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Masters in Educational Practice: Special educational needs and inclusion learning pack


Impact of the environment


The impact of the environment: Maslow’s theory of motivation (1943)

One of the main theoretical frameworks which consider the role of the environment on all learners is Maslow’s theory of motivation. Although developed in 1943, and having undergone several updates and changes, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still considered to be one of the most useful, relevant and influential theoretical frameworks that impact on how we view motivation.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is based on a pyramid shape (see figure 2.3.1 below) and he suggested that human behaviour / motivation to respond is based on this pyramid. The lowest level of the pyramid is concerned with basic survival needs – sleep, water, food.  If an individual does not have access to these, the theory indicates that it is unlikely that they will focus on the next level.  When survival needs are met, then the individual will seek safety, and  once safety needs are met, the individual would be able to focus on issues around belonging and love. .Following acceptance, an individual would be able to focus in their own self esteem. The highest level in Maslow’s pyramid is self-actualization, which is about realizing personal potential.

(Saenz & Pettyjohn, 2011)

Below is the often cited graphic representation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Figure 2.3.1 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Figure 2.3.1 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Activity 2.3.1

Consider the hierarchy of needs in terms of the learners in your classroom.

Consider the first level of need – were all the learners able to meet that first level today If not, will their learning be effective?

One approach aimed at reducing this barrier is the Primary School Free Breakfast Initiative (Welsh Government, 2006).

Evidence indicates ( including Ani,1999 in Fit for School)  that pupils who eat breakfast on a regular basis are able to concentrate for longer periods and tend to score higher in tests. Their punctuality and attendance tends to be better. This links to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with regard to survival needs.

(Welsh Government, 2011, p.5)

Consider the second level of need. What about the learners in your classroom? Are they all secure, safe and free from fear? What about environmental influences here?

What about bullying? What about domestic abuse? What about child protection issues? Have you been trained in child protection?

Look for your school’s policies for child protection and bullying.

The third level is focused on the need to feel loved and to belong. Do the learners in your class have stable relationships at home and at school? What about groups, arguments and unstable friendships?

The fourth level focuses on esteem issues. What about the learners in your class?

  • Are they self-confident?
  • Are they content?
  • Do they have self-belief?
  • Are they willing to take risks?
  • Are they willing to try something new?

If self-actualisation needs are met, the learner is able to be creative, is curious and open to experiences, has a desire to think for himself and has a growing sense of identity.

As seen, there are a range of significant issues that may impinge on a learner’s capacity to engage effectively on a given day. Environmental factors are key to a learner’s motivation.

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