As school starts, many parents are being bombarded with information about behavioral data collection on their children. A lot of this is tied to the trendy push for social-emotional learning (SEL), and the attempt to connect behavior with a child’s ability to read and do well in school.
But it’s troubling to see schools monitoring the behavior of every child so tightly. Children will not have perfect behavior. Nor should they be expected to. Such obsession with behavior wastes everyone’s time. It could also make a child nervous and dislike school.
School (next to home) is the place to learn good behavior. Most children show up for school with typical behavior. There’s no need to note in general how much eye contact they have with their peers, or teach them to monitor their own behavior constantly. How does any adult interpret such things?
As a former teacher with an undergraduate degree in teaching students with emotional disabilities, I’m concerned about so much scrutiny of a child’s emotions and actions.
It’s especially troubling that behavioral data is loaded into computers. It’s making a lot of parents paranoid—with good reason.
These data systems are especially confusing to understand.
The MIBLSI stands for the Michigan Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative. The program highlights Fidelity Assessments, Capacity Assessments and Reach Assessments. It’s one of many SEL programs flooding the marketplace. One glance at this program raises more questions than answers.
Acronyms surrounding data collection are aplenty. SRSS, SWIS, PPSC, PBIS, MTSS, SWPBIS, TFI, and R-TFI are just a few. This understandably confuses parents. It could make them distrust their child’s school and teachers. My guess is teachers are confused by such programs too.
What’s especially frightening is how this new information is stored and whether it will be there forever.
A child’s sensitive behavioral information used to be recorded and placed in a school’s locked filing cabinet. Even then, there have always been concerns and controversy about how much behavioral information should be kept and left to follow the child.
But storing massive amounts of behavioral information about every child, much of it frivolous but made to sound serious, raises ethical questions seemingly ignored in the SEL fervor.
Serious Emotional/Behavioral Difficulties
Teachers well-prepared in psychology and child development have always identified problematic behaviors in students.
Simple observational checklists and tests to pinpoint difficulties in both behavior and reading are nothing new. Older assessment is also succinct and easier to understand.
Children, families, and teachers need support when real problematic behavior occurs. Any unusual behavior that is extreme and/or repetitive should raise concerns. Here are two examples.
- Explosive Behavior: The child is always frustrated and acts out. There’s real danger that they could hurt themselves or others.
- Social Withdrawal: A child rarely speaks and is a loner. Sometimes these children go unnoticed, especially in a large class.
Emotional and behavioral difficulties are often transient due to temporary problems at home. Children whose parents are going through a divorce need extra support. Children in the flood areas will likely need much counseling and assistance as they return to school.
Some children have serious psychological or neurological difficulties, that will require more extensive attention.
What’s Needed Concerning Student Behavior
Parents need to feel comfortable working with teachers and other professionals at the school when it comes to their child’s behavioral difficulties whatever they might be.
What would truly assist in this effort are:
- smaller class sizes that enable teachers to better get to know their students;
- qualified general and special education teachers who have studied psychology and child development;
- schools staffed with a qualified support team like counselors, nurses, and school psychologists;
- good community mental health facilities to assist children with more serious mental health challenges;
- resource classes with teachers fully trained to help students individually or in small groups who are experiencing emotional/behavioral disabilities.
We want children to feel good, be social, and have positive emotions. But this isn’t going to be facilitated by measuring every glance, misplaced homework assignment, messy desk, or bad mood.
It’s dangerous to a child for adults to place so much emphasis on behavior, and to put so much about them on a computer where others get access.
And how do these behavioral variables connect to learning? That isn’t clear either. If a child is doing what they do best—being a kid—it doesn’t matter.