edition of Digital Directions as Relationship Building