Updated: Mar 18, 2020
As schools shut down across the state and nation---some indefinitely---everyone will need to accept that the way we educate and the way we serve students is about to be very different. And while the method of delivering instruction from now until the end of the year has the potential to be somewhat "distant," one thing has not changed: education is still most definitely a people profession.
To that end, as these unprecedented, abnormal events we're facing play themselves out, we must embrace the humanity of our profession and our communities.
In many ways, you can see this already unfolding. Districts have replaced STAAR preparations with protocols for delivering meals to students. 2020-2021 calendar approvals have been ousted by the development of device distribution plans. Professional development for August has been shelved, exchanged for a vast array of online learning preparations.
These actions are good. They're a real-time visual of what educators do on a daily basis: we adapt, we serve, and we do what we must to take care of our students.
However, during all of these transitions, it is imperative that we take time to slow down and recognize the potential list of basic needs that suddenly are no longer being met due to the closing of schools.
Most educators are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but for those who may not be, Abraham Maslow's 1943 essay A Theory of Human Motivation is worth a read. (I won't lie, though. It's fairly academic in its writing style, and therefore, it may not be for everyone.)
Maslow's hierarchy is typically depicted as a pyramid similar to the following:
In emergency situations, people can often get caught up in ensuring the physiological needs are being met. And rightfully so. We have to do what we can to meet these needs first. But it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking, "Our kids need to eat, so let's get that sorted and then we can learn." Get the buses rolling, sandwiches passed out, teachers trained on online learning, and then we'll be good to go. Right?
There are a huge number of intangibles that physically attending school provides for both students and teachers, and in the same way that acknowledging students' physiological needs must be met, we must progress through the remainder of Maslow's hierarchy if we are to ever truly help students learn and teachers teach in a world shuttered by COVID-19.
There are a number of things we could discuss on this topic; however, I think reflecting on two quotes from Maslow's original essay will get us at least halfway up the hierarchy in the coming days, weeks, and/or months.
1) People prefer a safe, orderly, predictable, organized world.
In discussing safety needs, Maslow stated the following:
"...we may generalize and say that the average child in our society generally prefers a safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he can count on and in which unexpected, unmanageable, or other dangerous things do not happen."
Especially at this point in the year, it is quite easy to think that students are simply excited about having an extra week (or two...or three) tacked on to their spring break. And while there is certainly some truth to that idea, our current situation has no doubt created a great amount of fear about where we might be as a society in the coming months.
What you see happening all around the world right now is not normal. Schools are closed indefinitely. Markets are crashing. Hospitals in Europe are implementing war-time triage protocols.
Even though our younger students are (hopefully) being sheltered from all of these things, our older students and our teachers are not. Our students' parents and grandparents are not.
The safe, predictable life of getting up, going to school, seeing teachers, learning some things, playing on the playground, telling jokes with friends...all gone, almost overnight.
We cannot move from having school as usual two weeks ago to shutting down society as we know it without having some serious dents placed in how safe we truly feel. In the coming weeks, school districts across the nation (and across the world, for that matter) must recognize that delivering a couple meals and moving lessons online will do nothing to address the safety needs of our students and teachers. If anything, these changes are unexpected and, more than likely, nowhere near as organized as what students have experienced in their physical classrooms all year.
Don't get me wrong. Providing meals is a necessary action. Preparing teachers to move instruction online: also necessary.
But in the process of getting these things started, we must take time to ask some questions:
- What can we do to help our students feel safe in these very unpredictable and uncertain times?
- What are we doing to help our teachers feel safe, organized, and prepared for the new instructional tasks that await them in the near future?
I think time spent just checking on students, calling them to make sure they're okay and that they have what they need could go a long way to fulfilling students' safety needs. I think not expecting the moon and stars from our teachers as they navigate various self-distancing practices could give them time to wrap their minds around what could be an extended new normal.
2) People want to belong. People need a place to belong.
In discussing love and belonging, Maslow states:
"If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge the love and affection and belongingness needs...Now the person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends...He will hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group."
Often, I think we neglect to recognize what awesome places schools are when it comes to developing communities. Students are routinely engaged in clubs and other organizations. They play various sports, perform in band, run after one another on the playground, and awkwardly ask each other to dances.
And teachers are no different. They attend and engage in professional learning communities, sponsor clubs, and coach sports.
In large part, everyone---young and old---"belongs" somewhere at school.
But with our current situation, suddenly we find ourselves no longer belonging, at least not in the sense that we did ten days ago. Students are estranged from their friends and teachers from their co-workers.
Again, it could be very simple to jump past this need to belong in the name of "not missing any instruction." Building a community takes time, but with all that has happened, it has never been more important to confirm that every student and every teacher still feels connected to a learning community.
The next few weeks will be interesting, that's for sure. But we must make certain that we don't ignore the humanity of the educational profession.
Stay safe out there.