In order to have teachers and leaders spend quality discussion time that centers on improving student learning, a number of pre-conditions have to be met. Each individual teacher is different and therefore a variety of needs may need to satisfied by school leaders in order for teachers to engage in the in the types of discussion that will result in professional growth and improvement of student learning.
Some time back I wrote a post regarding ‘Balancing the demands of instructional leadership’, that focused on meeting teachers needs through an application of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Since then I have been asked to give a bit more detail regarding how leaders can consider Maslow’s theory in everyday practice (click on the image above to expand). Of course, there are criticisms of Maslow’s theory and what can be said for personal motivation, but it is not a bad place to start for school leaders to consider how they can better support their teachers.
If we took Maslow’s theory and considered teachers having greater thirst for self-actualisation, as many of their other needs have been satisfied, then what might this look like in our schools?
If self-actualisation became the main need that leaders are charged with satisfying in our schools, then perhaps we would have more teachers who wish to engage in work that solves problems. Teachers may want to take more initiative without the need for formal leadership positions. Initiatives may lead to more collaborative work that focuses on improving student learning through greater engagement and challenge that maximises learning (genuine professional learning communities). A greater demand for self-actualision may develop a sense of personal leadership, personal rigour and professional learning that our teachers crave. It may also give teachers a greater sense of appreciation and acceptance of their colleagues; possibly, a greater desire to work together.
While Maslow claims that a person can have most of their needs from any level within the hierarchy, generally speaking, it is still difficult for a wholehearted quest for self-actualisation to emerge without many of the other needs in the hierarchy being met beforehand. Many of the lower level needs, if not fulfilled, become excuses for not displaying the ideal teacher behaviours that we would like to see in the profession. To force some teachers into the actions that we so want, for the benefit of the students in our schools, we have to try and eliminate some of the excuses.
School leaders have to endeavour to create school environments and cultures where most of the physiological and safety needs have been met, so that teachers can really begin to focus on what really matters: Learning and enabling our teachers to be the teacher that they are capable of becoming.