Humans, Not Robots

I’ve been wondering a lot about how Abraham Maslow might describe his hierarchy of needs in a classroom:


The general idea behind the pyramid is that human needs are layered.  When one set of needs is met, a person can focus on the next layer. For instance when a person’s physiological needs are met, then they can focus on their safety needs.  When their safety needs have been met, then they can focus on their belonging/love needs… and so on.

So what does that look like in a classroom?

Physiological Needs:

These needs seem basic.  Holding things like snacks, drinks and bathroom breaks hostage is not only kind of gross (and dehumanizing), but in terms of learning, it might also be counterproductive.  In the words of Daniel Pink “if someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance.”

Safety Needs:

In addition to large school policies and plans (fire drills, lockdown practice, progressive discipline) we have to figure out ways to make students feel safe in their day-to-day interactions with each other.  I always liked this google form approach:

Love/Belonging Needs:

How can we create a sense of belonging in a class?  How can each member see themselves as part of the in-group?

Esteem Needs:

I worry that we try a little too hard to make sure that everyone “gets a ribbon”.  Maybe we should instead focus on learning from mistakes, or (at the risk of using an overused term) teach children how to fail forward.


This feels like a natural place to start talking about the academic piece… specifically deep inquiry that’s rooted in personal connections to curriculum.

There are definite holes in Maslow’s pyramid…  not to mention that when we try too hard to generalize, people will get left out.  Having said that, it is a nice reminder that the students in front of us are people… not robots.


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