Thursday, May 19, 2011

safe and accepted in the classroom

(Grimm’s chart about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs)
      Students are motivated when they feel safe and accepted. No student ever enjoys feeling or actually being ostracized by peers and or teachers. I strive for this emotional safety factor in my art classroom. Students need to know that even if their opinions or ideas don't seem to be similar to their peers, they will be kindly welcomed and listened to during lessons in my classroom.
      I’ve included above an illustration of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His original idea is based upon this concept that in order for people to mature properly they must first have a specific group of needs met. In order of importance Maslow lists: physiological needs, safety needs, then love and belongingness and last self-esteem. The last and ultimate goal, “self actualization,” is the utmost level of human attainment. According to Maslow, many healthy people never reach this end of the pyramid but live happily near the top anyway. Although I see this last part of his theory as an egocentric analysis, because one must assume that men are intelligent enough to estimate human potential to begin with and this is not usually correct. Humans are capable of great potential but not every person is capable of recognizing this potential when they see it. I generally believe, however, that I have witnessed Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” at work in my classroom.
   Helping students to feel safe and accepted within the classroom is generally dependant on a teacher’s limited ability to fulfill their actual physical comfort at least for a limited amount of time. Sick and hungry students cannot perform tasks properly to begin with. School districts are fully aware of this problem; this is why there are government programs established to feed students who cannot afford even cafeteria meals. Things like heat and air conditioning must also be provided for by those in charge of school property for the basic comforts of student populations. And last but not least, school nurses are hired for the very important and obvious reasons surrounding the health and care of students in schools. So teachers are given all kinds of resources to help supply the physiological needs of their students and I have only covered the most basic in this paragraph. There are many other services I am not listing at this time.
      Abuse and financial insecurity are addressed by the classroom teacher through those who provide for her job stability, her access to free resources, and also through the taxes and donations given to supply the funding of her choices made on the behalf of students under her care. The state also has an entire network of agencies in place to protect those under aged students who are being physically or emotionally abused as well.
      The third ‘need’ illustrated by Maslow on the pyramid above has to do with the fulfillment of loneliness and detachment. Teachers can do a lot to battle these kinds of problems faced by young people everyday in the classroom. An excellent teacher intervenes on the behalf of awkward or socially challenged students constantly. She does this not only by accepting the student herself through reaffirming words and actions but also by directly influencing and managing the behavior/attitude of a lonely student’s peer group.
      Self-esteem is at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. It is the second to the last step he believed to be necessary in order for a person to develop fully. Classroom art teachers can grow this human need properly by consistently promoting the following activities.
  • Recognize the importance of “what” students think. Look them directly in the eye when speaking to them and wait patiently for students to express their opinions. Adults don’t like to be interrupted or ignored when they are trying to make an important point and neither do young people. Give the polite respect to your students that you expect them to give to you.
  • Students who keep journals/sketchbooks about their observations and opinions shape their experiences in meaningful ways that help to build self-esteem. This is a reflective practice that most educators report to have a major impact on the intellectual growth of a student.
  • Students should be encouraged to create art projects that positively reinforce their self-image and also recognize their identity through their inherited culture. The teacher must be careful about this, however, some cultures are highly destructive and some students suffer as a direct result of those cultures that are. Educators must stay realistically informed about the cultural practices of their student population and learn when and how it is safe to include these references in the classroom.
  • Acting out real life scenarios and discussing preferable outcomes helps students to develop the emotional and physical means needed to interpret problems properly. This in turn, develops healthy self-esteem.
  • Daily affirmations of compassion and understanding go a long way in the development of student self-esteem. Lend a listening ear to those issues that matter most to your students!
  • Attribute responsibility when at all possible. Students know that responsibilities are given to those who are admired and trusted.
  • Show a little kindness. Give when you don’t need to give but just to say that you genuinely ‘like’ being in the company of those you care for. This is very important to people.
  • Recognize publically the accomplishments of your students. When honoring another be sure to reward the entire class. This will increase the student’s rapport within his peer group, thus establishing self-esteem where it can really count! Do this but only when it is sincere and only when it is obviously deserved.
  • Honor your students privately as well. Students will consider this form of recognition realistic coming from a teacher and will take it under consideration over time. This develops self-esteem gradually if it is consistently practiced.
      I think that many art teachers do wonder whether or not they will ever personally witness the final step in Maslow’s theory. The self-actualization of an artist doesn’t seem to prove itself possible until an artist has lived and produced after an entire lifetime of struggles, experimentations, and risks. So, how can art educators possibly measure self-actualization during the youth of their students? It’s very nature is found in the consistent nature of doing something and the doing of something doesn’t reach full potential if one believes that life never ends and problems never cease. So, Maslow’s theory has a fatal flaw in that it presumes there to be an actual pyramid for most people and that it presumes man can overcome problems permanently or at least long enough to self-actualize.
      Maslow, like most respected theorists, does help us to think about “how” we teach. We can definitely improve the health and welfare of our students by adopting and adapting some of his principles. It is possible for students to be nurtured in a pro-active environment and to be given safer communities to live in. As an art teacher, I hope to successfully fulfill those necessary practices that build self-esteem/character appropriately in my own students.

article copyrighted 2011 by Grimm