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Hierarchy of needs

Identify which needs must be met in each child and work on those

Richard Hayward

A daily challenge for teachers is to keep learners interested during their lessons. There’ll be the child who bounces into your classroom eager to learn but there’ll also be the one who might see your lesson as a tiresome trial. The latter child finds it hard to concentrate and her mind seems to wander far away from your words of wisdom. You might even have the luck” to find a child having a gentle snooze while you’re teaching!

Keeping a child motivated throughout a lesson can be really tough. It’s also very hard for the child to stay motivated when certain needs have not been met: for example, the child who sleeps during a lesson might be sleep-deprived. The youngster might come from an overcrowded, poor home where there’s no proper place to sleep uninterrupted through the night.

If we wish to keep children motivated, we first have to meet their needs. In your training to be a teacher, you might have had a lecture on Abraham Maslow’s famous, “Hierarchy of Needs” theory. The theory states that we all have a set of needs and each set is at a different level. Once the more basic needs have been met, we are able to move up to a higher level. So, our snoozing student could be at the physiological level — the most basic level — where she’s in desperate need of sleep.

Maslow’s theory has been put in a pyramid format, thus:

Abraham Maslow: Hierarchy of Needs theory

Think of the millions of South African children whose only healthy, wholesome meal of the day is the free food given out at school. Then there are the children who don’t have proper clothes. During the winter months these children can get very cold in classrooms without heaters. Congratulations are due to those schools that have clothing and feeding schemes in place to care for such children.

At the second basic needs level, a child needs to feel safe and secure. How can a child concentrate in class when she knows that at playtime there are bullies prowling the grounds? If the child fears physical and verbal abuse from caregivers, parents and even teachers, how can she concentrate and be motivated during lessons? Teachers need to be vigilant to detect any form of physical and verbal bullying, and the school gates need to be locked and guarded throughout the day.

When a child is happy and surrounded by friends and caring teachers, much has been done to meet her social needs. This is Maslow’s third need level. In a well-managed classroom, teaching and learning take place. The challenge is for teachers to create a happy environment where values such as consideration, friendliness, good manners and respect are actually lived out, every day.

Whether we’re a child or an adult, we all need esteem or self-worth. When it happens, the fourth level need is being met. Maslow described the lower level of esteem as the respect of others. Here we are describing the appreciation, recognition and status that others give to us.  When the teacher praises the child and her peers elect her as a sports team captain, this type of need is being met.  The higher level of esteem is respect of oneself. This occurs when the child has inner confidence, independence and freedom. In the classroom and in extramural activities, the child is given those opportunities to prove her capabilities. The child is able to affirm to herself her own worth, quite distinctly from what others might think.

The highest level is the fulfilment of self-actualisation needs. At this point, the child has reached full potential. It’s as if a child is doing the very best of what she is capable of doing, not to please others, but rather because it is what she would most like to do. Teachers must give children every opportunity to be their best in their favourite activity.

As we strive to motivate the children, be mindful of the different levels of their specific needs. Identify the need level and as far as you’re able to, meet that need. Once needs have been met, it’s easier to motivate the child. A motivated child makes for an achiever and winner. As you successfully motivate every child in your classroom, you become an awesomely achieving and wonderfully winning teacher too.

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