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Scarcity in the Classroom

Scarcity in the Classroom


This is not a blog post about a lack of resources in the classroom. That is a problem, but not the topic for today.

This post is about the scarcity principle. You can listen to the Hidden Brain podcast about the scarcity principle here. The podcast explains that when we don't have something we need, our brains send off alarm signals that don't stop until that need is met.

For example, if you are hungry, that is your complete focus. All you can think about is finding food. If you are lonely, all you can think about is finding companionship. If you are scared, all you can think about is finding safety.


Think about what this means in the classroom. Your students literally may not be able to hear you because their brains are fully occupied by whatever is scarce in their lives. Food, friends, acceptance, safety, sleep... 

The students dealing with scarcity are most likely the students who struggle to follow classroom expectations and understand lessons. This isn't because they don't want to do these things. It is because they can't. There simply isn't room in their brains.


Now that you know about the scarcity principle, what can you do to help your students? The first step is to find out what is scarce in their lives. This takes time. First, you have to build a relationship with each student. Talk to them about things that they care about and show them you care. Then, as you talk to them, they will show you what they need. When students trust you, they will talk about what they are thinking about. If something in their lives in scarce, that is what they are thinking about. Your job is to listen.


Once you know what is scarce in a student's life, you can help them. Even if you can't take away the scarcity, you will better understand your students. This will allow you to develop behavior plans that match their individual needs. For example, a student who doesn't get enough sleep may start to act out because she is exhausted. Ordinarily, you might take away recess for unexpected choices, but that doesn't address the underlying problem. Instead, when that particular student is having a hard day, let her rest. You could work out an arrangement with the school secretary to have her lay down in the nurse's office for a half an hour or have her sit in a cozy spot on the carpet and look at a book for a while.


Scarcity is complicated. It isn't something that one teacher can solve, but understanding student behavior will make it easier to create a classroom environment that meets your students' needs and allows them to be successful.

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