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Tips for Success in Classroom Management of At-Risk Populations

Experienced teachers will tell you that when students are bored by the lessons they are teaching, problems will inevitably arise—especially in a classroom of at-risk students. Thankfully, there are many proven techniques for motivating and engaging students in a positive learning environment.


First things first: how do you define at-risk students?

  • At-risk students fail to achieve basic efficiency in core subjects by grade 8.
  • They do not graduate with necessary skills for work, leisure, culture, civic affairs, or inter/intrapersonal relationships.
  • Students are at risk when they are placed in environments for which they are not prepared, such as:
    • Classroom interaction
    • Domestic interaction
    • Community interaction
    • Sociocultural interaction
  • Factors that place students at risk are:
    • Exceptionality
    • Limited proficiency in English
    • Poverty
    • Educational deprivation
    • Minority group
    • Lack of home and/or community resources

At The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Human Sciences at Walden University, an accredited institution with online college degree programs, a stellar faculty of educators helps future and active teachers understand how to communicate, motivate, and teach at-risk students in K–12 classrooms.

The faculty’s deep understanding of managing at-risk students comes from their diverse experiences as scholars, researchers, educators, practitioners, and innovators in quality education and online education degree programs.

Dealing With Challenged Students

Recent statistics help paint a disturbing picture of the fragile environments and learning obstacles experienced by at-risk students:

  • 30% of children ages 5–7 are living in poverty.
  • 1 in 6 students is regularly bullied.
  • Gang presence is increasing in schools; for students 12–15, gang presence is at 26%–43%.
  • 6.5%–22.9% of students in grades 8–12 have used marijuana in the last month.

How to Motivate Challenged Students to Learn

“Students need to be motivated in order to achieve success,” said Walden Program Director Karen Wiggins, PhD, EdD, EdS. Dr. Wiggins explained that motivation has three components:

  1. Expectation—We must expect students to learn.
  2. Value—Students question how the subject relates to them. They want to know what’s in it for them and why they must learn it. Learning must have meaning in students’ lives; therefore, effective teachers must find out about their students’ reward values.
  3. Climate—Educators must foster a climate where students feel safe and successful while they are engaged in learning, no matter what type of personal challenges they have outside of school.

“If students are to be capable of succeeding in school and are motivated to make a reasonable effort, they need to have a sense that they can have a reasonable effect on outcome and believe that things can change—they must have hope,” emphasized Dr. Wiggins.

Brain Imaging, Research, and At-Risk Students

Many amazing discoveries about the elasticity of the brain and how it functions, learns, grows, and changes have become an integral part of the curriculum at the Riley College of Education and Human Sciences at Walden.

“Children perform better in school when they know their teachers believe intelligence is not set,” said Debbey Thomas, EdD, Walden faculty member and special education specialization coordinator. “’Growth mindset’ focuses on effort and motivates students to overcome challenging work. It also changes the student’s mind-set from ‘I can’t do this’ to ‘I CAN do this.’ We believe in their success.”

Learn more about Walden University’s accredited online education degree programs, which include bachelor’s programs, master’s and post-master’s programs, doctoral programs, certificate programs, and licensure and endorsement programs.

Walden University's online degree programs for educators will help you achieve your career goals while you earn your degree at a pace that fits your life and schedule.