The Work of Abraham Maslow
Psychologist Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of needs that he argued provides a model for understanding the need for human relations in the classroom. Needs lower on the pyramid, such as physical and safety needs, must be met before an individual will consider higher-level needs.
This hierarchy explains important components of behavior, including school behavior. Teachers often assume that the physical security and safety needs of their students are ensured, but in many schools, they are not. Increasing numbers of homes and schools are unable to provide simple safety. When physical security and safety, including sleep, are challenged, students will use most of their time, energy, and creativity simply trying to survive. This struggle interferes with learning.
Belonging needs are often strong in school. Children need to know they are a welcome part of the class. The teacher cannot allow derogatory name-calling and other forms of bullying and exclusion to dominate the classroom. These peer group relations substantially influence school success. It is difficult to learn in hostile, conflict-filled classrooms and schools. Classroom planning and curriculum decisions, such as the decisions to teach cooperative learning (see Chapter 10) and peer group mediation (discussed later in this chapter), can help to convert the classroom environment to one of support and belonging.
Maslow did not consider this hierarchy a rigid one. Students will partially fulfill some needs and thus become prepared to consider higher-level needs. The highest level, self-actualization, is a theoretical position Maslow described as a goal, usually for adults. Self-actualization is, at most, a goal advocated by practitioners of Gestalt therapy—anthropologists would not necessarily recognize it as a cross-cultural, universal human experience (Pastor, McCormick, & Fine, 1996).
Teachers can help students learn to meet their own safety and friendship needs and to recognize their own self-worth by building a positive classroom environment. These basic needs must be met before education can take place in school.
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