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  • Writer's pictureGreg Graber

We must Maslow before we Bloom

Educators are all taught about the importance of Bloom’s Taxonomy in our college education courses. It is often hailed as the basis for facilitating much sought-after critical thinking skills in students. Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom is credited with coming up with this concept, which is a hierarchal model used to classify educational learning objectives in to various levels of complexity. The concept, often illustrated in pyramid form, starts with the “lower levels of learning” and makes it way up to the top which are the “higher levels.” Teachers strive to get their students to the top, thus insuring the development of higher order thinking and learning, IE, “critical thinking skills.”

While I do find Bloom’s Taxonomy a sometimes important guide in reaching educational objectives, I also find it perplexing that most schools teach children math, English, history, technology, and science, but fail to educate them on how to cultivate healthy relationships with their own thoughts and emotions. A child may be able to perform higher level math, speak three languages, play the piano, and earn top grades, but if that child cannot regulate his or her emotions, he or she will not find self-fulfillment or reach full potential.

Similar to Bloom’s model, educators also study the work of Abraham Maslow. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a developmental psychological theory in which he asserts that humans move through stages in which they are more apt to increase their level of motivation once certain needs at each specific stage are met. These stages include (from bottom up): physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

My experience as a long-time school principal and a preeminent educator in the field of social and emotional learning (SEL), has led me to the conclusion that “we must Maslow before we Bloom” to fully support our students from a maturation and development perspective. Once we do this, we can strive to facilitate holistic growth in our students in the social, emotional, spiritual, and academic domains.

It is my strong contention that young students, must first be validated on an emotional level before we can expect them to learn on a high academic level. Therefore, cultivating a culture where the students know they are loved, respected, and supported is imperative. Children must have the psychological and emotional security to be risk takers. We encourage them to become self-advocates for their learning by building this strong foundation. The underlying bedrock for their confidence is the way in which we assist them through Maslow’s Hierarchy.

My approach to education is not to downplay the importance of rigorous academics. It is just the opposite. To be stellar students, they must first be safe, secure, and loved. Once this happens, they are better prepared to learn and achieve in all facets of their lives.

When I pass through a school’s hallways and look into classrooms, I like to see what I call “controlled chaos.” I want the learning to be a bit loud and messy with lots of movement. This is the best way for children to learn. There will also be times when the students will need to be silent and contemplative. Good teachers know how to make these transitions seamlessly. Children may not realize it, but on an intrinsic level, they crave structure and predictability. Talented teachers learn to instill this in their classrooms by leading from behind. This is the key component in facilitating a child-centered approach. In short, the adults model the behavior they expect from their students. When community expectations are not met, students are rendered consequences that are fair and consistent, always measured with dignity.

The final component in this approach is teacher self-care. As educators, we often take care of everyone before we think of taking care of ourselves. This is fraught for disaster. Downtime, rest, and recovery are crucial. If we are burned out mentally or run-down physically, we are of little use to our students. Think of the old airplane oxygen mask metaphor that tells us we need to put on our own mask and be able to breathe before we can help others sitting next to us. It is the same with teaching.

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