Most educators were taught in college that students cannot learn until their basic needs are met. This theory, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, implies that if people have deficits in their physiological, emotional, and safety needs, that will hinder the ability to grow cognitively. For this reason, educators must understand the warning signs of these deficits and seek ways to fulfill these unmet needs. Most teachers are eager to support the whole child: academically, emotionally, physically, and morally. Fortunately, there are many local and national efforts to support those in need.
Supporting Those in Poverty
When a child is living in poverty, it impacts their educational success in many areas. They may lack the experiences and resources such as books, flashcards, and preschool to build background knowledge and support foundational skills. In addition, they may exhibit poor physical health, fine and gross motor development, and even diminished motivation.
The Childfund Organization offers reading programs that engage students with characters to which they can relate. It provides volunteers who can work with students on foundational reading skills they may lack.
Kids in Need Foundation
The Kids in Need Foundation can provide teachers with resources and student supplies so that no child goes without the necessary tools needed to work on assignments and learn. Most of these are free of charge and can be found on their website.
The goal of Red-Nose Day is to promote the awareness and end of childhood poverty. Connected with a familiar educational company, Scholastic, Red-Nose Day offers resources on child poverty, teaches empathy and kindness, and offers support for teachers interested in learning more about this national epidemic.
Supporting Those in Hunger
Hunger does not just affect those in poverty. Due to multiple reasons, children may go home to empty cupboards. There are multiple resources to support these needs. Teachers must look for signs of hunger in order to be proactive and support students. Signs include: saving food from school meals, asking others for food to take home, bringing a lunch from home with minimal nutritious food items, and saying they would like to take food home to a younger sibling.
Local Food Banks
Many counties have local food distribution sites or food pantries at churches that may provide food to families in need. Some have already connected with schools to deliver weekend bags of child-friendly foods to school.
Feeding America is the nation’s largest network of food banks that can provide support to families during school closures, family emergencies, and job loss.
Free and Reduced Lunches
Most schools offer lunches at free or reduced costs. Sometimes, this is a resource parents are unsure how to receive. Teachers who are cognizant of student needs can get parents the proper paperwork so that they can sign up their child to receive breakfast and lunch at a lower cost.
Supporting Mental Health Needs
Teachers are on the frontline of those able to identify signs of anxiety, depression, stress, and grief. These mental health challenges seem to be on the rise. Some can be addressed by a simple referral to the school counselor or psychologist. Others are more at-risk and need intervention and intense counseling.
Mental Health First Aid Training
Similar to CPR training, this resource can help teachers identify students with mental health issues. It will also provide resources for teachers to utilize in supporting these students.
The Jason Foundation provides free educational training sessions for students, parents, and educators. By viewing the one- or two-hour online courses, educators will learn what signs to consider most vulnerable and how to provide the help needed when a student is in crisis.
Supporting Other Needs
Some students have other needs that can be identified and supported by educators.
Boys and Girls Club of America
Often, students just need a place to go when school is out but parents are still at work. The Boys and Girls Club provides a safe place for children to attend, work on homework, and receive additional skills and hobbies. The website also offers resources for teachers to help foster conversations with students.
School Work Support
Many school districts may provide tutoring opportunities that can help students with educational needs. The Homework Hotline also provides individual support on assignments and resources for students to use at home in core subject areas. In addition, some teachers may offer after-school office hours where they provide a time where students can connect through an online platform like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams to provide additional help on daily assignments.
Trauma can come from homes, schools, and the internet. A trauma-informed teacher knows what to signs to look for and how best to respond to the needs of students in the midst of crisis. There are many trainings and resources available for teachers to understand student behaviors and provide intervention to those exposed to such trauma as divorce, cyberbullying, abuse, neglect, death of a relative, and more.
The best way to assess students’ needs is to build relationships where students feel comfortable opening up and sharing their concerns. Teachers can demonstrate their willingness to listen by talking one-on-one with students, noticing changes in their behavior, and asking questions in a respectful way. When students know the adult is there to provide a safe environment, they are more willing to discuss personal matters. It is important for teachers to share if they don’t have all the answers but be openly willing to find the support needed without judgment.