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A few weeks into distance learning a letter began floating around social media signed from, “All the teachers on planet Earth.” The intent of the letter was to cheer parents on and root for them from afar as they continue to juggle yet another hat. Parents, we see you adding that additional hat as a teacher while doing your darnedest to find ways to build memories with your children during these uncertain times. We see you! We thank you! We cheer you on!

There was one particular message within the text, however, that broke my heart and caused me to reread it over and over. It states, “What I [a teacher] can’t fix is social-emotional trauma that prevents the brain from learning.”  What the line is referring to is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pillar in educational psychology.  Here it is in simple form from an article by Saul Mcleod in Simply Psychology in March of this year.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid as seen below.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

1. Physiological needs – these are biological requirements for human survival, (e.g. air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, sleep).

If these needs are not satisfied the human body cannot function optimally. Maslow considered physiological needs the most important as all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

2. Safety needs – Once an individual’s physiological needs are satisfied, the needs for security and safety become salient. People want to experience order, predictability and control in their lives. These needs can be fulfilled by the family and society (e.g. police, schools, business and medical care).

In the exhausting race to keep up with standards and testing for “essential content,” our education system often sets aside the social-emotional needs.  This dilemma was a catalyst in wanting to offer a form of education at Bethel that focuses on the whole student, not just their ranking within comparison testing.  Following physiological needs, safety needs are next on the hierarchy. We cannot, nor should we ever, ignore or skip over a student’s social-emotional and/or mental health needs and dive into learning. How much learning even happens when we ignore the first two foundational needs mentioned in Maslow’s Hierarchy?

Within this season of extreme change and re-evaluation of current systems, there is an opportunity at hand. We can form a “new normal” where we see as much value in coping skills and mental health as we do arithmetic.  The author is right. We cannot “fix” trauma. Trials and hardships will come, but we can help students to cope with them and learn how to persevere and find peace no matter what the circumstances.

Article written by Amy Zwiep and Nicole Zimmerman. Please check out our free, six week long, Survival Exploration here: https://bce.school/distance-learning/