POVERTY & THE BRAIN: Creating Emotional, Physical & Academic Success


[semester equivalent = 3.33 credits]



Brenda McKinney



Eric Jensen's, Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kid’s Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, analyzes the effects of poverty on education and how educators can play a hand in improving the potential of every student. The strategies and action steps are easy to apply and can really make a difference. Times have changed and now educators are in the business of changing their brains for the better. 

This course is not just for teachers who reach the low-SES students, but for all teachers who want to make a difference in their students' lives. If you are an educator of any age student, this course is for you!! Even in the most affluent schools, there are students that are facing their own isolation. Don't miss an amazing resource and practical coursework. Join me today for this opportunity.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Upon completion of this course, participants will have:

  1. Read and understand the risk factors of poverty on a macro and micro level
  2. Understand the emotional and social deficits in SIS kids
  3. Discover the effects of continuous and chronic stress on low-income children
  4. Identify six types of poverty and the complexities
  5. Understand how plasticity can help the brain change for the better
  6. Embrace the effective strategies from those who have succeeded
  7. Develop plans to analyze and keep data
  8. Understand how to use resources necessary to make change happen

Completion of all specified assignments is required for issuance of hours or credit. The Heritage Institute does not award partial credit.

The use of artificial intelligence is not permitted. Assignment responses found to be generated by AI will not be accepted.

Completing the basic assignments (Section A. Information Acquisition) for this course automatically earns participants their choice of CEUs (Continuing Education Units), Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, or Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours. The Heritage Institute offers CEUs and is an approved provider of Washington State Clock Hours, Oregon PDUs, and Pennsylvania ACT 48 Hours.



Continuing Education Quarter credits are awarded by Antioch University Seattle (AUS). AUS requires 75% or better for credit at the 400 level and 85% or better to issue credit at the 500 level. These criteria refer both to the amount and quality of work submitted.

  1. Completion of Information Acquisition assignments 30%
  2. Completion of Learning Application assignments 40%
  3. Completion of Integration Paper assignment 30%


CREDIT/NO CREDIT (No Letter Grades or Numeric Equivalents on Transcripts)
Antioch University Seattle (AUS) Continuing Education Quarter credit is offered on a Credit/No Credit basis; neither letter grades nor numeric equivalents are on a transcript. 400 level credit is equal to a "C" or better, 500 level credit is equal to a "B" or better. This information is on the back of the transcript.

AUS Continuing Education quarter credits may or may not be accepted into degree programs. Prior to registering, determine with your district personnel, department head, or state education office the acceptability of these credits for your purpose.



Text is Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It by Eric Jensen; $21, new or used on Amazon.


None. All reading is online.


Text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It, is approximately $21 from



Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. 
Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 

Assignment #1: Introduction.

For those participating in Group Collaboration, you must read and follow the instructions outlined in the Group Collaboration Guidelines. Click on the link for Guidelines.

  • Assignment #1, each participant must complete this assignment independently.
  • There should be a minimum of (4) four group meetings during which the course content is discussed. 
  • Teleconferences or live meetings are acceptable. A good videoconference option is Zoom (
  • Each participant must attend at least 75% of the group meetings (a minimum of 3 of 4 meetings).

You must complete the introduction before moving on to another assignment.

What led you to choose teaching as your profession? Describe your current professional situation. What brings you the most joy in your work? What led you to choose this class? What outcomes do you hope to achieve through this coursework?

Assignment #2:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 5-12 and be prepared to summarize the effects of poverty on the brain.

In a 500+ word response discuss the risk factors for SIS kids. In your response include learning from your reading and the video. Detail what had the most profound effect on your teaching situation and what you have experienced in your classroom/school.

Consider the following:

  • correlations between family income and academic success?
  • ways that teachers often misinterpret student responses/emotions?
  • overt behaviors often make it difficult for teachers to connect with these kids?

Assignment #3:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs.13-22 then summarize the emotional and social challenges that SES students face.

You can choose to do a mind map or a diagram/chart. Be sure to include an explanation of your learning, ideas for a makeover, and what was significant for you. If you would rather write the response, it should be 500+ words considering each of the topics.

Include the following:

  1. Emotional keyboard, teaching proper responses, and understanding lack of response from students.
  2. Three things all kids bring to school and why that impacts the classroom, management, and motivation
  3. Ideas for teaching social expression weaving this into your regular classroom day.
  4. Personal ideas for dealing with inappropriate behaviors when they happen. Tips and tools you learned for calming, reacting, while helping kids feel safe and not threatened.

Assignment #4:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 22-31 then the effects of stressors on the brain.

View this video:

Respond to the following with a 500+ word response. You can also create a mind map, graphic organizer.

  • What is an allostatic load?
  • How does stress create an insidious effect on learning and behavior?
  • What is the link between the adolescent brain and stress overload? Why so critical?
  • What can you do to recognize the signs and ward off misbehavior?
  • What innovative ideas did you produce to empower students?

