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6 Easy Tips to Meet the Needs of All Learners

Educators currently in the classroom, or those preparing to enter the field, must adapt to truly “meet the needs of all learners” in their schools.

“I sat quietly waiting for her to find the right prayer. Psalm 91. The protection prayer. That’s really what we needed, protection. Protection from having our family ripped apart across a thousand miles. I didn’t really understand that at the time. How could a six-year-old begin to grasp what being a ‘legal citizen’ is?” (Dean & Wagnon, 2019, p. 14)

This event, recounted more than a decade later, is what The Center for Disease Control defines as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). An ACE is defined as a potentially traumatic event that children 0-17 experience, including violence, abuse, death, chronic illness, and divorce; this list is certainly not exhaustive.

Despite the recent increases in awareness and support of diversity in classrooms, many educators currently working in the field, and those preparing to teach, have little training to work with students who have experienced an adverse childhood experience (ACE).
Despite the recent increases in awareness and support of diversity in classrooms, many educators currently working in the field, and those preparing to teach, have little training to work with students who have experienced an adverse childhood experience (ACE).

Despite the recent increases in awareness and support of diversity in classrooms, many educators currently working in the field, and those preparing to teach, have little training to work with students who have experienced an adverse childhood experience (ACE). This is an educational crisis, as the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health reveals that in 2016 approximately 34 million children experienced at least one ACE.

Teacher educators across the nation spend their days educating preservice teachers on methods for working with the diverse student population they know their students will encounter as classroom teachers. They strive to ensure they are prepared to “meet the needs of all learners.”

However, such endeavors often focus on groups that possess identifiable exceptionalities within the education system, such as English Language Learners, students with reading delays, or students who qualify for special services. While those are examples of important groups, that list certainly does not encompass the diverse students with a myriad of needs that fill the classrooms of the nation’s educators. There will be classrooms full of students who have experienced one or more adverse childhood experiences, and have needs that are beyond their teachers’ training.

Heather Dean and Amber E. Wagnon
Heather Dean and Amber E. Wagnon

Educators currently in the classroom, or those preparing to enter the field, must adapt to truly “meet the needs of all learners” in their schools. But educators are already often overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. What more can they do?

6 Easy Tips to Meet the Needs of All Learners:

  1. Educators and administrators must first recognize that many of the students in their classroom have experienced an ACE, and that this experience can have a lasting impact. This impact can have lasting effects, impeding the students’ social and educational endeavors.
  2. Educators must strive to connect with students and their families by listening and working to understand their unique experiences. This means that student voices must have an avenue for expression.
  3. Educators must approach student interactions with a relational mindset that is ground in empathy.
  4. Educators must recognize that trauma and traumatic events are common across all income groups.
  5. Educators must understand that trauma impacts the brain and students that encounter acute stress will experience cognitive deficits impacting school success
  6. Educators must strive to utilize intentional methods to create a culture of care in their own classrooms. A culture of care calls for culturally responsive teaching, including policies, practices, and a curriculum that is inclusive.

The student at the opening of this article shared about a traumatic time in her life when she and her family faced possible separation due to her parents’ immigration status. Would teachers have recognized this student’s needs?  Would today’s teachers have been equipped to help this student express their emotions and regulate their anxiety?  Educators must listen and advocate for the student first of all.  From there, practical strategies can be effective such as teaching and expressing empathy through writing, music or art.

Changes are difficult to activate in the standardized educational system most educators are confined to. However, if educator preparation programs, current educators, and policy makers truly want to meet the needs of all learners, educator training and focus must shift to encompass students who have lived through an adverse childhood experience.

Hear My Voice: Tales of Trauma and Equity from Today’s Youth
Hear My Voice: Tales of Trauma and Equity from Today’s Youth

If you are interested in learning more, you may be interested in Hear My Voice: Tales of Trauma and Equity from Today’s Youth, an edited book which utilizes student stories and brain research to remind all educators about the importance of the story of each individual student.


Dean, H. and Wagnon, A. (2019). Hear my voice:  Tales of trauma and equity from today’s youth. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.

Amber E. Wagnon is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Stephen F. Austin State University and a founder of Educators in Pursuit. Her research focuses on literacy education, teacher education, and public school advocacy. Please follow Amber on Twitter at @ProfWagnon. Heather Dean is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at California State University, Stanislaus and a founder of Educators in Pursuit. Her research focuses on literacy education and best practices for teacher education. Please follow Heather on Twitter at @iteachdean.

: educatorsinpursuit.com

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