Two Days with Ruby Payne

I began writing this post a couple of weeks ago about the Ruby Payne conference I attended, but with getting ready for Spring Break and my trip to Italy (more to come on this later), I just couldn’t seem to get my thoughts together.  Throw in the fact that Ruby Payne seems to present via a lot of anecdotes laced with data, so it was somewhat difficult to take notes.  So, here are my somewhat belated thoughts about the conference…

March 6th and 7th I attended Ruby Payne’s conference A Framework for Understanding Poverty. I tried really hard to take precise and copious notes so I could share them here, but it was pretty difficult to do. So, instead of sharing notes, I will share some of my thoughts about the presentation.

On day one Ms. Payne discussed concepts from her book A Framework for Understanding Poverty and the correlating workbook. She discussed the differences between generational and situational poverty and new money and old money. We also looked at the “hidden” rules of poverty, middle class and wealthy.

According to Ms. Payne, since the majority of schools and business utilize the “hidden” rules of the middle class, schools are a difficult environment for many students from poverty. Teachers need to be aware of the “hidden” rules of poverty and middle class (and wealthy) in order to know how to interact with students appropriately and teach them the “rules” they need to be successful in schools.

Ms. Payne mentioned that many students from poverty use laughter as a way to de-escalate situations which made me reflect upon a past student of mine who always laughed when she got in trouble. Usually all the laughter did was cause to get her further in trouble, but perhaps, it was the only way she knew to deal with the situation.  I think we have probably all had students similar to this, and if you are like me, you could have probably handled the situation a little better. 😉

The second day Ms. Payne wrapped up some of the discussions from the previous day and then focused the rest of the day on understanding the how, why and what of learning.  She briefly discussed how the brain functions and the difference between new learners and expert learners.

Then we learned some strategies for assisting new learners with retaining information and making plans.  Some of the ideas included – planning backwards, using patterns and incorporating mental models into the curriculum. I liked the majority of the strategies, but I must say that I had heard most of them before (packaged in other ways). 

Although day two contained useful instructional information, I enjoyed day one better.  I like how day one focused on something that I feel is essential to being a good teacher… getting to know your students. I think that many of the problems in classrooms occur because of misunderstandings. It is difficult to understand why a student is not turning in his work – why a young lady stays in an abusive relationship, why parents will not let their child go away to college, or why a student continually fights – if you don’t know where they are coming from.

I think Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty is a must read because it gives educators some insight into worlds that they may know little to nothing about. I think the book can help teachers develop empathy and understanding for students in difficult situations without asking the teacher to look the other way. The focus on the book is to recognize where students are so they can be taught the behaviors they need to be successful.

One a side note, Ruby Payne has come under some criticism lately because many people (just read the reviews on Amazon) feel like her book is oversimplified and generalized… and I think it is to a point, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t useful. There are obviously many aspects which contribute to how students behave and achieve – social class is just one of these factors… just something to keep in mind when you are reading. 🙂

If you have seen Ruby Payne or read her books, I would love to hear your thoughts on what you learned.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Instructional Strategies, Ruby Payne, Training, Understanding Poverty

14 Comments on “Two Days with Ruby Payne”


  1. I have already used a couple of the strategies Ms. Payne shared in my classroom, and they seem to be working out so far. I like her “what did you do, why did you do it” form better than our SIP form. I feel like hers is better at keeping students focused on how they could have behaved differently in the present situation rather than just giving me the answers I want to hear and not actually changing their behavior (the penance, forgiveness, repeat cycle). It forces them to realize they have choices, and I like that.

    I also like that now I have an answer for “Why do I have to learn this?” Sure, I have a big problem with high-stakes testing and everything that goes with it, but the conference helped me remember that even if a student doesn’t need to know anything about a particular historical topic in their “real lives” after high school, they do need to know it so that they can get out of high school at all. As Payne put it, they need to know it because “it will help them win.”

    I think next year I will really be able to focus on helping students understand that not every situation is win-lose; very often a compromise can be reached so that both parties win. The problem lies in students not considering choices and believing that they cannot change their futures.

    Overall, I enjoyed the conference very much. I came back to school feeling like my job had been put into perspective. I found myself refreshed and ready to tackle it again.

  2. Keith Wyrick Says:

    In my one of my graduate classes we talked about the “hidden curriculum” Ms. Payne writes about in her book. It took me a while to think of some of them that are present in our school because of our student makeup. We don’t have the “jock” table at lunch or even really the senior side of the cafeteria (maybe because a lot of our seniors are on internships). What do you all think are the hidden rules that is being practiced here?


  3. […] Super Target where I usually do my shopping.  Secondly, the experience made me think back to my Ruby Payne conference because the majority of the people who live around this particular store are probably economically […]

  4. Erin Says:

    We’ve enjoyed reading your indepth article. Ruby Payne and aha! Process have just rolled out a new blog and we’d love for you to visit. We’ll be updating it daily with all sorts of content. Take care!

    -Erin

  5. sherry Says:

    I just finished Framework for Understanding Poverty. I was shocked by the blatant stereotyping. Payne wrote the book in a week, from what I’ve read, and is now raking in the big bucks by bamboozling school districts into buying into this. I understand why her ideas and materials have been derided by academics and sociologists.

