Maslow First, Then Blooms

I had a student. He transferred in mid-year. His file was thick. He came in ready for a battle. He came in knowing that school wasn’t for him.

At first glance, he was what you would expect, tattered clothes, dirty, distant. He walked with a chip on his shoulder, and his eyes told you that he had seen pain. He was ready to protect himself even if what he lashed out against was of no threat. His life experience was not like what mine had been and it was not like the lives his classmates led either. His life was hard.

So just like most teachers, I expected the same from him as I did all of my students. I gave him what the other’s had. I smiled and we went about the business of learning.

I thought he was here because he needed to learn. He didn’t need to learn fractions, he needed to know that he was safe and that I cared about him. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was proposed in 1943 in his paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. It says that in order for a person to achieve their potential, they must have their needs met first. He organized the needs in a pyramid, moving from physiological needs (food, water, etc.) to safety, belonging, and esteem.

This body of work still holds true today. It is the foundation that we must remember before we try to teach our students anything. My state and district have both agreed that under current circumstances , we must focus first on the social-emotional needs of our students before they will be ready to learn anything we try to teach them. This is not a new way of learning, it is the only way to learn.

Every afternoon, this student struggled. Refusing to complete work, fighting with other students, napping in class. One day I pulled him over to my desk for a chat. I looked him right in the eyes and asked him, “What do you need?” We brainstormed and decided he was hungry and that made him grumpy. Every afternoon when he felt himself struggling, he would walk over to me and I would secretly pass him a snack. I do not know if it was the snack or the fact that I was caring for him and showed that I cared, but it worked. He was kind to his classmates, completed his work and had positive afternoons.

It was only after his social and emotional needs were met that we could focus on learning. We could not navigate through Bloom’s Taxonomy of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating, had we not first connected with him on a personal level.

During the COVID crisis, connect with your students and families. Look at assessment feedback as another way to connect with students and build relationships. Hold a check-in where students can communicate how they are feeling. Take the time to check-in to make sure their needs are met and they know you care. Set your virtual classroom up for learning by focusing first on relationships. But remember, Maslow’s Hierarchy isn’t just for your students. It’s for you, as well. In order to give your best to those kids who need it most, you have to feel safe and connected. Take care of yourself to be your best teaching-self.

CLICK HERE for a class meeting structure that you can use with teachers and students as you navigate this important work.

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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