Applying Maslow’s Hierarchy with New Zealand Teens
In this thoughtful article in Middle Ground, New Zealand intermediate-school educators John McAleese, Joy Hannah, and Doug McLean and University of Hawaii/Manoa professor Paul Deering describe how three New Zealand schools systematically provide for their young adolescents’ hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, esteem and achievement, and self-actualization. “Tired kids are justifiably unhappy and will not – cannot – pay attention to what you are saying,” say the authors. “Scared kids have only safety on their minds. Kids without friends or a group are preoccupied with a gnawing in their gut. Kids who don’t have opportunities to take on exciting, realistic challenges in a supportive environment just won’t try anything. And without a sense of a bigger purpose, we are all doomed to lethargy, substance abuse, and worse.”
• Physiological needs – “Young adolescents are fascinated with and horrified by their bodies,” say the authors. The three schools make a point of providing a wide range of intramural and intermural sports, outdoor education, and physical education options and keep students active in class. They serve low-fat, low-sugar meals in their cafeterias, make sure students carry water bottles so they’re properly hydrated, emphasize protection from the sun, and promote a realistic sense of body image.
• Safety and security needs – Young teens have particular challenges in this area, say Deering, McAleese, Hannah, and McLean, “thanks to their uncoordinated bodies and under-construction brains.” Each school has “graduated levels of intervention, support, and reasonable consequences for inappropriate behavior, with an emphasis on helping the students analyze their actions and learn to make better choices more often.” The schools cluster students in teams of under 100 students, and homeroom and advisory teachers focus on dealing with peer pressure, conflict, rumors, and media manipulation. And after-school programs keep students busy with sports and other activities in the afternoon hours.
• Love and belonging needs – The schools operate on the assumption (backed up by research) that the most important influences on young adolescents are their parents, not pop stars and athletes. The schools help families with parenting, affirm affiliations with cultural and ethnic groups, and learn about the language and culture of New Zealand’s diverse indigenous groups. The schools require students to wear uniforms to cut down on peer pressure on clothing styles and organize peer tutoring and projects to build students’ social skills. The schools also provide sex education: “With adolescents’ hormones saying Yes, and their brains saying What?, it is essential to help them learn about healthy sexuality,” say the authors.
• Esteem and achievement needs – The schools eschew “ability groups” based on tests and other fallible measures and try to develop all eight Gardner intelligences and link school to students’ interests through active, student-directed learning and student-led report card conferences. All three schools work on getting students to develop a realistic, solid sense of self-esteem, set goals, and constantly self-assess.
• Transcendence needs: self-actualization, aesthetics, being known and understood – “So what?” is a frequent challenge from adolescents, reflecting both skepticism and a drive to find meaning and purpose. The schools explicitly teach compassion and involve students in projects that connect them to something bigger than themselves – helping the economically disadvantaged, saving the whales, turning an empty lot into a park, creating works of art, exploring their spiritual dimension, and making connections to their own and other cultures. “Experiences like these,” conclude Deering, McAleese, Hannah, Doug McLean, “become a ‘positive addiction’ – Maslow’s Self-Actualization.”
“Teaching the Whole Student: Maslow Means Middle School” by Paul Deering, John McAleese, Joy Hannah, and Doug McLean in Middle Ground, February 2013 (Vol. 16, #3, p. 11-13), www.amle.org