How many times have I said (or at least thought) that statement regarding a student? In classrooms, we so often see students who are not living up to the potential that we see in them. I have even heard a student say, “I know, I have a lot of potential. A lot of my teachers in the past have told me that.” His potential and his actual, though, were separated by a large expanse. This is frustrating to me as a teacher, because I often wonder why students don’t just reach out and seize the potential and the opportunities that lie before them. No matter how much I want success for them, if they don’t want it for themselves, there is a conflict.
The other day, I ran across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Many teachers will remember it from undergrad courses in psychology or human development. It looks something like this.
What I realized is that seizing this “potential” equates to self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy. According to Maslow, self-actualization most readily occurs when the needs below it have been met. If students aren’t “seizing the opportunity” and working towards their potential, perhaps it is because they don’t have their other needs met. At the most basic level, this includes food, sleep, and shelter. Above this are needs such as safety, family, friends, love and belongingness, self-esteem. If these needs aren’t met, it is hard to expect students to move to the level of self-actualization. When we return to the classroom this fall, let’s look at how we can structure the classroom to make sure we’re meeting as many needs on the hierarchy as possible. Then maybe we’ll see potential become reality.
Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow_hierarchy_of_needs.jpg