JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri – The state’s leading educators aim to curb bad behavior in the classroom by establishing social-emotional learning standards for all students.
In recent months, a group of teachers, school counselors and mental health experts have been researching what could help improve student behavior in the classroom. The rationale for this study is not only to facilitate teacher recruitment and retention, but also to have an impact on the business world.
“We’re not advocating that everyone needs to change their values to conform to the same values,” said Kim Bailey, a member of the Missouri State Board of Education. “We are committed to basic human dignity.”
It is a plan to improve the current educational climate in the state. Back in December, the education authority had asked the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to form a working group to create standards for social and emotional learning (SEL) from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“We’ve heard from teachers across the state that if students aren’t willing to work with them, their job becomes increasingly challenging,” said DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven. “They need to figure out what that looks like and review some of those classroom behavior expectations with their students on a daily basis.”
But not only educators are feeling the effects of the current culture and climate in the classroom; It is also Missouri’s worker.
“I keep hearing from employers that I have employees who just don’t know how to behave and aren’t supposed to be a team member because they don’t have those standards and skills,” said Charlie Shields, president of the Missouri State Board of Education.
At the beginning of the year, DESE founded a working group to create “Standards for Social-Emotional Learning”. The group submitted their draft to the State Board of Education in May. Then, in August, the group members presented the proposed standards during the monthly board meeting.
The proposal includes 15 standards known as MO CORE Skills. CORE stands for “Competencies Of Relationship-Building Education” and sets expectations in three categories: “I”, “We” and “Others”.
In the category “I” it says: “The students show a healthy self-confidence.”
- Ability to process and control one’s thoughts and behaviors to regulate emotions in a healthy way.
- Ability to review one’s own behavior, take responsibility and accept responsibility for one’s actions.
- Awareness and belief in one’s strengths, interests, skills and areas for growth, and confidence in one’s own abilities.
- Ability to set, monitor and achieve achievable goals with perseverance.
- Advocate for self to promote health, safety and personal needs.
The We category states, “Students will demonstrate relationship-building skills that are critical to success in business and life.”
- Effective teamwork, collaboration and collaboration.
- Constructive decision making, problem solving and conflict resolution.
- Mindfulness and respect for others who are different and similar to yourself.
- Understanding that different attitudes require different behaviors and the ability to adapt to those attitudes.
- Effective communication involves self-expression and active listening.
In the Other category, it states, “Students will demonstrate prosocial skills that have a positive impact on those around them and improve their communities.”
- Understand the feelings and emotions of others.
- Empathy and compassion for others, including concern about how one’s behavior affects others.
- Respect and treat others with kindness, courtesy and dignity.
- Fair, just and equitable dealings with others.
- Advocacy for others other than individuals or communities.
“We need to give people the freedom to have different values and opinions and teach them to be comfortable with that,” Bailey said. “I can come out with my different values and my different opinions, but still treat people with respect and with these prosocial skills.”
Kim Greenlee, who is on the working group, attempted to implement some of these standards in her own fifth grade classroom at Potosi Trojan Intermediate last year. She said her success rate is excellent and everyone is learning, including her.
“If we were in a moment and I’m teaching and I don’t feel supported, I would stop and say, ‘You know what, I don’t feel supported right now,'” Greenlee said. “It’s not just about taking responsibility for our students, but the teachers are relieved that my principals treat me this way.”
Vandeven said these proposed standards would not change the curriculum in schools, nor would they require students to take an extra class. Instead, these SEL standards are designed to ensure students learn to develop the qualities needed to work well with others.
“It’s about your fundamental employability skills, that’s what we’re hearing from business leaders, as well as family members and parents,” Vandeven said. “We know that improving the climate and culture cannot only be done at the classroom level. It really takes the whole school; it takes the district and the community.”
Niki Atkinson is a Social-Emotional Learning Specialist at Noth Elementary School in the Jefferson City School District and also serves on the research group. Atkinson told the State Board of Education in August that when teachers make time for healthy social interactions and teach kids what that looks like, educators can keep the academic part moving forward.
“It doesn’t mean you have to appreciate what I appreciate; It just means we can exist, we can interact, and I feel respected in that way,” Atkinson said. “That’s what we’re looking for from preschool through high school.”
However, the State Board of Education is concerned about how some might politicize the term “social-emotional learning.”
“People will say, ‘You lunatics are telling our students how to think,’ and that’s not the case at all,” Shields said. “I would almost describe this as creating a set of norms for what politeness considers.”
DESE and the State Board of Education are seeking feedback from parents and educators on these proposed standards and definitions for social emotion learning. The public comment period runs until September 15th. Click here to give your opinion.
Board members will then consider the comments at their October meeting.
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