Ruby Payne: Understanding Poverty

So, most teachers were off work today, sitting at home in their jammies watching Netflix. But, our district had a PD day today. Most teachers were at their campuses doing whatever incredible PD their principals had in store for them. But, I was lucky enough to get to attend a Ruby Payne workshop with my AP and a few other teachers from my campus.

I’ve wanted to hear her for a long time, so I was SO excited when I found out I was going!! (Plus, it cut my commute in half today, and that’s always a welcome change!)

If you haven’t hear of Ruby Payne before, she is pretty much the guru on poverty and its effects on the brain. She’s written multiple books, but the most well-known one is called “A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach.” (Click on the cover to get your own copy!

Ruby Book

The whole day was filled with research, information, examples, anecdotes, and application. She is knowledgeable AND entertaining, and I actually found myself feeling sad when it was over! I could have listened to her for days. I guess this topic is just near and dear to my heart because I have always preferred to worked with children who are on the lower end of the income spectrum, and I am always searching for ways to serve them better. Ruby definitely gave a TON of ways to do just that!

I could type for hours telling you every little thing that I learned, but I do have other things I have to do tonight (like finish my lesson plans for this week, get my materials printed and laminated, and feed my family!). SO… I’ll just give you the highlights!

  • Most people think of poverty as being the lack of financial resources, but there are actually 9 different kinds of resources that impact success (as society defines it), and people in poverty are usually lacking several of them.
  • If you are from a different class than your students, your reality and experiences are different that theirs. When you present things to them that are in line with your reality but not with theirs, they are going to believe their experience over what you say every single time.
  • Children in professional households will hear 3x as many words by age 4 as children in poverty households.
  • The average 3-year-old in a professional household has more vocabulary than the average adult in a poverty household.
  • Because people in poverty have such limited vocabulary, they rely heavily on nonverbal cues.
  • Every language has 5 registers. Formal language is what we use at school. Very few of our children in poverty have any formal language. They use casual language. And, using casual language in a formal setting can mistakenly lead to the assumptions that a child is slow, stupid, or disrespectful.
  • Each social class (poverty, middle class, and wealthy) has its own set of hidden rules. A person’s ability to follow these rules determines their level of acceptance by that class.
  • If a person’s physiological and safety needs aren’t met, nothing else matters.
  • Building a relationship of mutual respect is critical.
  • The differences between male brains and female brains increases the difficulties that males in poverty have in school. The majority of teachers are female. The majority of drop outs and discipline referrals are male. This is no coincidence. As females, we try to handle every situation based on the way our brains think. But, we rarely take into account how the boy’s brain needs to process a situation.


OK… I’m stopping now! That literally just touches the surface of what we learned today! If you have the chance to go see Ruby Payne in person… GO!!! If you don’t, read her book!! Especially if you work with children in poverty! It will change the way you approach SO many things about teaching them!


Now I’m switching gears to finish getting ready for those precious kiddos to hit my door tomorrow morning!

Happy teaching!

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