JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state’s top educators want to curb bad behavior in the classroom by implementing social-emotional learning standards for all 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 not only help with teacher recruitment and retention but also to have an effect on the business community.

“We’re not advocating that everyone has to change their values to meet the same values,” Missouri State Board of Education member Kim Bailey said. “We’re advocating for basic human dignity.”

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

“What we heard from teachers all across the state is that their jobs are more and more challenging if the students aren’t willing to work with them,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “They need to establish what that looks like and revisit with their students on a daily basis some of those expectations of classroom behavior.”

But it’s not only educators feeling the effects of the current culture and climate inside the classroom; it’s also Missouri’s workforce.

“The constant thing you hear out of employers is I have employees that just don’t know how to behave and be a team member because they don’t have those standards and skills,” Missouri State Board of Education President Charlie Shields said.

Earlier this year, DESE formed a working group to create “social-emotional learning standards.” Back in May, the group presented its draft to the State Board of Education. Then, in August, group members presented the proposed standards during the board’s monthly meeting.

The proposal includes 15 standards, known as the MO CORE Skills. CORE stands for Competencies Of Relationship-building Education by setting expectations in three categories: me, we, and others.

Under the “Me” category, “Students will demonstrate a healthy sense of self.”

  • Ability to process and manage one’s own thoughts and behaviors to regulate emotions in a healthy manner.
  • Ability to examine one’s own behavior, take ownership, and be accountable for 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 oneself to promote health, safety, and personal needs.

Under the “We” category, “Students will demonstrate relationship-building skills that are critical to employment and life success.”

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

Under the “Others” category, “Students will demonstrate prosocial skills that have a positive effect on those around them and improve their communities.”

  • Understanding others’ feelings or emotions accurately.
  • 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.

“We need to give people the freedom to have different values, differing opinions and teach people how to be okay with that,” Bailey said. “I can show up with my differing values and my different opinions but still treat people with respect and with those prosocial skills.”

Kim Greenlee, who is in the working group, tried implementing some of these standards in her own fifth-grade classroom last year at Potosi Trojan Intermediate. She said her success rate has been outstanding and everyone is learning, including her.

“If we got into a moment, and I was teaching, and I felt unsupported, I would stop and say you know what, I don’t feel supported right now,” Greenlee said. “It’s not just accountability for our students, but teachers are feeling some relief that my principals are going to be treating me this way.”

Vandeven said these proposed standards would not change the curriculum in schools or require students to take an additional class. Instead, these SEL standards are to ensure students learn to develop the characteristics needed to work well with others.

“It’s your basic employability skills is what we’re hearing from business leaders and from family members and parents,” Vandeven said. “We know that improving climate and culture can’t just be done at one classroom level. It really does take the whole school; it takes the district and the community.”

Niki Atkinson is a social-emotional learning specialist at Noth Elementary School within the Jefferson City School District and also sits on the working group. Atkinson told the State Board of Education in August, if teachers give time for healthy social interactions and coaching kids on what that looks like, educators can then move further on the academic piece.

“It doesn’t mean you have to value what I value; it just means that we can exist, we can interact, and I feel respected in that manner,” Atkinson said. “That’s what we are looking for from pre-kindergarten all the way through secondary education.”

But a concern for the State Board of Education is how some might politicize the phrase, “social-emotional learning.”

“People are going to say, ‘You crazy people are telling our students how they should think,’ and that’s not what this is at all,” Shields said. “I would almost describe this as creating as set of norms of what civility looks at.”

DESE and the State Board of Education are looking for feedback from parents and educators on these proposed social emotion learning standards and definitions. The public comment period is open until Sept. 15. Click here to voice your opinion.

Board members will then review the comments at their meeting in October.