Collaborating with Maslow

--Originally published at Baker's B.Y.O.D.-- Bring Your Own Device, Dog, & Deconstruction of Literature

When I was in teacher prep classes 20 years ago, I remember being frustrated with the focus on philosophy and educational psychology without understanding the practical applications. I remember thinking, "This is great Skinner and Maslow, but HOW do I implement this in the classroom? HOW do I teach a novel? HOW do I teach grammar? HOW DO I TEACH?" Now, 20 years later, I understand the foundation educational psychology serves for instructional practices.
When a student acts out in class, I return to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and ask: what is this student lacking? What does the acting-out student need?  Educators cannot expect students to to put aside their basic needs for the sake of today's worksheet or test. Poor performing students do not have the capacity to set aside their basic needs so that they can focus on higher-order thinking tasks. And those same students may also lack the capacity to advocate for themselves and state what they need. While the teacher in me may initially want to reprimand the acting-out student and unnecessarily escalate the situation, the mom in me recognizes the opportunity to diffuse it with a question to the student: "Are you cranky because you are hungry?" There's granola bars in my desk drawer for that reason.

As I integrate technology in my classroom, I again return to Maslow. Akin to a checklist, my adaptation of Maslow's hierarchy looks at it with a digital lens. Without meeting the physical needs of hardware, wifi, and battery, educators cannot integrate technology. Without addressing the safety needs of digital citizenship, filters, and firewalls, educators and students cannot safely interact in a digital realm.  But where educators primarily need to focus their energy in effectively integrating technology is using technology so that the needs of belonging and esteem are met. Students need to feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, and they need to feel good about the learning that is happening in that space. Educators can leverage the power of learning management systems such as Edmodo and Google Classroom to create online learning communities, and use badges, comments, and awards to positively reinforce, a la Skinner, the interactions that occur in the learning community (badging will be another blog post coming "soon"). All of this is so that students will become self-actualized, intrinsically motivated learners who realize the strength and aptitude of their talents.


This will sound repetitive (which it is), but Maslow's Hierarchy is also foundational for collaboration. What do people need in order to be proficient and effective collaborators? Look to Maslow for the answer:

This is a no-brainer. In order for effective and efficient collaboration to occur, first, physical needs of people, equipment, and resources need to be met. Then training, certification, and group norms will aid creating a safe and prepared space for collaboration. So that individuals feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, leaders need to allow for team building activities and mentorship. And throughout this how process, feedback, affirmations, and accolades will build the esteem of the group. Google's study on the effectiveness of teams revealed that the single most important factor in determining team success was trust. In order for team members to trust one another, their needs, as identified above, must be met.

I posit that we take Maslow for another spin (he is probably rolling in his grave right now) and examine how the meeting of needs can also expand our sphere of influence by pairing the Hierarchy of Needs/Collaboration with a hierarchy of choice and decision making.

As a person's needs are met and they move up the hierarchy to expand their focus from self to group, the person is also increasing their sphere of influence. Whereas basic, physical needs were initially decided and completed by others, as people and teams move up the hierarchy they can begin to shift from a position of passive consumer to active decision maker for not just themselves, but also the greater group.

If you would like to learn more and take inventory of your own needs and the needs of your organization for collaboration, take a stroll through the slides below.


  • Your theme interested me. Thanks. I’m glad I stuck with it until the end. I was reading through the blogpost thinking, “Yes, those ideas are similar to my own”, then I came to the collaboration portion of your article. I enjoy being pleasantly surprised. Your tweak, including the collaborative rationale is great food for thought. It sounded natural and interesting.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your ideas and philosophy on this important subject.

    • Hi Sheryl, I appreciate you taking the time to reply to this post! Thank YOU for reading and recognizing the value of the work.

  • I love your twist to Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, with reference to the integration of collaboration. This will help a lot of organizations. Great job girly.

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