Maslow’s Hierarchy of School Needs


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs defines five levels of need that motivate human behavior. It is often represented by a pyramid, with the most immediate needs at its foundation. A child who doesn’t know where his next meal will come from, or where home will be tonight is unable to focus on learning, so the staff members at Positive Tomorrows apply this ideology to education.

When 4th grader Robert arrived at school, he was exhausted. His family of six was evicted from their home and living in their car. At Positive Tomorrows, teachers recognize what is happening outside of school, and students like Robert get to sleep if they need to.

Additionally, kids experiencing homelessness can often feel isolated, but at Positive Tomorrows they can talk about what they’re going through with peers who understand. They feel like they belong, and this leads to forming friendships and trusting others.

Crises like these are not an uncommon starting point for families at Positive Tomorrows. One thing that helps the agency stand out from traditional schools is its department of case managers who work alongside families. Positive Tomorrows is resourced to guide the child, as well as the family, to the top of the pyramid.

“We work with the kids every day here at school, but we also work simultaneously with families,” said Kelly Berger, Positive Tomorrows director of family support. “They have to feel a sense of safety, both physically and emotionally before they can learn.”

For a family like Robert’s, addressing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs starts with making sure the children aren’t hungry, that they have clean clothing, and are well-rested. Case managers simultaneously work with the family to help them obtain safe housing, and identify barriers to stability and self-sufficiency. Resources like counseling for the family and children are also offered.

“Our goal is for families and students to reach the top of the pyramid, and we have the building blocks to help them grow and change,” said Berger. “They’re not just surviving anymore, but thriving, and with an equal opportunity for a fruitful life.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of School Needs