School support services can impact a student’s daily life and enable learning. For a student to access learning and realize their potential, important basic needs must be met. If well-designed, a school’s infrastructure including its curb appeal, classroom design, building safety, dining programs, grounds and facility maintenance all work together to serve students. Schools with a strong infrastructure provide the foundation to meet not only a student’s basic needs but also that student’s innate self-actualization needs – the ultimate motivator to owning their personal learning and achievement.
Taking it back to basics – one of the best-known theories of motivation, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, continues to ring true today. For many students to demonstrate the willingness to learn, basic needs such as food, safety, sense of belonging and the development of self-esteem must be met.
For a moment, let’s imagine the start of a school day for a student named “John” who has minimal support at home. Mom, Dad or caretaker works long hours with limited time to provide John with nutritious food. Most mornings, John hurries off to school with a rumbling tummy. Upon arrival, John is greeted with a welcoming smile from the Principal at the front door, followed by a healthy breakfast from a grab and go cart in the hallway. His basic need for healthy food has now been fulfilled. His day is looking brighter.
As John makes his way to class, he greets some of his classmates as they pass through vibrant hallways filled with student art and motivational messages. John takes one last break before the bell rings in a clean bathroom before making his way to a safe, comfortable classroom. His needs for safety, belonging and comfort while at school have been addressed; he is ready to learn.
Positive experiences like John’s can help a student progress from meeting his basic physiological needs (the base of Maslow’s pyramid) to achieving self-esteem and self-actualization goals, driving creative thinking, collaboration and problem solving (the top of the pyramid). These are key success factors for academic achievement.
Referencing Maslow’s theory provides a framework for designing an effective school infrastructure that can help students learn to their fullest personal and academic potential. It encourages evaluation of existing school services and programs. Does the current school infrastructure allow educators and school leaders to focus on helping students achieve a point of actualization without added concern as to whether the student’s basic needs have been met?
Let’s explore how a person’s basic and psychological needs are translated through the eyes of a student.
Need #1: Biological and physiological needs include quality air to breath, meals before, during and after school to nourish growing minds and active bodies, access to clean water and a clean, comfortable classroom with proper ambient lighting and temperature to promote concentration. When these basic needs go unmet, students struggle to meet their full potential. For example, asthma is recognized as a barrier to student achievement. To prevent exacerbation of asthma symptoms, students need clean air to breath. Unfortunately, today at least 50% of public school buildings have reported Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues.
Need #2: Safety needs include the protection offered to students – whether real, perceived or understood – ensuring they feel freedom from fear, a sense of calm, order and protection from harmful elements. The need to feel safe is an imperative in our current educational landscape. In fact, over the past 16 years, the percentage of public schools reporting use of security cameras has increased by 60%.
Need #3: Love and belongingness needs refer to the quality of friendships and feelings of trust and acceptance with not only peers, but also teachers or other adults within the school environment. For example, do students suffer from bullying and/or feel they are in an environment where diversity and inclusion are evident in the culture of the school? When students like John feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to engage in the curriculum, achieve academically and develop positive relationships.
Need #4: Esteem needs refer to a student’s feelings of achievement or mastery learning of skills and their desire to be seen favorably by their peers. For students to feel capable and successful, the school must create an environment that lends itself to this type of mastery. Often athletic or highly academic students receive recognition, but what other opportunities exist for students to demonstrate personal expertise? Maybe they enjoy cooking or leading sustainability activities. Are there other ways to elevate the awareness of the student’s skill mastery? Maybe a culinary competition.
Need #5 Self-actualization needs are centered around a student realizing their own strength and personal potential, even displaying higher levels of confidence and self-awareness. How does a school’s infrastructure contribute to these areas of student self-actualization? One way is by providing learning and social spaces inside and outside the classroom to facilitate collaboration among students while also offering opportunities for independent work.
Listen to some of our administrators talk about how a school’s overall infrastructure can help meet the physical and physiological needs of students, supporting their quality of life and contributing to their achievement.