Students Have to Maslow Before They Can Bloom

Dec 14, 2020

Once schools across the globe decided to implement various plans of distance and/or online learning, the flurry began. Every educational technology platform known to man was being tapped to provide instruction for the students we care so much about. I jumped on the bandwagon, too, providing guidance as an instructional coach on ways to maximize Schoology, Nearpod, Quizlet, Socrative, you name it. School is normalcy, and normalcy is what we need. But, as our online learning adventure began, it became apparent that in our urgency to recognize the normalcy we thought online learning would bring, we were forgetting what our students needed most.

In his July 30 Twitter post, Dwayne Reed (@TeachMrReed) said, “We must Maslow before they can Bloom.” Educators, we know this, but in this uncharted territory of online learning en masse, it seems this basic educational tenant has been secondary in many cases. Rather than first making sure that our students’ basic needs of food, water, and shelter are intact, that they are safe and have access to what their families need, that teachers have the opportunity to connect with students and are able to provide them the opportunity to reconnect with their school families, the push has been to get students laptops and packets. Without really reconnecting with their teachers and classmates, students may struggle to regain that confidence and esteem they found in their encouraging classroom environments which helps them want to be great learners. Staring at a screen is not helping meet the basic needs Maslow discussed. Without meeting these needs, education is ineffective and Bloom’s Taxonomy becomes irrelevant.
Almost overnight, many students went from a normal school day with teachers, friends, hallway chatter, and lunchroom fun to sitting at a computer alone for hours, sometimes six to seven hours. Often, students have to babysit, cook, do laundry, or a host of other things because the normal household dynamic has changed. How are students supposed to give 100% to their schoolwork when everything around them has changed? Here are some things to consider to keep Maslow in the forefront which will allow students to Bloom :
  1. Connect with your students and families to find out if their basic needs are being met. Provide contact information for resources they may need, and be sure to include school counselors to check in with students who may need support. Phone calls, emails, socially-distant drive ups, good old-fashioned snail mail, video conferencing...whatever works best for the students you serve.  Create a system to make those connections a regular occurence, not just a dumping of educational technology how-tos and phone numbers of resources.
  2. Talk to your teachers. Often, they have built trusting relationships with students and may be keenly aware of areas of need. As well, be sure to check that the basic needs of teachers are being met. It was shared with me that a principal in the midwest does a weekly staff meeting, weekly teacher meeting, then a 10 minute teacher check in. She literally schedules her entire staff to check in on them, not for the schooling, but for the well being of her staff. Furloughed spouses, financial strains and other things may be affecting them while they are making sure they are providing quality instruction while learning new educational technology platforms.
  3. Make effective use of Advisory Groups or other structures your schools have in place for character development. This is usually a place where students have built close, safe relationships and feel comfortable expressing themselves. For example, try asking students to write a letter to Covid-19 as an outlet for their emotions. As part of Advisory, my school assigned this. Some of the responses we received were powerful and enlightening.
  4. Online learning does not mean that students must be tied to their computers for hours. I repeat, online learning does not mean that students must be tied to their computers for hours. One more time for the people in the back, online learning does not mean that students must be tied to their computers for hours. Study after study shows that this is not an effective way to conduct virtual school. In fact, a recent NPR article, “The Biggest Distance Learning Experiment in History: Week One,”  discussed some of these challenges. Encourage teachers to include off-screen activities and if possible, limit the screentime to office hours on certain days or scheduled mini workshops. Seat hours can be tracked in several ways other than eyes glazing over while looking at each other on a screen.

Especially in an online learning environment, students have to be cared for in order for them to learn most effectively. Pouring into a broken vessel is futile. We have to make sure the vessel is sound. When students are fed, safe, connected, feel good about themselves, and know they can learn effectively, the majority of the battle has been won. Students have to Maslow before they can Bloom.

Dara Laws Savage is an English teacher and Instructional Coach at the Early College High School at Delaware State University. She has been a PBL teacher, coach, and trainer while teaching integrated multi-disciplinary courses as well as stand-alone courses. Under the umbrella of Savage Enterprises, she provides educational professional development on a variety of topics.  

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