Ten Ways Teachers Can Support Homeless Students
Rajni Shankar-Brown, Ph.D.
The classroom is often the most stable environment in a child's life—especially in the life if a child experiencing homelessness. Based on my own life experiences and research, I find the challenges faced by young adolescents experiencing homelessness are often some of the greatest challenges faced by a group of individuals, especially when compared to their peers. By responding with love and action, middle grades educators can support these young adolescents and positively affect their life trajectory.
The 10 strategies I share here benefit all students but are especially critical support mechanisms for students experiencing homelessness. We may not be able to identify homelessness, but ensuring that we develop skills to meet the needs of homeless students and weave support mechanisms into our classrooms is imperative.
- Create a safe and nurturing atmosphere. This is perhaps the most critical thing a teacher can do to support a student experiencing homelessness. The classroom needs to be a welcoming and safe place to learn. It may be only the refuge a homeless child finds from the cruelties of poverty and homelessness. Provide a safe and supportive environment. Nurture students' emotional, social, physical, and cognitive-intellectual development. Help them build self-esteem, increase coping mechanisms, develop academic skills, and foster creativity.
- Recognize basic needs. Consider keeping snacks, extra school supplies, clothing donations, and even basic hygiene products in your classroom. Consistently remind your students that these resources are available and make sure the supplies are easy to access.
- Make connections. We must make every effort to connect with all of our students, including those who enter (and leave) without notice. Even if we only have a brief period of time to work with a student, making them feel valued and connected is so important. Homeless young adolescents may not retain all the content they learned after leaving a school, but I assure you that they will remember feeling valued in the classroom.
- Focus on literacy. Literacy across content areas is vital; research demonstrates that many homeless students are far behind their counterparts in reading and writing, due in part to high mobility and lack of literacy modeling.
- Use a variety of teaching strategies. Offering a variety of classroom activities and implementing different instructional strategies can help students develop and strengthen approaches to learning and have opportunities to practice 21st century skills such as collaboration.
- Teach school and classroom norms. Teachers must help homeless young adolescents adjust to a new environment and learn "the rules" or expectations of both the school and classroom.
- Provide structure. Be consistent in terms of classroom organization and rules. Structure in school can provide a sense of certainty while reducing stress and increasing chances for academic success.
- Maintain high expectations. It is important to have empathy for students experiencing homelessness, but empathy must not affect expectations. Teachers must regularly communicate high expectations for students experiencing homelessness and help them work toward academic success.
- Become familiar with the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Educators must work together to help increase public awareness of this federal law, which was designed to remove barriers to education created by homelessness.
- Reach out for additional support. Contact the student's parent or guardian. Communicate with administrators and school counselors. Contact organizations dedicated to addressing homelessness such as the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE). Explore. Share community resources such as counseling, tutoring, and food banks with your students and their families.
Be the Shelter
Although as teachers we may not be able to offer homeless students a bed in which to sleep, we can certainly do our best to offer a fixed, nurturing daytime residence! An Irish Proverb says, "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live." Let us make sure that our classrooms and hearts provide shelter that allows all of our students to live!
Rajni Shankar-Brown, is an assistant professor in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. E-mail: email@example.comEditor Note:
For more strategies to help homeless students achieve, be sure to read the author's article in the February 2013 issue of Middle Ground
Copyright © 2013 Association for Middle Level Education