Assignment #5:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 31-45 then summarize cognitive lags and student performance.

Watch the following video:

Consider the following for your response in the Venn Diagram you will create for the assignment.

  • What brain areas are affected by difference in income?
  • What did you learn about language acquisition, reading, and ability to pay attention?
  • What skills should teachers focus on to help underperforming students?
  • What are some effective strategies for follow-up?
  • What can you do specifically within your grade level/teaching assignment to encourage students and provide hope?

Create a Venn diagram showing 1). the news about how the brain is affected, 2). critical skills needed for underperforming students, and 3). ways to provide hope, success, and encouragement for kids with cognitive lags 


Assignment #6:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 46-57 then be prepared to summarize your learning about embracing the mindset of change while focusing on the good/bad news.

In a 500+ word response share whether you feel more hopeful after learning this neuroscience. In your response include the following:

  • What is neuroplasticity and why is this good/bad news for the brain?
  • What do studies show about changing IQ and educational intervention?
  • What is fluid intelligence and why is this good/bad news for students?
  • What can you do to help change the brains of your students for the better?

Assignment #7:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 58-65 then summarize educational intervention and long term enrichment. 

Watch the video on how to create change one person at a time.

In a 250+ word response discuss and consider the following:

  1. What programs are in place to help students?
  2. What is the likelihood of success with environmental enrichment programs?
  3. What needs to happen to change staff mindsets? How could you be a part of this?
  4. What does research show that will not work?

Assignment #8:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 66-90 then summarize policies and positive impact for students raised in poverty.

Watch the following videos:

Then respond in 500+ words using your reading and the videos.

  • What characteristics do high-poverty, high-achieving schools share? 
  • Why is SHARE critical for accountability and success?
  • What amazing things do we do for kids to help them be successful?
  • What can you do to improve your own accountability with difficult students?
  • What does “students are not allowed to fail” mean to you? Is this possible?

Assignment #9:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs. 91 -105 then summarize the mistakes schools need to avoid. Respond to the following with a 1-2 page paper, graphic organizer, and mind map:

  • What are the seven across-the-board “success killers”?
  • What do the schools that you have read in your research seem to have in common?
  • What ideas do you have to link this information with your own teaching?
  • What can you do to improve your own accountability with these or any difficult students?

Assignment #10:

In the text, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, read pgs.106-142 then summarize the action steps needed to create change in your classroom/school.

Respond to the following in a 500+ word response:

  • What changes can be made to turn standards into meaningful units?
  • Why is pre-assessing so important to effective lessons?
  • What is the link between formative assessment and success?
  • What does Seligman have to say about optimism?
  • How can you create a better “hope building” environment in your room?
  • What did you learn about arts, athletics, and advanced placements?



In this section, you will apply your learning to your professional situation. This course assumes that most participants are classroom teachers who have access to students. If you do not have a classroom available to you, please contact the instructor for course modifications. Assignments done in a course forum will show responses from all educators who have or are taking the course independently. ​Feel free to read and respond to others' comments. Group participants can only view and respond to their group members in the Forum. 


Assignment #11:

As you visualize your coming year, what changes do you see that you can make immediately and then as the year progresses?

Create a chart with specific details of what you are already doing to create change and positive attitudes, what you hope to incorporate and the supporting research for change, and areas where you need more teaching or coaching in modeling the classroom of Mr. Hawkins.

Assignment #12:

  • Share what you have learned with a colleague/administrator/district leadership.
  • Go over the research that has created the most impact on your teaching and explain the long-term ramifications for your teaching in the classroom.
  • Create an outline to follow and bring any visuals needed for sharing.

In 500+ words write up the conversation, what you learned by sharing, and how you will follow up with your colleague or administrator.

Assignment #13:

For those participating in Group Collaboration, this assignment is Required to be completed individually by all participants.

Complete one (1) of the following options:

Option A)

  • Adapt a lesson to reflect what you’ve learned in this course.
  • Implement your lesson with students in your classroom.
  • Write a 250–500-word commentary on what worked well and what could be improved.
  • Include any student feedback on your lesson.
  • Share what you’ve learned with other teachers taking our courses by also contributing your Lesson to The Heritage Institute Lesson Library here
  • You may download a copy of THI's lesson plan template here.
  • Send your modified lesson and your commentary via email to your instructor.

Option B)

  • Use this option if you do not have a classroom available.
  • Adapt a lesson to reflect what you’ve learned in this course. (Do not implement it.)
  • Share what you’ve learned with other teachers taking our courses by contributing your Lesson to The Heritage Institute Lesson Library here.
  • You may download a copy of THI's lesson plan template here.
  • Write a 500+ word article concerning any noteworthy success you’ve had as a teacher with one or more students.
  • Please refer to the guidelines on our blog What Works: Teaching at its Best prior to writing your article.
  • When you submit your article to your instructor, please also email a copy to Renee Leon THI blog curator and media specialist.
  • Indicate whether or not you are OK with having your article considered for publishing on our website.  
  • Submit your modified lesson along with your article via email to your instructor.  

