Missouri Board of Education seeks to clarify social-emotional learning
Education department hopes to assist K-12 teachers control classroom behavior
Chrissy Bashore, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's coordinator of school Ccunseling and student wellness, presents an update on social-emotional-learning standards Tuesday during the State Board of Education meeting (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).
Some board members referred to the current draft as a “beginning,” and the board decided not to vote on passing the standards during its meeting Tuesday.
The public was invited to comment on the department’s proposed social-emotional-learning standards in September. Although a majority of responses were positive, the State Board of Education decided to alter the state’s approach.
Chrissy Bashore, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s coordinator of school counseling and student wellness, said there was “a great deal of confusion around social emotional learning and what it means” — particularly as she read negative comments.
Positive comments were optimistic about potential mental-health gains for students, whereas negative comments told state officials that this was beyond their role.
“Kids belong to their parents, and parents have the right to educate their kids and the responsibility to see that their kids are well-educated,” one comment said.
Others complained that social-emotional learning, often abbreviated as SEL, sounds like diversity, equity and inclusion and accused the department of “indoctrination.”
“When conservatives hear social emotional learning,” Kimberly Bailey, a board member from Raymore, said during the meeting, “they think of the loaded-up, ideological version that you find in some places. That’s not what we’re trying to do.”
Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven suggested changing the word “standards” to “framework” to reiterate the optional nature of the state’s plan.
“They can choose to use the resource, or they can choose not to,” Board President Charlie Shields said. “They can develop their own frameworks.”
Board members said they were eager to provide a resource for teachers that want to address behavioral issues, but they wanted schools to have “local control” to create their own plans.
Shields said the SEL guidelines should assist teachers who feel overwhelmed by student behavior, likely helping the teacher retainment issue.
“Teachers are asking us for some level of expectation about the classroom environment,” he said.
Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, a board member from Pasadena Hills, suggested the state create a “portfolio of behavioral management resources.”
“This is an opportunity to not just focus on one thing but to take on that charge of being thought leaders and create that portfolio,” she said.
She wants to study other states’ resources to see what Missouri can offer educators.
Vandeven wondered how fruitful the study would be.
“The issue is states are implementing SEL standards or they are forbidding them,” Vandeven said. “This is a very divisive issue.”
Board member Kerry Casey, of Chesterfield, wanted to focus more on the standards and proposed renaming them to remove the “social-emotional learning” title.
“We are concerned about behavior in the classroom because that is what is certainly impacting our teacher retention and recruitment,” she said. “But it’s affecting the lives of our students and their ability to learn.”
Her proposed name would include “behavior” instead of emotions.
Shields said the name wouldn’t fit, for not every guideline addressed a behavior.
Other board members thought the public would be suspicious of a title change after the standards stirred controversy.
Vandeven was worried about the time to make larger changes Casey mentioned, pointing to the two DESE staff members working on the framework.
“There are two of them,” she said. “That will take all year.”
Vandeven also worried that some criticisms would persist even after edits.
“We have the potential of revisiting something, and we could find ourselves in the same place again,” she said.
Although they received harsh words from some community members, the board seemed to focus on the potential to help educators. The criticism was not the sole reason for making changes.
“The controversy doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to move forward,” Shields told the board.
The board reiterated the importance of creating a guide for student behavior and interactions.
Carol Hallquist, the board’s vice president, said those who want to reserve behavior as a parent’s responsibility may not see all the work educators do.
“The desenters said this is the job of the parent,” she said. “But it’s the job of the parent to feed them, and we’re doing that. It is the job of the parent to ensure that children have warm clothes to wear, but we’ve got clothes closets in schools.”
A handful of those in attendance at the meeting applauded.
Casey said districts who have implemented a similar program to the proposed standards have enviable results. She referenced Potosi R-III School District’s work implementing researchers’ methods.
“It not only benefited the teachers, but it benefited the students. It benefited the students in terms of academic outcomes, their behaviors and their success in life,” she said.
Christi Bergin, associate dean for research and innovation at the University of Missouri, helped create Potosi’s program. She is co-chair of the group creating Missouri’s framework.
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