A classroom often has 25-40 students learning together and they may all be from different backgrounds and learning levels. Before expecting students to reach their true potential, teachers need to meet them at their current levels. Psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation suggested that before individuals meet their full potential, they need to satisfy a series of needs. This is popularly known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it is widely followed in educational circles. Maslow’s theory is explained in a pyramid where the most basic needs are at the bottom. He prioritises physiological needs, safety needs, social belonging, esteem and then self-actualisation. "What one can be, he must be.” That is the true meaning of attaining self-actualisation and Maslow believed that to attain it, one must not only achieve the previous needs but also master them.
Fulfilling children’s needs
Physiological needs are those required to keep the human body functioning and they are, of course, most important; breath, water, food, shelter and warmth being some of them. Students need to have their basic physiological needs satisfied to function well.
Their second most important need is safety. Safety includes personal security, financial security, health and well-being and safety needs against accidents/ illness and their adverse impacts. It is not enough that our children feel safe at home. They need to feel equally safe in school, whether dealing with a teacher or a security guard at the gate. The school needs to ensure that their students are in a safe and loving environment when they are there.
The third level of need is interpersonal and the deep need to feel a sense of belonging. This is very important for students as they need to be able to make friends and feel a sense of belonging in social groups.
Esteem is the need for students to feel valued and respected. This includes developing a high self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem tend to seek fame but in reality it does not help improve their self-esteem. On the other hand, a powerful verbal feedback from the teacher can instantly improve a child’s self-esteem.
So, to achieve self-actualisation, all the above-mentioned needs need to be fulfilled. A teacher should not assume that a student can achieve his/her full potential the moment they enter the classroom. They need to be assessed and the gaps in their needs should be filled appropriately.
To achieve physiological needs, water can be kept in the classroom for students to access when thirsty. It’s a small step which can be very beneficial. Research proves that student behaviour is better when they stay hydrated. Classrooms can also provide nutritional snacks (or schools can urge parents to send them from home) to keep students active through the day. Often, students are rushing to school and they tend to skip meals. This, in turn, affects their behaviour in the classroom. A simple granola bar can sustain their energy levels for a few hours and they can concentrate better.
If a student is sleep-deprived for some reason, he/she can be allowed a short nap to get back his/her concentration. Of course, the teacher can make sure that this is an occasional thing and not a regular habit. Sleep-deprived students tend to learn less as their concentration levels are low and they tend to disturb others in class too.
To ensure safety, schools need to strongly condemn bullying and ensure that every single case of bullying is severely penalised. The behaviour of school staff also needs to be monitored and any complaint from a student needs to be attended to and not brushed away.
To ensure a child’s social needs in the classroom, they can be seated together and made to form groups where they learn to work and play together and share their things. They need to feel that their classroom is a family and treat one another with respect.
Self-esteem of a student can be improved by providing concrete feedback. Even peer feedback is equally important. Teachers can create opportunities for students to share positive peer feedback.
These are some ways that the school/ classroom can help their students attain the self-actualisation stage, where they are performing at their fullest potential.
Another theory that works for classrooms is called the goal setting theory by John Locke. It involves the development of an action plan designed to motivate and guide a person or a group towards a goal.
One of the most effective ways to stay motivated is to set goals for your students. However, the type and quality of goals you set affect how well they will work.
The simple act of setting an effective goal gives them a better chance of realising that goal. Given below are several principles crucial to setting effective goals.
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