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Maslow’s Needs and the New Normal

October 11th 2020| Heather Miller

Maslow’s Needs and the New Normal

Bam! And September was done!

And just like that, September was gone! Oh, but what a September it has been! Not like any other September in the history of Septembers ay?!

Now we are mostly back into our old routine, getting our heads around new ones, and getting to know our new classes (or pods, or bubbles, or some other new term to refer to our new self-contained worlds), I feel it is time to step back a tad and reflect. Sometimes teaching is so hectic that stopping for reflection just gets pushed to the bottom of that massive to-do list.

My current reflection was prompted by a post on a well know social media platform. In all honestly, I cannot remember where, who it was by, or even what it said exactly. I was probably sitting scrolling through in a free moment where I wanted to think about something other that teaching…

The three main things

Anyways, about this post… What I do remember is that it was discussing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how that is currently effected by the situation we are in with Covid 19 (do I get points for getting this far into a blog post before actually saying the dreaded ‘Covid’ word!). Now at this point at the mention of ‘Maslow and his glorious Hierarchy of Needs, you have probably either done one of 3 main things;

Option 1– Gone ‘Ahhh’ out loud and nodded in recognition, because you knew straight away what it was all about because you are newly qualified or currently studying so it is super fresh in your brain.

Option 2 – Gone ‘Ahhh’ out loud and nodded in recognition because you clearly have a way better memory then me (here’s a clue, I’m Option 3)…

Option 3 – Gone ‘Errrr’ out loud, squinted and tried really hard to remember, because you are pretty sure there was a lot of discussion on this during your PGCE/BA Ed however many years ago, and you remember that it was probably something pretty important and had something to do with pyramids, and, well ‘Needs’ (clues in the name…).  

Now that I have managed to drag my brain away from other things, I really wanted to look into this again in a reflective way. So off to the internet I go, to refresh my knowledge on Maslow. Google brings me to ‘www.simplypsychology.org’… Sounds good, hopefully it will be simple enough as I have things to laminate…

Pause to read…

Oh goodness, not that simple, maybe another coffee first…

Okay, no more delaying, you are a teacher for goodness sake, you can totally get your head around this….

‘Simple Psychology’ – you’re kidding me right…. Is there a ‘For Dummies’ version available?


Cue time-passing montage, where I sit in a darkened room, face lit up only by my laptop screen, occasionally falling asleep on the keys, coffee cups piling up around me… Montage ends…

It actually exists!

Got it!

Right, I got it. So briefly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is about motivational theory. Basically, the more basic needs must be met before we can see to the higher ones. See beautifully simple diagram below that we all recognize vaguely from out teacher training days.

Looks familiar now right?!

As educators we know that individuals must have the basic needs met first, before we attempt to engage them with learning. A personal example of this is how if I haven’t had my sleep, cake and coffee needs met, then I cannot discuss challenging stuff like Educational Theory

For the majority of teachers and educators, most of our pupil’s more basic needs (termed physiological needs) such as air, water, food, shelter, sleep and clothing are met at home. However, for many of us working in education, we have experienced the difficulty of teaching children when those lower needs are not met, and can see how these form the base of the hierarchical pyramid. Without the basics, the needs further up become more challenging to achieve.

And in this ‘New Normal’ world we attempt to teach in, Covid has created more challenges through each of these levels:

Within ‘Safety’, we find children who are highly aware of the lack of certainty surrounding their own health and he health of their families and friends. Children who may be scared to say the feel unwell, due to fear of family then having to self-isolate, in turn risking their employment or financial security.

Within ‘Love and Belonging’, children now face isolation and distancing from family and friends who they previously relied on. Friendships may have become more difficult to maintain as mixing is limited to household groups. Also, without any physical contact between individuals, some children may struggle to express their care and connection to others.

Finally, within the ‘Esteem’ category, children have lost some degree of their freedom in schools and in their lives at home.

And these are only a few examples, I am sure everyone reading could add tonnes more…

Looking at the current day

Now if we are looking at the current situation alongside Maslow’s Hierarchy, we see how we must take a step back, and reflect, and then reflect some more. Our roles as educators are now more challenging then ever, and so are the lives of the children we teach.

I am saddened sometimes that children are having to experience this; the new reception children of 2020 will not have the same experience as those before. The Year 1’s who only got 7 months of their Reception year. The current Year 7’s who missed out on leavers disco’s and trips and performances that really do provide memories for years to come. And the exams… Well let’s not even get started on that…

But we need to go back to basics here… We can’t stop children from having these fears and challenges and difficulties in this weird Covid world we now inhabit, but we can do our upmost to provide wherever we can, and in whatever way we can, these basics needs. We need to fill the voids that Covid has left.

Poor foundations can lead to wonky houses… And children…

So, let’s use every way we can think of to make sure our children know they belong. Let’s take time  out of ‘catching up’ to discuss children’s fears and concerns. Let’s make our classrooms spaces of belonging and friendships. I know we do this anyway, but now it is needed more than ever. We cannot build on unsteady foundations!

A final note

Now on a brief final note, whilst you’re here- have you thought about your own pyramid recently? Maybe you should pop the kettle on and have some self-reflection time… With some biscuits of course. Take care you amazing bunch of educators, doing all that you can in this ‘New Normal’!

View all posts by: Heather Miller
Categories: Classroom Environment
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