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Become a Maslow in your Student’s Life

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

By: Hannah Wilson

Inputting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This past summer, I worked at the Watson Institute, which helped me to realize how vital this beginning lesson is for all teachers. I then realized my go-to teaching strategy is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Let's dig a little deeper here.

Read More About It!

In my classroom, I had students who were all nonverbal or couldn’t communicate using their voices. Students would be tired, and I wouldn’t know it; I didn’t know their mental state all the time, but as I got to know the students, I understood how I could be attentive to their needs. For example, one student came into school, screaming the minute I brought him into the classroom. I thought it was nothing because sometimes he would scream during the day. After an hour, he was still screaming, but it was different. The scream was airy, and when I came closer, the student was crying. I learned that he had gas bubbles that were causing him pain.

As an educator, it’s important to look for signs the student may be giving us without us realizing it.

Due to this experience, I advocate for eye gaze technology to help students communicate with their teacher about how they feel that day. I have also seen students use a Tobii communication device. These two devices allow students to communicate with their teachers and others they may encounter during the day. The student I mentioned was later given a switch that he could tap with his left foot to choose his words. He could tell me if he was hurting, hungry, or needed to be changed. The device also allowed him to communicate with others with greetings and questions. 

My Technology Tool of Choice

For the Tobii device, I have seen students use a switch to have it play through their options.  One student, around 18, would use the device in the morning to tell us that he needed to use the restroom.  The device’s use was included in his IEP so that this student could communicate with caretakers and other people in the future. 

Another Tobii device option tells others he would like to communicate with them.  The particular student who used the Tobii would want to say hello to me every morning, so when he got set up with the switch, he would immediately hit it to tell me hello.  The Tobii device allowed him to create relationships with his peers, teachers, the staff at the school, and his family.  Without this device, the student would be unable to choose the laughing option or ask a person how their day is going. 

So far, this device has helped this particular student with three levels known as physiological, safety, belongingness, and love needs.  Esteem needs are also met through this device.  To fulfill esteem needs, the student must feel like they have accomplished something.  During the morning meeting, this student would use his device to do math problems, identify colors, and be able to answer questions about the weather or month.  Whenever the student would select the option to raise his hand and tell us his answer, he would become thrilled that he was able to participate.  This tool also helped him read the top leve, self-actualization.  He was able to use the Tobii with little prompting or cues and would use it effectively.  During the day, he would be able to tell jokes on his device and laugh at other people’s jokes.  For a student who is nonverbal, the Tobii device assists them in obtaining all of their needs that Maslow has laid out.  

My Takeaway 

After my first year of college and working at The Watson Institute, I desire to have my students’ needs as a top priority.  I have seen firsthand the outcome of their needs not being met.  Students who cannot communicate their needs have to show you they need it in other ways, and the Tobii device provided that for most of my students. 

Communication is what connects us to the world and helps us meet our own needs. 

As educators, we must advocate for our students and ensure their needs are met.  We might be the only ones that are looking out for our students.  We need to be there when others cannot.  I encourage all teachers, special education or general education, to advocate for YOUR students - after all, they are all OUR students.

About Hannah Wilson

I am a sophomore at Grove City College.  I am majoring in Elementary Education and Special Education.  My graduation date is set for 2022, and I aspire to go on to receive my master’s in behavioral therapy.  

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