I haven’t blogged in ages. National Boards is sucking the life out of me, and I fear sometimes out of my teaching as well. But I think (or maybe hope?) it is supposed to make you feel that way. Ah well. I’ve still been learning a lot lately, and I’ll plan on updating about that learning over the next few weeks.
About two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending (for the third time) a training on Ruby Payne‘s research on poverty. It’s absolutely fascinating. If you have not read A Framework for Understanding Poverty, I’d really encourage you to do so. It’s an easy read, and I really think it’s applicable for anyone with any job, but if you teach kids in poverty, you’ll learn so much that can dramatically improve your practice!
Payne explains that poverty is not just defined as people at or below a certain income level. Poverty is a lack of resources including financial, emotional, mental, spiritual/hope for the future, physical, support systems, relationships/role models, knowledge of hidden rules, and formal register.
For people living in poverty due to lack of resources, their greatest value is relationships. In the middle class, we value achievement. We see it as our ticket to successful lives, and since we live in a predominantly middle class world, achievement is the ticket to success for most of us. Achieving makes us proud of ourselves. It makes us proud of our children, students, and loved ones. It’s really what school is all about. But in poverty, relationships take that role. Relationships are the ticket to successful lives in poverty. If someone threatens you, you need relationships … people to have your back. If the money runs out, you need relationships … someone to allow you to stay with them. Payne explains this all so much better in her book, but you get the idea.
So for people like me who teach middle school kids living in poverty, this is so important. We know from science that adolescents are driven by biology to seek out and pursue relationships. Their brains process the need for relationships much in the same way as their brains process their need for food and water. They feel as if they’ll quite literally die without them. If you spend any time at all around adolescents, this should make sense. They’re not just being dramatic. It’s hard-wired. So then how much more should we focus on relationships if we teach adolescents growing up in poverty?
A key to building appropriate relationships with students is developing mutual respect. In the workbook that accompanies A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Payne details 15 behaviors teachers can practice to build relationships and develop mutual respect with students. They aren’t necessarily what you’d think … at least not what I’d think.
1. Calls on everyone in the room equitably.
2. Provides individual help.
3. Gives wait time (allows students enough time to answer).
4. Asks questions to give students clues about the answer.
5. Asks questions that require more thought.
6. Tells students whether their answers are right or wrong.
7. Gives specific praise.
8. Gives reasons for praise.
10. Accepts feelings of student.
11. Gets within an arm’s reach of each student each day.
12. Is courteous to students.
13. Shows personal interest or gives compliments.
14. Touches students (appropriately).
15. Desists (does not call attention to every negative behavior).
These are things I need constant reminders of. I need to hang them up in my classroom or something. I hope you can find them applicable. Every time I examine them, I realize improvements I need to make in the way I deal with my students.