Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchical Needs – Alive and Well in the Classroom

26 Sep

by Chuck Brickman

We are probably all familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchical Needs; Psychological Needs, Safety Needs, Belongingness and Love Needs, Esteem Needs, Need to Know and Understand, Aesthetic Needs, and Self-Actualization Needs. And we probably all remember that, according to Maslow’s theory, needs that are in the lower hierarchy must be at least partially met before a person will try to satisfy higher-level needs. Although ultimately our goal is to aid students in self-actualizing or becoming “all that one can be,” they must first achieve the level of Need to Know and Understand.

But what does this mean for teachers and how does it impact student performance and learning in the classroom?

Schools and government agencies have long realized that if students’ basic needs are not met student performance will suffer. The advent of free breakfast and lunch programs was a direct result of such considerations. Unfortunately, these measures address only part of the first tier of Maslow’s theory; physiological needs. Addressing basic physiological needs is still a key concern in today’s classroom. Lack of proper nutrition, personal hygiene and even sleep affects many of today’s students. In lower socioeconomic areas these concerns are further accentuated. These basic needs must be met before the student can reach the next level.

Student safety needs play a critical role in achieving student success. The need for a structured and safe classroom is essential for student growth and progression. A structured classroom provides psychological safety for the student. By having knowledge of clearly defined and established processes, procedures, rules and practices you eliminate students’ fear of the unknown. By gaining knowledge of the expected dynamics of the classroom, the student gains more control of their environment simply by being aware of what is going to happen before it happens. A safe environment is not limited to physical parameters. Students must not only feel safe in the classroom physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. An environment must be provided and maintained where students feel free to take risks — such as answering a question or sharing thoughts without concern for ridicule or teasing by other students. Additionally, students must trust that the teacher will not ridicule, use sarcasm, or otherwise berate the student when answering questions or addressing issues. The student must feel a degree of safety in all aspects of the classroom and school environment before progressing to the next step in Maslow’s theory — belongingness and love needs.

Robert Slavin, in his book, Educational Psychological notes, “The most important…needs, however, may be those for love and self-esteem.” The student must feel that he/she is important as an individual — that he/she is lovable and is deserving of being loved and cared about. Oftentimes the only time that these attributes are reinforced may be by the teacher at school. Students must be made aware that teachers value them as individuals as well as the work they perform. We as teachers must take advantage of each and every opportunity to reinforce each student’s self-esteem in the manner in which we treat them in the classroom. This reinforcement of positive attributes of the student in turn aids in developing respect or a favorable impression of oneself.

Once these needs are met, the student may then move to the next level–need to know and understand. It is at this level that the student is most receptive to learning. Our challenge is to aid the student in achieving this level.

What we can do as teachers to aid students in moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy

    1. Understand that each student brings his/her own unique background to the classroom. A student’s readiness to learn is not solely dependent upon existing knowledge and skills. We must develop a relationship with the student in order to determine their current readiness level. Once determined, we must develop a strategy to address current needs as well as the needs in the next level. In many instances this may involve additional community and governmental resources, especially at the lower levels.


    1. Create a safe classroom environment. Develop rules and procedures which provide a structured environment rich in routine and shared expectations. Develop and enforce rules prohibiting sarcastic, degrading, and berating remarks and comments by students directed at other students. In my classroom I implemented a “No Hunting” rule. No student may physically or verbally hurt another. Additionally, learn to use positive reinforcement instead of negative reinforcement to correct student behaviors. Lastly, provide copious amounts of praise and reinforcement for student risk taking. Become an advocate for each of your students. Take time out to let each student know how well they are doing. This could take the form of a short handwritten note on their papers, or verbal comment. The key is to focus on the students’ positive attributes and aid the student in developing an increased level of self-esteem.


  1. Let students know that you care about them. Although many of us assume our students know this, it’s not necessarily the case. Let the students know that you want them to succeed, whether it be to pass your latest test, or class, or graduate from college and get a good job. Let them know that you appreciate the work they do on classwork, or a test, or homework. Take the time out to explain issues and concerns with them. When feasible, provide student participation in the class decision-making process. Opportunities include scheduling tests, methods for teaching material, and scheduling blocks of instruction.

Although many issues pertaining to student progress in Maslow’s Hierarchy emanate from outside the school environment, as teachers we are in a position to strongly influence student outcomes. However, to change outcomes we must first understand that we must assess the whole child to include not only student knowledge of material but, more importantly, student readiness levels based on Maslow’s theory and obstacles to learning. Only when we address both of the issues will student learning be enhanced and maximized.


Based on abraham Maslow’s theory of hierarchical needs, people should achieve the basic level before they  try to reach the higher level of needs. What teachers do in the class adapting to the Maslow’s theory is to aid students in reaching self-actualization in order to develop their talents and potential. Providing free breakfast or maybe meals for students who haven’t had breakfast is a kind of effort to prepare them be fresh and fit, because lack of nutrition can distract students’ concentration in classroom. This is kind of motivation for students to be cheerful going to the school. So, the first need (psychological) is fulfilled.

Creating dynamic and respectful classroom atmosphere will help students to build their safe environment in physical, emotional, and psychological ways. For example, they feel free to answer, give questions, and share their ideas without any anxieties of being berated. So, they will be motivated to be active in the class. This can improve students’ achievements in academic. In addition, students have to trust that the teacher can be respectful and wise while hearing their answers and opinion.

After reaching that level, students can jump to the next level; belongings and love needs. This stage shows that students want to be loved and cared, and want the teacher values them as important as human-beings. If teacher shows his/her attention towards all students, they will be motivated to learned because they will feel that they are important and being honored by their teacher. This is important for teacher to fulfill this need because it can motivate students well.

Teachers can do some strategies in reaching Maslow’s  hierarchy of needs, they are:
– Understanding the uniqueness of the students’ background, which is the level of students’ abilities. After knowing each level of students, teacher can make some strategies to address their needs.
– Building safe classroom environment. Teacher can use positive reinforcement and become adviser for each student. Teacher focuses on positive attributes, students development and level of self-esteem.
– Letting them know that you, as their teacher, care about them, appreciate their work and want them to succeed.

If we as teacher candidates apply this theory in classroom, we might help our students to do their best in learning and motivate them to achieve as well as possible.


Faqih Al Adyan (2009110038)

Ratih Anindiya (2009110002)

Nia Salamah (2009110018)

Andi Firmansyah (2009110012)


Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Articles


2 responses to “Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchical Needs – Alive and Well in the Classroom

  1. arifinnn

    September 28, 2011 at 6:29 am

    I like this post, it is remind me that a motivation is coming when we needs something. Sometimes, teachers don’t know how to motivate their students, because they think their student’s motivations are same. Teachers think that their student’s motivation is homo gen. As we know, every student has different background, so based on this Theory (Maslow), they have different needs. That’s why they get different achievement in their study. 🙂 🙂

  2. lydiarihta

    September 28, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Hi, group 1..good job, actually this thursday we’ll learn about “the influence of needs on motivation to learn”. One of the theory is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.. so your article will be a great introduction, an eye opening and in-line with our next meeting. See you tomorrow then..


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