Why You Need To Climb Maslow’s Ladder For Their Bloom’s: PART 1 – Episode 049

Maslow’s Before Bloom’s! 

If you have taken even one step into the world of education, you have come across this phrase at least once. It is the quintessential phrase that is posted and talked about whenever educators wish to refer to the more humanistic facets of education. Educators love to use this phrase when talking about the tough kids or when talking about how the unmet needs of a certain section of your students population (if not all of your student population) interferes with the learning that your students all should be capable of achieving. But do we really understand Maslow’s true intentions? Did Maslow’s really intend for his hierarchy to be represented as a triangle, and does that triangle really help explain what Maslow wanted for us all?  Let’s dive into this pinnacle of educational thought and unpack what it really means to Maslow Before Bloom’s 

The idea behind the phrase Maslow Before Bloom’s comes from the Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow was a humanist, in that his work and he believed in the potential of humans and that all humans strive to reach their their potential. This perspective was key in his development of his Hierarchy of Needs, which states that there are several “basic” needs that all humans must meet in order to achieve the next highest level. The most prolific image of this has been the triangle showcasing the most basic needs (food, water, sleep, sex, homeostasis, and excretion, essentially physiological needs) and as you go up the triangle and fulfill these needs, the needs become more uniquely human (safety, love/belonging, esteem) until you reach the peak of self-actualization;  as achieving the fullest use of one’s talents and interests.  Being your best self, expressing your fullest potential.

While steeped in humanistic potential, in education, the triangle is more readily used to explain the “bad” behavior in kids; namely those who suffer from having their most basic needs not met.  It is almost as if the triangle is sometimes used to oppress kids who’s struggle is of no fault of their own (remember, these are kids!) It has also been used as a way to explain WHY some kids are possibly incapable of achieving higher forms of learning, since their basic needs are not being met, the triangle says they cannot ascend higher (or so the generalized idea goes).  What has recently come to light is the idea that perhaps Maslow never intended for his Hierarchy of Needs to be represented as a triangle!

In a paper published this year, it was revealed that Maslow did not represent his Hierarchy of Needs as a triangle in any of his publications. In fact, someone else adapted his HON into a triangle, which Maslow went along with and did not dispute (there are a number of theories as to why).  So what’s wrong with the triangle concept?

The triangle gives the false impression that in order to reach a higher need, one must have their basic needs met, which is not the case.  How many teenagers (yourself in your teenage years included) could skip a meal or go without sleep if it meant spending time with a love interest? The rigidity of the triangle makes it seem like the Hierarchy is unmovable and does not account for the reality that as a human being, we all have different needs that are met at different times, and what is a need for some might not be a need for others.

How many adults feel like they cannot function without their morning cup of coffee?  This is a prime example of having a basic need met before one can go about and achieve higher levels of functioning. Then there are some people who are “morning people” and can get up and begin interacting with other humans without the need for coffee.  They have different needs which are met in different ways. I don’t need a cup of coffee to get me going (although it REALLY helps)

Another issue with the triangle representing the HON is that the triangle is static; meaning the triangle shapes gives the impression that there is no movement. We all have our good days and our bad ones. When we face or suffer through some terrible tragedy or circumstance, we sometimes prioritize other higher needs rather than our basic ones.  For example, when I am sad or depressed, I do not like to eat. In fact, eating for me during difficult periods in my life is hard because my appetite is suppressed and I do not feel hungry nor am I interested in eating. What I value in those moments are friendships, connections, people I can count on and emotional support. Those needs are much more important than the “Basic” needs that the triangle suggests. There are certain events in our lives that causes us to reach and prioritize a higher need than one that is more basic. Human beings are not static geometric shapes! We all have various needs and depending on where we are in our lives, our needs will shift, sometimes from moment to moment.

But for me personally, as an educator in the classroom, the triangle implies (if not pushes the idea or the notion) that having our basic needs is MOST important! This is where the “Maslow’s Before Bloom’s” concept comes into play.

Generally speaking, when most people use this phrase or the ideology behind it, then “Maslow’s Before Bloom’s” turns into a rally cry for our students to get their basic needs met! Which I am all for! Of course our children, our students, should have food everyday, should be provided safe learning environments and safe homes. Of course our kids should have all of this and more! No child, I believe, should skip a meal or go sleepless nights in the cold or without a home. However, there is also another implication that “Maslow’s Before Bloom’s” suggests.

It suggest that when our students come into our classrooms hungry, without sleep, or having some basic “need” unmet, then they are also incapable of learning.  It suggests that the hungry, sleepy students are unable to learn, and therefore on some level unreachable. This is a very much zoomed in perspective, which on the surface does seem to make sense. But if we were to zoom out, and apply this perspective upon large populations within the educational system, the implication is that those populations who have difficulties (whether its economic or other) having their basic physiological needs met, are therefore unable to learn, leaving behind a stigma. This is completely unfair and not true to the original purpose of Maslow’s work.

Maslow was one of the first psychologists to study the potential of humans, instead of their illnesses and pathology. He was one of the first psychologists to theorize on how humans can achieve their greatest potential, to become self-actualized. In his words:

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy. What a man can be, he must be.

This need to become who you can be he called “self-actualization”. To put in another way;

(the) desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Maslow’s HON therefore is not a triangle used to diagnose a potential illness; but rather a ladder that we are all on that helps us understand what we all need in order for each of us to become our best selves! The BEST version of ourselves. And like human beings, the HON is not static, but rather dynamic, capturing the capabilities of all of us to have our different needs met at different times. This has HUGE implications for us in education, since we interact with humans who are at their most peak levels of potential; CHILDREN!

Children are nothing BUT potential!

So I challenge you to take on this NEW approach to your classroom my going back to Maslow’s original intent and see your students not as lacking needs, but as young humans who have a wide variety of needs just like you and I.  To see them on a journey, climbing a ladder of self discovery and self actualization. A journey of understanding themselves and their role in the world and discovering their capabilities and pushing themselves to become the best they can be.

I can promise you that seeing your classroom through these lenses will change your approach to your students, which will therefore change their approach to you! Learning is all about relationships, and your students have as much of an impact on you as you do them!

We are all on a journey to discover who we are and who we can become. Let’s take that journey with out students, together.

For yourself and for them

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