    • Gen Says:

      I must admit that Payne’s descriptions of people in poverty were almost identical to the students and families I work with at an elementary school. Her hidden rules of the culture and rules of survival were all very accurate. Even though it seemed like she really understood this culture, I too, was a little uncomfortable with her “stereotypes.” She does not put enough emphasis on the fact that she is illustrating commonalities or the trend of the impoverished culture. It does fuel the critics when Payne appears to be saying ALL low-income, lower class citizens behave this way. Diversity is present in all cultures and there are differences between the impoverished as well. But is this really the point? Her work is not to describe all the variations of people in poverty, but to help educators understand what is common, what is seen from this group of people. Overgeneralizations are not what critics need to get so worked up over. The fact is, there is a difference between middle class and poverty stricken people. Many teachers, myself included do not have the education or experience to understand these differences and the best way to meet them. Our job is to work with children no matter what their background and to teach them in the style that best meets their needs. Critics do not always acknowledge the useful classroom strategies and cognitive approaches that Payne gives to us.

  6. Dave Says:

    I have read Framework for Understanding Poverty and many blogs criticizing Payne’s work. I believe there is merit to both sides. I do believe that Payne utilized many overgeneralizations in her book, but I still found the information to be helpful. I never believed that she meant to say that all members of a particular group hold the same beliefs or follow the same hidden rules. No matter what the economic class we find ourselves in, we all have different experiences. However, that doesn’t mean that a large percentage of people in a certain economic class don’t experience similar events. What is often different is how we react to these events. Again, I see merit to both Payne’s work and her critics’ views.

  7. Deb Says:

    I recently finished reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty for a class I am taking. As I was reading the book I thought, “Wow! This explains some of the issues and situations that I’ve experienced.” However, as I continued reading, I began to read more critically. Since finishing the book, I have read many criticisms. I can see some valid points made by both sides of the argument. I would be interested in hearing Dr. Payne’s rebuttals to the criticism about her research methods.
    I do believe that just as schools have a hidden curriculum and rules, so do the different economic classes. I think that there are hidden rules of poverty. I also believe that students need to learn the hidden middle class rules if they are to be successful. This book provided me with a general, not complete understanding of some aspects of poverty.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    I recently read Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty for a class I am taking too. This was such an eye opening experience for me! I thoroughly enjoyed reading her views on poverty, especially her definition of poverty and the hidden rules of poverty. Working as a school social worker, I can definitely see how these concepts and ideas play out in the lives of those in poverty. I have researched Ruby Payne’s critics online, but don’t get why they rebut her. Any ideas?

  9. Mike Mc Murran Says:

    Payne’s generalizations about poverty, for starters. I’ve taught in school district that has a black population of 98% for 20 years; 70% – 90% qualify for free or reduced lunches. What she offers is excuses for observed behaviors – it really is that simply. There are no references other than her casual, unscientific observations.

    The bad news is some really are buying into it.

  10. Niki Ryder Says:

    I just finished reading the book A Framework for Understanding Poverty. As I read the book and took the survival quizzes, I really learned a lot about the students that I am teaching. It brought to light some interesting points, and many times while reading I thought of specific students and specific situations in my own classroom that the book described perfectly. It does make sense that students be taught how to speak in formal register since most colleges and jobs expect formal register to be used. However, I do not like how Payne seems to stereotype everyone who lives in poverty, middle or upper class. Every class has a wide range of people within them who act differenty than one another and live in totally different situations. For example, many middle and upper class families have only one parent, not just families who live in poverty. I do not feel that you can generalize someone’s life based on if they are living in poverty, middle or upper class. Because of these broad generalizations, I do not feel that Ruby Payne gives an accurate portrayal of poverty or what it should look like to effectively teach students who live in poverty.

  11. Renee Says:

    It is my opinion that Ruby Payne’s critics have merit. I believe that Payne reinforces stereotypes and sells these stereotypes to teachers as an effective way to help their students. Payne encourages teachers to seek to understand their students and encourage them to learn alternate behaviors that will allow them to succeed in school. Researchers would further argue that Payne provides no concrete evidence to support her conclusions. They are merely observations and insights. Although they may offer a glimpse into the world of poverty, I think that Payne’s insights must be presented cautiously in a manner that emphasizes that these characteristics are not always present among people living in poverty. Teachers need to be empowered to believe that they have the ability to form meaningful relationships with students and that all students are capable of achieving.

  12. Melissa-SLP Says:

    Like many of you other posters, I just finished reading Ruby Payne’s book for a course. I really felt that I learned a lot from her book and took away many ideas I can use this upcoming school year. Like another poster, I am really intrigued by the sheet she uses on page 81 of her book to encourage students to identify what they did, their intentions, other alternative behaviors, and what they could do next time. I also researched the many critiques of her book online. I have come to the conclusion to view her insights and suggestions as I would view the insights and suggestions of colleagues and mentors. As educators, we often look to other educators for insights and suggestion when we are in need of support. Sometimes our colleagues and mentor’s insights and suggestions work wonders. Other times, their suggestions might not work well for our particular situation. The bottom line is that we need make sure to view our students as unique individuals. Some of our students might fit exactly into Payne’s characteristics while others may not. What we need to keep in mind is that the needs and backgrounds of our students are diverse. We need to continually work towards helping all of our students succeed.

  13. Jen Says:

    Ruby Payne has opened my eyes to the idea of poverty. I am a public school teacher who has never understood poverty and therefore had trouble relating to it. I never appreciated the hidden rules for survival and didn’t quite always know how to interact with students and their families living in poverty. Ruby Payne’s critics do have some merit but I often wonder how many times they have stepped into the classroom and have observed what we see on a daily basis. Ruby Payne has given me insight to a world that I once knew noting about.


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