Maslow’s Before Bloom’s: Relationships over reporting outcomes as students return to the classroom

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During the month of April Australian education researchers, Pivot Professional Learning, conducted a survey of over 3500 teachers across Australia and New Zealand in partnership with Education Perfect. The aim of the survey was to gather valuable insights into how teachers and other educators were dealing with the new realities and unprecedented changes that had been brought about as a result of COVID-19 and the need for distance teaching and learning.

One of my key takeaways from reading the white paper (produced with the results from the survey) was that the majority of the teachers surveyed were concerned for their students’ emotional well-being more than their educational progress. As schools are beginning to explore the best possible solutions for students returning to the classroom after an extended period of remote learning, it is important to consider how this time is going to have impacted on the students as well as the teachers and consider strategies that can be put in place for a smooth return for all.

In particular, one key point made was that schools should be focusing on ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs over Bloom’s taxonomy’ while students are learning from home. Maslow’s hierarchy is a theory of motivation that suggests people are motivated to fulfill their basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced, needs. This hierarchy is usually depicted as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the base and the most complex needs at the top.

I have no doubt that teachers understand that the basic needs must be met before students are able to progress and perform at their true potential. During this time of remote learning, it has been difficult for educators to ensure this as they are often communicating with students on a less regular basis than when they are in school. Teachers are only able to see how students are coping at the surface level. When we factor in students who do not have access to digital devices, that ability for communication is decreased even further.

As students begin to return to school, we can help make the transition back into the classroom smoother by ensuring that educators first focus on meeting the physiological and safety needs, and re-establishing that feeling of belonging and connection. Providing the students with a safe environment, opportunities to move but to also rest and the chance to communicate with their peers in real time can be simple steps that schools can take to help.

Developing relationships within the community is going to be an essential part of a successful return to school for everyone involved. It is going to feel like the first day of the school year once schools reopen completely and all staff and students are on site together. It will be important that time is taken to allow for the ‘beginning of the year’ nerves and feelings of anxiety to dissipate again. In January, I wrote an article about ‘Back to School Anxiety’ with some tips on how to deal with those sweaty palms and the tightness in your chest that you feel.

The importance of relationships and developing rapport with your students is explored in one of the books that changed the way I taught my classes, ‘Teach Like a Pirate’ by Dave Burgess. It may sound like an odd title for a book, but bear with me. The ‘Pirate’ in the title is actually an acronym for the six elements that Burgess believes that teachers should incorporate into their teaching. The P is for passion, I for immersion, the R is for rapport, while the ATE are for ask and analyse, transformation and enthusiasm.

Within the chapter on rapport, Burgess puts it simply that you should not be trying to get your students to engage in subject matter content until you have developed a rapport with them. Getting to know your students, what makes them ‘tick’ and making them feel comfortable to move beyond their comfort zone with you is going to do wonders for helping them to want to move into those higher order needs expressed by Maslow. Although you may have developed rapport and spent time getting to know your students at the beginning of the academic year, a lot has changed in the last few months and the students walking back into your classroom may not be the same students who saw off when the gates were closed.

There are a range of strategies explored in Burgess’ book, but simple ‘getting to know you’ activities can be enough to ‘break the ice’ and get the positive vibes flowing again. With my classes we did a number of different activities including a ‘Facebook profile’ where they shared some things about themselves with me, a ‘playdoh’ activity where I asked them to create something that represented themselves and then share this with the group and a collaborative problem solving activity which required the students to work together towards a common goal. These activities do not need to be onerous or take a lot of time but they need to provide your students with the opportunity to share something about themselves, while learning about their peers.

Once students have had these lower order needs met and begin to feel safe and welcomed back into the school environment, they will be able to move on to activating their higher-order needs. Students will want to be able to feel a sense of success and to have their achievements recognised by others. In order to help students at this time, educators are encouraged to have students share their successes and experiences of their remote learning experiences. What goals were they able to achieve while they were away from the classroom? What goals do they have for themselves now they are back? How can their teacher and peers help them to achieve these goals?

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