Poverty and Student Learning

What Educators Can Do To Help

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Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen

To grow up emotionally healthy, children under 3 need:

  • A strong, reliable primary caregiver who provides consistent and unconditional love, guidance, and support.
  • Safe, predictable, stable environments.
  • Ten to 20 hours each week of harmonious, reciprocal interactions. This process, known as attunement, is most crucial during the first 6–24 months of infants' lives and helps them develop a wider range of healthy emotions, including gratitude, forgiveness, and empathy.
  • Enrichment through personalized, increasingly complex activities.


Children raised in poverty are much less likely to have these crucial needs met than their more affluent peers are and, as a result, are subject to some grave consequences. Deficits in these areas inhibit the production of new brain cells, alter the path of maturation, and rework the healthy neural circuitry in children's brains, thereby undermining emotional and social development and predisposing them to emotional dysfunction (Gunnar, Frenn, Wewerka, & Van Ryzin, 2009; Miller, Seifer, Stroud, Sheinkopf, & Dickstein, 2006).

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Empower students to manage their own stress levels

Help students increase their perception of control over their environment by showing them how to better manage their own stress levels. Instead of telling students to act differently, take the time to teach them how to act differently by

  1. Introducing conflict resolution skills. For example, teach students a multistep process for handling upsets, starting with step 1: "Take a deep breath and count to five.”
  2. Teaching students how to deal with anger and frustration (e.g., counting to 10 and taking slow, deep breaths).
  3. Introducing responsibilities and the value of giving restitution. In schools that embrace restitution, students understand that if they disrupt class, they need to "make it right” by doing something positive for the class. For example, a student who throws objects in the classroom may be assigned a cleaning or beautification project for the room.
  4. Teaching students to set goals to focus on what they want.
  5. Role-modeling how to solve real-world problems. Share an actual or hypothetical situation, such as your car running out of gas. You could explain that you tried to stretch the tank of gas too far and reveal how you dealt with the problem (e.g., calling a friend to bring some gas). Such examples show students how to take responsibility for and resolve the challenges they face in life.
  6. Giving students a weekly life problem to solve collectively.
  7. Teaching social skills. For example, before each social interaction (e.g., pair-share or buddy teaching), ask students to make eye contact, shake hands, and give a greeting. At the end of each interaction, have students thank their partners.
  8. Introducing stress reduction techniques, both physical (e.g., dance or yoga) and mental (e.g., guided periods of relaxation or meditation).

Free Webinar: Teaching with Poverty in Mind: How to Help At-Risk Students Succeed

Teaching with Poverty in Mind: How to Help At-Risk Students Succeed

It’s clear that children from poverty are often at a disadvantage in school, and educators can find it challenging to help such students become positively engaged in their own learning. In a recent webinar for Scientific Learning, author and educator Eric Jensen (Teaching with Poverty in Mind), provides invaluable guidance for teachers who work with at-risk and low-income youth.


Above all, Jensen advises educators to avoid giving up on “difficult” students by deciding that certain kids “can’t be taught,” and provides powerful examples of at-risk children succeeding in large numbers in supportive environments. He also admonishes, "If you don't teach it, don't punish kids for not being good at it!”


  • Watch this 50-minute, free webinar for ideas on how to challenge, excite and motivate your at-risk students. Click here to begin.

Nine strategies help raise the achievement of students living in poverty

Nine Powerful Practices

Ruby Payne

Nine strategies help raise the achievement of students living in poverty.

Students from families with little formal education often learn rules about how to speak, behave, and acquire knowledge that conflict with how learning happens in school. They also often come to school with less background knowledge and fewer family supports. Formal schooling, therefore, may present challenges to students living in poverty. Teachers need to recognize these challenges and help students overcome them. In my work consulting with schools that serve a large population of students living in poverty, I have found nine interventions particularly helpful in raising achievement for low-income students.

Educating Students Who Live In Poverty

Educating Students Who Live In Poverty

The stereotypes of people living in poverty in America are so deeply imbedded in our society that one of the most difficult parts of this training may be to examine your beliefs and open your mind to new interpretations of the behavior of those struggling without basic needs. Doing so, however, is the first step to improving your success and effectiveness with educating students in poverty and helping end the cycle of suffering. Your attitudes and beliefs shapes your tone of voice, your body posture, your facial expressions and your actions towards students.