Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Abraham Maslow Now More Than Ever

As we head into a digital age where distance shrinks, information explodes and people sit isolated from one another in front of computers & hand held devices, we must remember that the human factor must be constantly revisited. Abraham Maslow, in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation , wrote about the necessity of safety, love & belonging and self esteem as solid bases for learning. We assume our digital natives are fine with the technology we are hurling at them without checking the lower levels that support self actualization. We must check these lower levels now more than ever as human interaction becomes increasingly limited.

Do we check that our students are OK? I have seen teachers who keep upset students, angry students, crying students in their classes, refusing to let them to leave. Will these students learn anything, except to despise the teacher who does not recognize their needs? What will other students in that class think of this and of you, will they learn as well? I hear teachers yelling at students in front of their class, probably the most embarrassing thing you can do to a student. Will this improve their behavior, or just make you feel better? With each and every incident like this we isolate our students and make them feel unwanted. Unwanted students are unmotivated students.

How often do we let the power of our position outweigh the basic needs of out students? How many Kings & Queens of Kidneys are out there, giving two bathroom passes for the year to each student? I find this an abhorrent abuse of power. These people quickly reply. "well, they could of went before class...", but refuse to see the reality of diet soda's effects on the kidneys after 30 minutes. What is going on here? Do we respect our students and treat them as adults or do we act as the Barons of the Bathroom? If we don't constantly observe our students and check in with them, then respect is lip service and we project to them that we really just don't care.

When a student refuses to do work, do we take this as a personal affront? I would hope not, because other things are at work and we are taking ourselves way to seriously. If we take this personally, we become fools in the student's eyes and become one more adult that just doesn't get it. Perhaps the student is exercising the only power they have over their parents, the power to refuse to do work. Maybe they just had a fight with a loved one, or got fired from a job, or demoted off of a sports team... how do we know if we do not ask. Even if they don't answer, the fact that you asked makes them respect you more, because you are actually seeing them. How many teachers would not even notice if all their students suddenly transformed into shoes? I think this number is alarmingly large.

For every student we have we must ask ourselves: Is the student safe? Is the student feeling friendship and love from family? Do they have your respect? If they don't then they will absolutely not be in a place to learn in your classroom, despite all the Skype and IWB and Prezzi and Flips and other tech you pile on. Students feel dehumanized by schools because most teachers only look at their highest level, and rarely touch on the lower ones. But you might say"we have an interventionist or a psychologist for that.." Sure, you might have an interventionist, who is most definitely overwhelmed because they are the only ones asking these questions. We must all intervene, we must all show our students they are not just "walking grades" in cold hallways where no one seems to care. Reflect on how you look at your students, how you treat them, how you react to them. Now more than ever before, our students yearn to be truly seen by their teachers, they need us to help and nurture them, and we become more whole in the process as well.


  1. In a hurried day, even the best teachers (and parents) can forget to look at a teenager as a person first. Thank you to the teachers and staff who care about their students as real people first, before anything else.

  2. Jeez, I hope you aren't talking about me ;-)

    I remember a quote my mom had above her desk when I was growing up; it said something about respecting the human being inside the child. I think I try to respect where students are, and I set boundaries and limits because I don't want to be permissive. Students want consistent boundaries because they want to know that we respect their safety and well-being.

    I know how hard it is to be engaged in 120 young lives. I know that many many teachers have thrown in the towel and are just doing their job's minimum. But I have been thinking much about what it might take to close the achievement gap and I think it starts with relational teaching, mentoring and general listening. Kids will always take advantage of the systems they are presented with, and I know there will always be one kid every year who tells me to F off. But I also know that isn't about me, it is a sign that this kid needs a listener.

    Thanks for posting this. I hope that a)teachers are compensated for the "above and beyond" of the job, and that b) more teachers buy in to the idea that we can be PROactive and make a bigger impact than constantly REacting to problems.