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Recognizing students’ needs

(Maslow Really Knew!)     by Elaine Gallagher   When you’re in the classroom, with 30 + students, it’s hard to realize that each one of them has different needs, different learning styles, and different ways to show what they’ve learned. Educators have a tendency to treat the 30+ students as a glob of humanity, a single […]

Autor: UNOi

Fecha: 18 de agosto de 2015

Elaine Gallagher 11 ceg

(Maslow Really Knew!)    

by Elaine Gallagher  

When you’re in the classroom, with 30 + students, it’s hard to realize that each one of them has different needs, different learning styles, and different ways to show what they’ve learned. Educators have a tendency to treat the 30+ students as a glob of humanity, a single entity, reacting in similar ways to similar stimuli. Nothing could be further from reality.

While Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been around for 30 years, almost three generations of K-12 students, and while many teachers can cite all eight types of intelligences, giving examples of each, they continue to teach to the group, testing based on memorization, with multiple choice items, or worse, true/false answers, as though all students can exhibit learning in the same way.

Long before Gardner’s theory was published in 1984, Dr.?Abraham Maslow developed a clear graphic illustrating the five?hierarchical levels of human needs, from the lowest, survival-?level, physiological needs, such as air, food, and water, to the?highest human need, that of reaching one’s potential, which Maslow called “self-actualization”. The earliest and most widespread version of Maslow’s (1943, 1954) hierarchy of needs includes five motivational needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

This five-stage model can be divided into basic (or deficiency) needs (e.g. physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization).?The deficiency, or basic needs are said to motivate people when they are unmet. Also, the need to fulfill such needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied. For example, the longer a person goes without food the more hungry they will become, and the more motivated they will be to hunt for food.

One must satisfy lower level basic needs before progressing on to meet higher level growth needs. Once these needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level called self-actualization.?Every person is capable and has the desire to move up the hierarchy toward a level of self- actualization. Unfortunately, progress is often disrupted by failure to meet lower level needs. Life experiences including divorce and loss of job may cause an individual to fluctuate between levels of the hierarchy.

            The original hierarchy of needs five-stage model includes:


  1. Biological and Physiological needs: air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sleep.
  2. Safety needs: protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, freedom from fear.
  3. Social Needs: belongingness, affection and love: from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships.
  4. Esteem needs: achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others.
  5. Self-Actualization needs:? realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

The figure below shows a common version of Maslow’s hierarchy. Even though Maslow’s explanation of human needs is more than 65 years old, no one has come up with a better, clearer, or simpler explanation of human needs, so we still use Maslow’s version.

Maslows Needs hierarchy


In the hierarchy, each level is met once the one below it has been met. The basic human need, physiological, must be met, or the person will die. Once there is sufficient food, water, air, the next level to be met is safety. A safe shelter and freedom of danger permit the child to work towards the next level, love and belonging.

          It is at this third level that the schools and teachers play a very strong role in whether or not the child can ever reach the fourth level, self-esteem.

          No one is ever born with self-esteem. It develops from external, positive experiences, from praise, from a series of successes, from friendships, from positive participation in clubs and groups, and from supportive family, friends, and teachers, reinforcing love and belonging.

Once there is sufficient external esteem, the child begins to develop self-esteem. Remember what Mariia Montessori said, “ Never do for a child what he/she can do for himself. “ When we over-protect, or make decisions for the child, or are too dominating and bossy, the child interprets that to mean “ I am not capable of doing these things”, so does not easily develop self-esteem.

Once a person has met love and belonging needs, and moves on to self-esteem needs also being met, then, and only then, is the person ready to reach self-actualization. Reaching and maintaining satisfaction at one’s potential, is the highest art of being human, according to Maslow.

To support and strengthen the third level, love and belonging, the psychological road is being paved to reach the two highest levels, self-esteem and self-actualization. Teachers play an extremely important role in reaching and sustaining the love and belonging needs. Praise, providing activities to promote student success, being just, fair, and tolerant, based on the student’s specific needs and learning preferences all build trust, confidence, and help the student to feel loved and part of the group.

Maslow: Some of the characteristics of self-actualized people

Although we are all, theoretically, capable of self-actualizing, most of us will not do so, or only to a limited degree. Maslow (1970) estimated that only two percent of people will reach the state of self actualization. He was particularly interested in the characteristics of people whom he considered to have achieved their potential as persons.

By studying 18 people he considered to be self-actualized (including Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Teresa), Maslow identified 15 characteristics of a self-actualized person.

                   Characteristics of self-actualizers:

  1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;
  2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;
  3. Spontaneous in thought and action;
  4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);
  5. Unusual sense of humor;
  6. Able to look at life objectively;
  7. Highly creative;
  8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;
  9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;
  10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;
  11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;
  12. Peak experiences;
  13. Need for privacy;
  14. Democratic attitudes;
  15. Strong moral/ethical standards.


                Behavior leading to self-actualization:

(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;

(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;

(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences, instead of the voice of      tradition, authority ,or the majority;

(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;

(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;

(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;

(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

The characteristics of self-actualizers and the behaviors leading to self-actualization are shown in the list above.  Although people achieve self-actualization in their own unique way, they tend to share certain characteristics.  However, self-actualization is a matter of degree, ‘There are no    perfect human beings’ (Maslow,1970a, p. 176).

It is not necessary to display all 15 characteristics to become self-actualized, and not only self-actualized people will display them. Maslow did not equate self-actualization with perfection. Self-actualization merely involves achieving one’s potential. Thus someone can be silly, wasteful, vain and impolite, and still self-actualize. Less than two percent of the population achieve self-actualization.

Applications of Maslow’s hierarchy theory to the work of the classroom teacher are obvious. Before a student’s cognitive needs can be met they must first fulfil their basic physiological needs. For example a tired and hungry student will find it difficult to focus on learning. Students need to feel emotionally and physically safe and accepted within the classroom to progress and reach their full potential.

Maslow suggests students must be shown that they are valued and respected in the classroom and the teacher should create a supportive environment. Students with low self-esteem will not progress academically at an optimum rate until their self-esteem is strengthened.

An important thing to note is that the school can be a haven, a refuge, for some children, and they can begin the path to self-actualization. Just one, great, caring, challenging teacher in the child’s school career can make all the difference in the world.

I hope YOU will try to be that ONE great, caring, challenging teacher, to provide your students with a safe haven for learning, for sharing ideas, for critical thinking, and for developing self-confidence, which comes from varied successes, not solely academic success.



Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Maslow, A. H. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: D. Van Nostrand    Company.

Maslow, A. H. (1970a). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row