We have hit the pause button on our normal lives. This is especially difficult for schools because time marches on. Our school events run along a timeline set long ago. Most proms are held in the Spring. Spring is when baseball starts, and we begin to plan for graduation ceremonies and standardized tests. We gear up for final exams. Yet time continues to move on, so eventually we may have to go from pause to fast forward. These events will have to be rescheduled or skipped entirely.
Schools are setting up online learning, with mixed results. Teachers are stressed about how to re-plan or construct lessons that took years to get right, and they are concerned about their students. How are they doing? What are they doing? Are they being fed and cared for?
As we enter uncharted territory, it may be helpful to think about what our students need. Maslow’s Hierarchy can help us think through our priorities as we move through this challenging time in our lives. Whether you are a teacher or a school counselor, here are some ideas for how to meet these needs.
1. Physiological Needs: water, food, shelter, sleep, clothing
While physiological needs are predominately the responsibility of the parent/guardian, we also know that many families rely on the food and clothing supplied by their local school. I know that for many schools, this was priority number one when considering if they should close or not.
If you are a teacher or school counselor, you may not be in the loop for how these needs will be met in your district. For your own piece of mind, find out what the plan is for your students. If you feel that there are students who may have been missed because they don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch, but you know, because you see them every day, that caregivers are not able to provide them with regular meals, let someone know.
2. Safety needs: personal security, employment, resources, health, property
This is a big one for all of us. Because of this upheaval in our daily lives, we may feel worried, stressed, or even fearful about what will happen next. This emotional contagion can affect the people around us, especially the children and adolescents in our care. Many families who rely on hourly pay and tips may suffer from loss of income for an unknown length of time, which can be a major stress on families and which trickles down to youth.
If you are a teacher or school counselor, it is important to try to remain focused on the present. Focus on the immediate issues in front of you, not the hypothetical and scary future that is being painted for us via some media outlets. What positive thing can you do of which you have control? How do you ask students to participate in these things? For instance, they can write letters to a local retirement home, walk around the block, clean out their closets to find things they can donate to others, learn how to cook, write a story about their experience, sing and dance, play an instrument, learn how to sew a button on a shirt, invent something. You can have them share what they did in writing or in video with the class. Call it “What I Learned to Do.” Give students a feeling of control through developing their own skills and abilities.
3. Love and belonging: friendship, family, sense of connection
Students will miss the comradery and friendship of being with other people their age. Those social connections are important. As adults, we may have replaced our social connections with family connections or found that our busy schedules have not allowed us to have much of a social life. But much of our students’ day was filled with connections to other people (not saying that it was always productive or positive). Now they are socially distanced from most everyone outside of their family.
You may want to think of ways to enhance healthy social communication for all your students during this time. If you are already doing a virtual learning community, maybe start with a scavenger hunt. You can ask students to find things in their house or yard that they could take on an imaginary trip to the moon, or have all students choose one object from their house that is smaller than a shoebox, and then brainstorm how they can use these items to invent something. Ask students to write kindness notes to each other. Make sure that every student gets them. Students can write something more general about what they like about the class, school, or grade. You may assume that older students don’t need this type of connection, but they do. Can you connect with them individually to find out how they are doing and if they need any support.
4. Esteem needs: the desire for reputation or respect from others
Students may define themselves by the things that they do in the school setting—they are actors in a play, they are the goalie in lacrosse, they are the straight A student, they are the class clown. Students are missing a piece of their identified self when the common structures where they practice their craft are uprooted. It is important to think about how we can recreate some of those experiences, even if they are in a much smaller form.
Teachers and school counselors can consider how to support a shortened season, a one-act play, a talent show. For students whose esteem needs are met by purely academic pursuits, how are we making sure that they can stay on track for their AP or IB exams or high-stakes tests? Are there online resources that can help them continue their rigorous studies? Can you collaborate across disciplines to get ideas from each other?
5. Self-actualizing needs: realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences
While this need may not be present in your current students yet, it is for you. This will be a challenge for all of us. It’s not something that we asked for or expected, but it is an opportunity for you to reach your personal potential. To give and receive love and community with your students, coworkers, and school is the highest calling. Educators are lifelong learners. These new learnings are the next chapter in your professional life.