Experts agree that schools must focus on students' Social-Emotional Learning throughout the school day as they continue to feel the effects of the pandemic.
Matthew Bassett, a nationally recognized physical education teacher at San Jose Charter Academy (CA), had strong feelings coming into the 2021-22 school year about how educators in all disciplines could help students both physically and emotionally.
“I think our social-emotional worth is where we’re going to get education recovering, and exercise can definitely help with that,” Bassett said. “Everything we do starts with making sure the students are in the right social-emotional space.”
Teaching Students About Heart Rate to Manage Emotions
Bassett is one of an ever-growing number of educators – both teachers and counselors – who use the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to help students use easy-to-understand feedback to manage their physical or emotional health. In his PE class, the heart rate monitor shows students how hard they are exercising. Along with their actual heart rate, the students use colors to measure their effort:
- Blue indicates the student is at rest or exercising lightly.
- Yellow indicates the student is exercising at a moderate intensity level.
- Red indicates the student is exercising at a vigorous intensity level.
Teachers and students also use the heart rate monitors to help students manage their emotional health throughout the day. Heart rate remains the most significant biomarker that a student is experiencing (or is about to experience) heightened emotions. The same colors correspond to a student’s emotional state:
- Blue indicates emotions such as happy or calm.
- Yellow can signal emotions such as excitement, nervousness, or frustration.
- Red can signal emotions such as anxiety, anger, or stress.
In Braham (MN) Area Schools, social worker Jonelle Klemz worked directly with each class at her K-6 elementary school focusing on heart rate and emotional health. Spending a week at a time in each classroom, she introduced students to the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors and taught them different breathing techniques to use when they noticed their emotions start to spike based both on their feelings and the feedback from the heart rate monitors.
At the end of the day, she reviewed the report that the heart rate monitor generates for each student. The report includes a graph of the student’s heart rate throughout the day. When she noticed the student’s heart rate jump into an unexpected zone – yellow or red when the student wasn’t in PE class – she asked the students to explain what was happening.
“It’s fun to hear 8, 9, 10 year olds say ‘I think I wen tin the yellow because I was doing hard math work’ or ‘I was definitely in red because I was running at recess,’” she said.
It didn’t take long for the young students to recognize the connection between their heart rate and strong emotions.
“One girl, I think she was either fifth or sixth grade, was spiked up out of nowhere into the high yellow, low red,” Klemz said. “I just kind of looked (at the graph) and wondered what that was. And she says, ‘oh, I know, that was a hard test and I wanted to do well.’ Then she turns to me and asks, ‘so, is that what stress looks like?’”
Klemz learned about using the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to help students manage emotions after seeing an NBC Today Show story detailing how elementary school students in Littleton, CO benefited from wearing them. Littleton’s 6-week program – called Operation Dragon Heart after the East Elementary School mascot – proved successful enough that the district expanded it to all of its elementary schools.
“Our goal with Operation Dragon Heart was to address the social and emotional self-regulation needs of our students,” East Elementary School Principal Kelly Card said.
The school’s counseling team identified students who struggled managing their emotions and combined the heart rate monitors with a specific, age-appropriate Social-Emotional Learning curriculum that teaches students how to “re-regulate” themselves.
“The vision is to link children with regulating their emotions, being able to physically see what’s happening in their body,” school counselor Kim Bailey said. “Then they can associate that with the feeling and they are able to use the techniques we’re using to help calm themselves down.”
Card said the IHT ZONE monitors proved key to the program because of the immediate feedback students received while wearing them.
“We were looking for something that was going to be durable, that was going to be light, user-friendly for students, and we wanted it to look cool,” Card said. “We wanted to give a heart rate and we wanted it to light up and give them a visual representation of what was happening in the moment and that’s exactly what IHT does.”
Social-Emotional Learning in a PE Setting
While counselor-led programs have proven effective, schools continue to rely on PE teachers to work closely with students on other Social-Emotional Learning skills. SHAPE America focuses on SEL through one of its five national standards. Standard 4 states: “the physically literate individual exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.”
Lesher Middle School PE teachers Matt Moeller and Jo Dixon reinvented their curriculum to focus first and foremost on SEL while using the IHT ZONE heart rate monitors to motivate students to stay active.
“Everything we do is through that Social-Emotional Learning lens,” Moeller said. “We want to hone in on those interpersonal skills, and then by using heart rate on the back side allows us to make sure that they are moving at the same time.”
The interpersonal skills include working well with classmates and, when necessary, solving problems in a positive way.
“We want to make sure they can communicate effectively, that they can problem-solve when necessary and that they are courteous to each other,” Moeller said. “That is our main focus.”
In Mitchell, SD, teacher Cheryl Miller used IHT’s assessment software to create a rubric to document students’ social and emotional habits during her class. Miller’s assessment allows teachers to note when students fall short in certain behavioral areas. Using the assessment every day, Miller and her colleagues can identify when they need to meet with students to talk about habits.
More often than not, Miller said, students who struggle with different social or behavioral elements during her class also struggle academically.
“I know the relationship is there,” she said. “You can look at a student’s progress in classes and if he’s struggling, you can look at his SEL information and see he’s struggling with all of those skills as well. When there is a student struggling, we schedule a time to meet with the student and discuss what the issues are and what they can do to improve and if/how can we help.”