Friday, August 29, 2014

Poverty and its impact on children and their achievement.

In a society that values material goods and social status we often forget about the less fortunate.  There are some people that believe that being poor is a choice and that those living in poverty choose to stay there.  As someone who lived and breathed this lifestyle during my childhood this sentiment could not be farther from the truth.  In most cases poverty impacts student achievement negatively.  The most basic definition of poverty is, “persons with income less than that deemed sufficient to purchase basic needs – food, shelter, clothing, and other essentials – are designated as poor” (Jensen, 2009).    

We are not immune to poverty in Rugby, ND.  In fact close to 25% of our children qualify for free and reduced lunch in our school district.  This is approximately 170 of our 571 students.  We use our students on free and reduced lunch to determine our poverty levels.  According to Jensen (2009) there are four at risk factors that afflict families living in poverty.  These are: (1) emotional and social challenges, (2) acute and chronic stressors, (3) cognitive lags, and (4) health and safety issues.    

Emotional and social challenges are very real for those living in poverty.  According to Saudino (2005) DNA accounts for 30-50 percent of our behaviors, and 50-70 percent is the environment in which we grow up in.  Children that grow up in poverty may lack a strong attachment between themselves and their parents.  This is largely due to the stressors on the parent that are associated with being poor.  Students living in poverty are often left to fend for themselves while their caregivers work long hours.  Less time is spent outdoors and more time watching television (Jensen, 2009).  It becomes crucial for schools to embed character education that embodies respect, embeds social skills, and creates a familial atmosphere.  These aspects are the core parts to the Character Counts program at Ely Elementary. 

Stress is a part of life and life can be a rollercoaster at times.  Acute and chronic stress refers to stress sustained over time.  According to Jensen (2009) children living in poverty are more prone to experience these types of stressors than their more affluent peers.  Chronic stress: is linked to over 50 percent of all school absences, impairs attention and concentration, reduces cognition, creativity, and memory, diminishes social skills and social judgment, reduces motivation, determination, and effort, increases the likelihood of depression, and reduces the growth of new brain cells (Jensen, 2009). 

Socioeconomic status is the level of income a family generates, SES is the acronym to refer to income status.  SES is linked to a child’s cognitive level.  This includes IQ, achievement tests, grade retention rates, and literacy according to Jensen (2009). The difference in achievement between low-SES and their high-SES peers is staggering.  SES has been linked to literacy levels in the home.  In impoverished homes there are often less books, caregivers read less, caregivers often speak in more grammatically simple sentences, and literacy is not a primary focus.  According to Jensen (2009) the children of professional parents add words to their vocabularies at about twice the rate of children in welfare families.  A few years ago we started Imagination Library in Rugby.  This is an excellent program that provides one free book a month to any child up to the age of 5 in our district.  This is a great way to increase literacy levels in all homes in our district.  Please contact our school if you are interested for more information. 

Studies link socioeconomic status with the overall level of health.  This means that the lower the SES the lower his or her health will be.  The lower the parents income the more likely it is that children will be born premature, low in birth weight, or with disabilities (Jensen, 2009).  Inadequate housing may also impact the overall health of the child due to environmental dangers.  Lack of health insurance may cause a minor health issue to become a major health issue if left untreated. 

PISA is an international achievement test used rank countries according to their student’s scores.  In the most recent PISA, researchers found that poverty seems to impact children more in the United States than any other country in terms student achievement.  I painted a bleak picture regarding children living in poverty.  These parents care about their children deeply, but struggle due the issues associated with a lack of income.  We need to empower parents and begin doing something about the increasing poverty level in America.  Children are not given the choice to be poor and a childhood spent in poverty often sets the stage for future setbacks. 


Jensen, E. (2009). Teaching with poverty in mind. Alexandria: ASCD.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Practical ways to make professional learning more individualized and meaningful

Over the past two years we have worked hard on revamping our professional learning practices. We had two goals in mind: make professional learning more individualized, and more meaningful for all. Deep conversations have taken place over the course of two years.  It is really easy to schedule school wide sit-n-git sessions for all to take part in.  Like most districts, we've been there-done-that.  It's difficult to individualize and make professional learning meaningful for all.  Is it even possible?

This past June we met as a committee and planned next year's professional development.  In total there were nine teachers and three administrators that worked together over two days.  Our initial goal was to create teacher led professional development for each of upcoming our professional learning days.  We ended up scrapping most of those ideas.  Instead we kept coming back to the two main questions:

1) How do we individualize?

2) How do we make it meaningful for all?

I believe high quality professional learning practices merge the above concepts together.  As we progressed in our conversations, we gained clarity.  We decided to use our professional development days in the following ways.

Each individual professional learning community (PLC) will develop their own Professional Learning Plan focused on student engagement.  We established professional learning (PL) mentors to help guide this process.  Each PLC with the help of the PL mentor will select from the following developed options to focus on throughout the year:
          School Visitation(s):
    • If your PLC chooses the school visitation option, you will identify a focus to improve student engagement within your PLC and obtain research articles or texts that are helpful. You must find a school or teacher that is implementing methods you would like to emulate. A visit must be completed by January 19, 2015. October 29 and December 3 are identified half days for our professional development. If at all possible, use those identified days for your visits. We do understand that you may need a full day to complete your visitation. You will need to carpool and complete your visits as a PLC team. Student engagement methods observed and research based activities should be incorporated into your classroom throughout the remainder of the year. 
          Study Group:
    • If your PLC chooses the study group option, you will identify a focus to improve student engagement within your PLC and obtain research articles or texts that are helpful. You will research and select a book pertaining to your focus area. The book(s) or professional journal article(s) you choose should be research based and target your specific needs for improving student engagement within your classroom. Once chosen you will need to provide your rationale for the selection. You will then be expected to read, discuss and implement specific ideas from the book according to the timeline for professional development.  You will have put something into practice by January 19, 2015.
          Online Learning:
    • If your PLC chooses the continuing education course for your professional learning plan, you will be able to choose from a list of pre-approved   1 credit classes available through UND’s continuing ed. program.  There will be a list of pre-approved courses relating to our goal of improving student engagement in your classroom. You will enroll on September 29th.  Completion of the class is required and a transcript must be submitted to receive reimbursement. 
      Course Options:
      1.     21st Century Tools for Teachers

      2.     Authentic Innovation in the 21st Century Classroom

      3.     Student Engagement: Inquiry Based (Teacher driven)

      4.     Differentiation: Inquiry Based (Teacher driven)

      5.     Other course options: (Must be approved by PD committee) 
We rolled these new changes out yesterday at our inservice and I think it went over well.  We are going away from the traditional 2-3 days of sit-n-git PD of the past.  These days will given to PLCs to guide their own learning.  It is exciting and risky at the same time, but I believe these changes are necessary for us to truly move forward.

Here is a Dropbox link to our documents to guide this process: Professional Learning Plan