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Maslow's Theory of Hierarchical Needs - Alive and Well in the Classroom
|by Chuck Brickman
Reprinted from the January 2003 Gazette
February 1, 2008
We are probably all familiar with Abraham Maslow's Theory of Hierarchical Needs; Psychological Needs, Safety Needs, Belongingness and Love Needs, Esteem Needs, Need to Know and Understand, Aesthetic Needs, and Self-Actualization Needs. And we probably all remember that, according to Maslow's theory, needs that are in the lower hierarchy must be at least partially met before a person will try to satisfy higher-level needs. Although ultimately our goal is to aid students in self-actualizing or becoming "all that one can be," they must first achieve the level of Need to Know and Understand.
But what does this mean for teachers and how does it impact student performance and learning in the classroom?
Schools and government agencies have long realized that if students' basic needs are not met student performance will suffer. The advent of free breakfast and lunch programs was a direct result of such considerations. Unfortunately, these measures address only part of the first tier of Maslow's theory; physiological needs. Addressing basic physiological needs is still a key concern in today's classroom. Lack of proper nutrition, personal hygiene and even sleep affects many of today's students. In lower socioeconomic areas these concerns are further accentuated. These basic needs must be met before the student can reach the next level.
Robert Slavin, in his book, Educational Psychological notes, "The most important…needs, however, may be those for love and self-esteem." The student must feel that he/she is important as an individual -- that he/she is lovable and is deserving of being loved and cared about. Oftentimes the only time that these attributes are reinforced may be by the teacher at school. Students must be made aware that teachers value them as individuals as well as the work they perform. We as teachers must take advantage of each and every opportunity to reinforce each student's self esteem in the manner in which we treat them in the classroom. This reinforcement of positive attributes of the student in turn aids in developing respect or a favorable impression of oneself.
Once these needs are met, the student may then move to the next level--need to know and understand. It is at this level that the student is most receptive to learning. Our challenge is to aid the student in achieving this level.
What we can do as teachers to aid students in moving up Maslow's Hierarchy
Although many issues pertaining to student progress in Maslow's Hierarchy emanate from outside the school environment, as teachers we are in a position to strongly influence student outcomes. However, to change outcomes we must first understand that we must assess the whole child to include not only student knowledge of material but, more importantly, student readiness levels based on Maslow's theory and obstacles to learning. Only when we address both of the issues will student learning be enhanced and maximized.