Reality Bites

Paper.JHU Sketchnotes.10

Empowerment Mindset

I work at an urban school. The students who walk through my doors come from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, races, and geographic regions. I have students who are immigrants and those who were born here to immigrant parents. Most of my students qualify for free and reduced lunch. My school is surrounded by a concrete jungle, jam-packeted between single-family homes, apartments, and strip malls. We are located in an area that used to see quite a bit of violence due to gang warfare (which has luckily died down in the past 10 years #knockonwood). With all that, I have to say that I was unaware of the concept called pedagogy of poverty…but apparently, this is something I have be unconsciously supporting with my teaching practices.

That bites.

What’s the pedagogy of poverty, you ask?

Here’s the cliff notes version:

  1. Teaching is what teachers do (Haberman, 2010, p. 83)
  2. Learning is what students do (Haberman, 2010, p. 83)
  3. Compliance is an expectation for students
  4. Ranking or tracking is unavoidable due to the wide disparity in academic achievement
  5. Basic skills are a prerequisite for learning and living (Haberman, 2010, p. 83)

The pedagogy of poverty rests on the idea that compliance is what students know how to do. It’s easy. All students have to do is follow the directions of the teacher. And let’s be honest, it’s also easy for teachers because it means we are in control. But that does not mean that students are learning and it certainly does nothing to empower them in their learning process.

How do we break this cycle?

While, I cannot claim any type of expertise on this matter, I do have an idea of what we can do to empower our students in their learning process. As educators we need to equip our students with the knowledge that they (students) are in the driver’s seat (Haberman, 2010). The extent of their learning and the personal growth they achieve is entirely up to them. But it’s not enough to just tell them that (in-one-ear-and-out-the-other, right?). They have to be reminded of it. Like, a thousand times.

So here’s my plan. Since student blogging is something I plan to add to my curriculum next year, I think I’ll have my students blog on ways that they can develop a mindset for empowerment (see image at the beginning of this post) or maybe it’s more a reflective piece about how they were empowered. Whatever the case, the pedagogy of poverty cycle needs to be–must be–broken and it begins with a mindset change. Both for me and for my students.

Challenge accepted.


Haberman, M. (2010). The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 81-87. doi:10.1177/003172171009200223


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