Assignment #14: (500 Level ONLY)

Option A)

  • Create a presentation with Google slides based on this course and focused on perspectives that would benefit your school.
  • Save it as a PDF.
  • This presentation should include graphics, color, correct font size, and be presentation ready. Make sure to include your intended audience.
  • It must include at least 15-20 slides


Option B)

  • Design your own assignment (action plan) with instructor’s prior approval.
  • This could include collecting data, journaling about the success of techniques you have tried, etc.  (I journaled for an entire year and created an assessment at the end of each week.) 
  • This should involve 3-4 weeks of detailed work.


Option C)

  • Research a topic of interest from this course. Your discussion and research should include at least four (4) research articles.  Share with your instructor in a 500+ word response.


Option D)

If you can visit a school in a high-poverty area, arrange a visit and focus on the following.

  • What are they currently doing to create success? Observe any programs or teachers who are on the cutting edge.
  • Write up your observations and send them to your instructor.


Assignment #15: (Required for 400 and 500 level)

(Please do not write this paper until you've completed all of your other assignments)

Write a 400-500 word Integration Paper answering these 5 questions:

  1. What did you learn vs. what you expected to learn from this course?
  2. What aspects of the course were most helpful and why?
  3. What further knowledge and skills in this general area do you feel you need?
  4. How, when and where will you use what you have learned?
  5. How and with what other school or community members might you share what you learned?


Instructors will comment on each assignment. If you do not hear from the instructor within a few days of posting your assignment, please get in touch with them immediately.


Brenda McKinney, CEO of Vancouver, WA based BrainVolution, is a developer and dynamic facilitator of workshops that teach practical thinking and learning tools for raising student achievement with the brain in mind. She has trained educators throughout the Pacific Northwest and is a popular presenter because of her ability to motivate, make things fun, and teach practical techniques for the classroom that can be used immediately. Brenda continues to read hundreds of books and articles on the subject of neuroscience and searches for the answer to success for every student. Her work with at-risk students and those with reading problems have made her a popular speaker at the state, regional and national level.

Brenda is able to synthesize the new research and continues to address the role of how to use the latest findings to create high achievement classroom. She brings 30+ years of experience at the elementary, middle school, high school and university level as a mentor teacher, consultant, motivational speaker, university instructor, and reading specialist. Brenda has her Master’s in Education from Washington State University and is nationally certified in Brain Based Learning through the renowned  Jensen Corporation, led by Eric Jensen, a noted international spokesperson for neuroscience and education.


Brenda will inspire and motivate you with her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge. Her wisdom, techniques, and brain based approach to education will inspire you and challenge you to meet the demands of this ever changing world.



POVERTY & THE BRAIN: Creating Emotional, Physical & Academic Success

Cushman, Kathleen. Fires in the Bathroom. Advice for Teachers from High School Students. The New Press, 2003.

The insights this book provides into what high schools are like, especially for kids in large city schools, are invaluable. Worth reading. The words of wisdom from these students would benefit any teacher from elementary school to high school and would benefit any teacher who needs a reminder of what to do or not do to have a productive mutually respected school year!

I liked this because the language was coming from the kids.


Howard, Tish and Sandy Grogan Dresser. Poverty is not a Learning Disability. Corwin Press, 2009.

This book focuses on the difference between students with disabilities and those who come from poverty situations. I appreciate the combined experience of the authors as they work to highlight what schools have done to be effective. The authors also point out that students of poverty may receive low test scores but adamantly insist on the intelligence of every student. An incredibly positive read and essential information to differentiate between students to provide maximum help and strategies for every student.


Jensen, Eric. Enriching the Brain: How to Maximize Every Learner’s Potential. John Wiley & Sons, 2006

I liked the blending of science and practical advice. Loved all the new scientific breakthroughs on enrichment; Jensen's passionate about this topic and that's really what makes the book work. The book gives the real scientific basis for how our brain becomes "enriched." Here Jensen makes a case for every student, in every school getting an enrichment program, and I can see why. Jensen tells you in clear, readable language, what happens to the brain if you do or don't enrich. I liked the chapters on how the gifted brain is different and why kids in poverty need enrichment as much as anyone. The more things you see that you can do, the more it opens your own eyes. There are good chapters specific for teachers and for parents. Highly recommended.


Tilteson, Donna. Why Culture Counts: Teaching Children of Poverty. Solution Tree Press, 2008.

Very comprehensive book. Recommended for education/sociology/race/poverty classes. Excellent for green teachers considering a position in the inner city or with a racial minority population that is impoverished. Provides solutions, blueprints, and examples to implement in the classroom that are research driven. Love it! I will use the book as a required text in my coursework.


US Department of Health and Human Services. (2006) Learning from nine high poverty, high achieving, Blue Ribbon schools. From

Highlights the high achieving schools and provides a format for looking at what these schools are doing right.