JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state’s top education leaders want to implement social and emotion learning standards for all of Missouri’s students. 

For the past few months, a group of teachers, school counselors and mental health experts have been researching what would help improve student behavior in the classroom. The reason behind this study is to help with teacher recruitment and retention and create a better outcome for the workforce. 

“Having these standards gives teachers permission to pay attention to student behavior,” said Christi Bergin, associate dean for research at Mizzou’s College of Education and Human Development.

It’s a plan to help the current climate of education in the state. Back in December, the Board of Education asked the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to form a working group to create social and emotional learning (SEL) standards starting in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It doesn’t matter how smart a student is, if they can’t communicate with you or they can’t communicate with their friend, then we are missing the mark,” Potosi Trojan Intermediate fifth grade teacher Kim Greenlee said. 

Last week, the group presented its draft to the State Board of Education, which includes 15 standards.

A chart of the SEL standards. Courtesy by the Missouri of Elementary and Secondary Education

Under the “Me” category: 

  • Ability to process and manage thoughts and behaviors to regulate emotions in a healthy manner.
  • Ability to examine one’s own behavior, take ownership, and be accountable to one’s actions. 
  • Awareness and beliefs in one’s own strengths, interests, skills and areas for growth, trusting in their abilities. 
  • Ability to set, monitor, and achieve attainable goals with perseverance. 
  • Advocacy for self to promote health, safety, and personal needs. 

Under the “We” category: 

  • Effective teamwork, collaboration and cooperation. 
  • Constructive decision-making, problem solving and conflict resolution. 
  • Awareness and respect for others, different and similar to self. 
  • Understanding that different settings require different behavior and the ability to adjust to those settings. 
  • Effective communication including self-expression and active listening. 

Under the “Others” category: 

  • Affective perspective-taking and awareness of others’ emotions. 
  • Empathy and compassion for others including concern for how one’s behavior affects others. 
  • Respect and treat others with kindness, civility and dignity. 
  • Fair, equitable and just treatment of others. 
  • Advocacy for others as individuals or communities. 

“If you talk to businesspeople, they say our biggest challenge is not finding people that can do the work, it’s finding people that have that thing, knowing what it means to be part of a team,” State Board of Education President Charlie Shields said. 

Greenlee, who is in the working group, tried implementing some of these standards in her own fifth grade classroom this year. She said her success rate has been outstanding and everyone is learning, even her. 

“Teachers, I think have to see it as not one more thing on their plate to do because if we can take this as an approach of let’s teach these first in classroom management, classroom behavior, it’s going to eliminate that stress that teachers are feeling because, right now we’re just trying to control the chaos,” Greenlee said.

“I felt like when they [her students] were trying to take over when I was teaching a lesson, I would just stop and say, I’m not feeling supported by you right now, and they knew what that meant.”

The state board believes this will help students after graduation and keep educators in the classroom. 

“When people equate social emotion learning with somehow being the “thought police,” that we are teaching people how to think and that is not what we are doing,” Shields said. “We are saying there are certain expectations that we think are important.”

Greenlee believes this will help with recruitment and retention by allowing teachers to better understand students’ behavior. 

“They [teachers] are leaving in troves because we don’t know how to handle kids’ behavior and parents aren’t teaching these kinds of things at home and if we just let it trickle, it’s only going to get worse,” Greenlee said. 

During the meeting, the working group asked the board for an extension to continue clarifying the standards. Members will present the finalized list to the state board in August. 

“We’re trying to hit student behavior, we’re trying to hit teacher satisfaction, teacher recruitment and retention, but we also know that our businesses, a lot of the conversations are about employability skills,” State Board of Education member Kim Bailey said. 

Since the board approved the extension, the next steps are two additional meetings for the working group to finalize the steps to refine indicators for each standard, resources and definitions.