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Why Educators Should Care About the Bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy

Posted by on in Studentcentricity
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happy classroom As I stated in my discussion with Lori Desautels, Kay Albrecht, and Peter DeWitt, just as we can’t start building a house with the second story we can’t get to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (self-actualization) by skipping over the bottom levels.

Here’s some of Lori’s rationale as to why the bottom of the pyramid matters:

Our brains are wired for attachment and survival. When we feel "felt" by another, we are able to create a brain state of equanimity and therefore move through the tasks of the day! This is true for all of us, not just students. Teacher well-being is at the root of student well-being and when we model in transparent ways the needs we have and how we meet them, superior teaching takes hold!

She advises:    

When we look at Maslow's Hierarchy, there are four questions in Tier two and Tier three that we can address sitting beside our students.

 1. How do I feel?

2. Am I interested?

3. Is this important to me?

4. Can I do this?

For great ideas on meeting the students’ needs (and yours) at every level of the pyramid, check out Lori’s article, “Addressing Our Needs: Maslow Comes to Life for Educators and Students”: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/addressing-our-needs-maslow-hierarchy-lori-desautels

Kay added these points following the interview:

The most crucial part of an emotionally supportive environment is the teacher. Your approach, attitude, and skills in supporting security and belonging set the tone. Without any special tools, you can make your classroom a place where children can grow and thrive. You don’t need fancy materials or special curriculum. All that is needed is you.

Spend time with each child on a regular basis. Let the child be in charge of what you do together. If you can’t do it individually, then arrange time to do so with small groups of three to five children. Rotate the decision-making about what to do either during the time together by dividing or sequentially taking turns at sessions.

For children who are demanding more and more of your attention with their behavior, give them even more of this kind of shared, child-directed, play-based time.

And, finally, you can get better at knowing about, using, and understanding teaching strategies to support emotional and social development. Take a look at Social Emotional Tools for Life: An Early Childhood Teacher’s Guide to Supporting Strong Emotional Foundations and Successful Social Relationships by Forrester and Albrecht for more ideas.

You can also read more in “Supporting Social and Emotional Development” by Kay Albrecht and Jennifer Fiechtner: http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2015/social-emotional-development


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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Guest
    Nini White Thursday, 02 July 2015

    Although I agree with much of what's stated in this article - most especially what teachers "bring" into the mix by their very presence ... as time goes by, I am less and less convinced that life is as linear as Maslow's hierarchy suggests. In my students' lives, and in my own, as well, I've witnessed life improvement in the exact opposite direction as suggested. People, most especially very young children, are more multi-dimensional than we traditionallyt acknowledge.

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