According to the 14th Amendment, no child living in a state with a public school system may be denied access. That being said, other difficulties might stand in the way of that right. Nearly half of all U.S. children have experienced one or more types of adversity at home, including neglect, abuse, parental loss, or mental illness. While they have the same rights as others to public education, they may need a little more encouragement to open up and participate.

Often, students from troubled homes thrive in the presence of a caring educator in a mentorship role. The predictability and familiarity of routine is also something that makes children feel safe. Because of this, in addition to showing empathy, teachers are encouraged to bond with their students by acknowledging their strengths and contributions to the classroom. This asset-based approach is most successful in an environment that promotes feelings of safety, belonging, and validation. 

Opening yourself up to vulnerabilities and leading by example are also ways to earn students’ trust and raise their comfort levels. Start each lesson plan with a greeting or a personal fact about yourself. Since online learning makes it harder to connect to every student, make sure you address everyone throughout the lesson and present yourself in a calm, relaxing tone. Your environment should be warm and inviting and well-lit so that your class can see you. 

Strength-based classrooms emphasize what each student is bringing to the table, skills-wise. These strengths are shared publicly with the rest of the class, who are, in turn, encouraged to join in. This type of culture also indirectly fights against potential bullying. Along with pointing out students’ skills, educators can empower students by collaborating with them on lesson plans and giving them a voice in how they are taught. 

Another way to engage more students in a classroom environment is by linking content-related examples. For students, this could mean connecting their real-world problems to literary characters who overcame challenges, making morals seem more relevant and personal. Once a child feels comfortable, they might open up in other ways, especially if they need to ask for help.