Counselor Develops SEL Program Using Heart Rate Monitors After Reading About Littleton District
Students at a Colorado Springs elementary school use IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to understand and manage their emotions throughout the school day.
Monroe Elementary School counselor Maddie Francis saw how counselors in another Colorado school district – Littleton Public Schools – used the monitors and knew the technology could help the students she works with. Francis oversees Monroe’s campus-wide Zones of Regulation social-emotional learning platform and uses the IHT heart rate monitors with students who need extra support throughout the day.
“We have small groups of students who go through a little bit more intensive talk about zones,” Francis said. “We talk about the emotions that we have in our body, and that’s where the heart rate monitors come in, with students being able to see when they are escalated or frustrated.”
The Zones of Regulation curriculum pairs well with the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors. Both use colors to help students visualize learning objectives. In Francis’ program, the colors represent different emotions students feel throughout the day. On the heart rate monitor, the colors represent heart rate zones that reflect emotions and physical activity levels:
- Blue: rest or emotions such as calmness, happiness or sadness
- Yellow: moderate activity or emotions such as excitement or nervousness
- Red: vigorous activity or emotions such as elation, anger or fear
Francis worked with fourth-grade students earlier in the year and spent the last portion of the school year with third-grade students. Her program helps students differentiate how their emotions make them feel and understand when they need to calm down before potentially losing control of their behavior.
Teaching Students to Use the Heart Rate Monitor to Understand Emotions
Francis provides a quick introduction for the students who need to wear the IHT ZONE monitors. She shows them how it turns yellow and red as students are active and then how it returns to blue as they practice breathing techniques designed to calm down or return to a relaxed, resting state.
“We talk about how we feel the emotions in our body,” Francis said. “We have them draw out a human body and then color in where they feel emotions. If they are nervous, they might feel that in their stomach. If they are angry, they may feel that in their shoulders. Then we talk about what our emotions do to our heart especially.”
Students in Francis’ program wear the heart rate monitors all day, which includes recess and physical education periods. She encourages students to get their share of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity during those times and explains that their monitors will turn yellow and even red the longer they exercise.
Outside of recess and PE, Francis challenges students to keep their heart rates lower - in the blue zone. As she works with students, she wants them to understand why their heart rate shows in the blue zone. The calmer students can be during the remainder of the day, the more attentive they can be in their classrooms.
“We love blue colors, but you have to be able to differentiate,” Francis said. “Are you blue because you’re tired or are you blue because you’re calm and you’re ready to learn?”
Getting Blue Ribbon Reviews from Students and Teachers
Given their goal to stay in the blue zone for as much of the day as they can outside of recess and PE, students are very conscious of their heart rate and doing their best to control their emotions.
“They like it when they can stay all blue,” Francis said. “They are really pushing themselves to have the calmest day ever.”
When she first introduces the heart rate monitors, Francis checks on her students in the middle of the day, but as the program progresses, students spend more time self-managing their emotions. Classroom teachers have noticed.
“Classroom teachers are sharing that kids are just more aware of themselves and aware of their bodies, which is making a huge difference for them on a behavioral and a disciplinary level,” Francis said. “We’re seeing a huge decrease in calls for support and things like that. The teachers are really happy with the progress the students are making.”
The students wearing the heart rate monitors understand as well. Francis has heard from several teachers about students who see that they need to calm themselves down and how they manage to do it. Francis teaches breathing techniques and students also have access to “calm down boxes” which include stress balls and other toys designed to focus on their senses.
“Students are really showing growth in the self-awareness portion of this,” Francis said. “I have students who use the monitor as a way to communicate with their teacher. One told me that he just points to his monitor and the teacher understands the student is asking for a break to calm himself down.”
Creating a Support System Among Students
Students meet with Francis at the end of each day to return the monitors and talk about the day. Did they have spikes into the yellow or red zones? Did they stay in the blue zone? How did they calm down? Francis’ students see themselves as a community and – even though they are young third-graders – support each other as they share how their days go.
“Each student reviews his own chart with me and then they hang out and listen for the other kids,” Francis said. “They are really responding to being able to talk about their emotions whereas sometimes in the past they would have struggled to process some of that. The first day that one of the students had an all-blue day, everyone was cheering and clapping him on the back. And they asked how he stayed so calm.”
Those meetings and conversations, Francis said, have evolved into students helping each other succeed.
“The next day, I had two more students (stay blue) and the next day we had more,” Francis said. “And on those days where maybe they don’t get it, they’re still encouraging each other with things like ‘oh, you can do it tomorrow,’ or ‘you’ve got this,’ or ‘don’t forget to take your deep breaths.’”
That’s just part of the overall growth Francis – and any elementary educator – wants to see from students. Combined with her Zones of Regulation program, the heart rate monitors empower students to become more aware of their bodies.
“It comes back to the whole-body awareness,” Francis said. “Prior to this, they knew they were moving around a lot and they knew they were excited but they couldn’t necessarily tie the emotion to that feeling. Now, when they look at the monitor that is red, they know they are feeling that because their heart rate is going up. It’s just a lot of growth in self-awareness for them.”