Maslow Before Blooms

I came across the following image in my Twitter feed this past week, and I’m so glad of the reminder. My undergrad degree was in Psychology which has influenced how I approach instructional design and practices–whether its working with children or adults. So, I think the COVID-19 hierarchy of needs for schools is something that all educators need to seriously consider in the coming days, weeks, and months of this crisis.

I have spoken with several colleagues who I admire and respect about our next steps. As in, how do we proceed knowing that in-person classes are cancelled for the rest of the year?

For the past three weeks (ever since our district closed in-person classes), many of us were scrambling on the how and what of teaching. How were we going to provide learning opportunities for our students and what were we going to focus those learning opportunities on?

Some of my colleagues continued with their instruction, mainly modifying the delivery but not so much the pace or content. Others created an independent learning project that still connected to the curriculum, but the pace was drastically reduced. And then there were those who did a bit of both. My point is…everyone was doing something different. But is that a bad thing?

Not necessarily.

At the time, we were thinking this would be short in duration. But now that we are looking at 10+ weeks of remote learning…our responses need to change.

In this time of crisis learning (this is the moniker I’ve adopted), I think we need to give everyone a huge dose of grace. And by everyone, I mean district personnel, teachers, students, and parents. Everyone is doing the best they can at this moment. Many of us have not had to pivot so sharply in such a short amount of time…ever.

For those who are a lamenting about the lack of time to teach the curriculum or for those who fear our students are going to fall behind, please read the following excerpt from a teacher whose planning fell to the wayside after Hurricane Katrina…

It kinda puts things into perspective, no?

This brings me back to the reason why I titled this post Maslow before Blooms. This phrase has appeared too many times to count in my Twitter feed for many years. It also appeared in discussions among my colleagues in our doctoral courses. But let’s think for a moment…if a student’s sole concern is their welfare, safety, and well-being…why would they care if a teacher assigns a reading and activity? If a student (a child) is concerned about their parent who’s in the medical field…why would they even think of checking the LMS every day to see what a teacher posted? If a student is witness to a parent suddenly losing their job and now they don’t know how they will afford rent or food…why would they be concerned about when the math test is?

I think as educators we need to shift our focus to how can we support our students–our children–during this time? I’m not suggesting that we throw out rigorous learning or the curriculum, mind you. I’m just proposing that we begin first with addressing the human aspect of learning. We need to provide support structures for our students (Borkoski & Roos, 2020). We need to figure out ways to foster self-awareness and self-management skills for our most vulnerable stakeholder: our children.

If you are looking for a place to start, may I suggest visiting the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2020) website. Since we’re all scrambling for ways to support crisis learning why not take the opportunity to develop and deliver activities that support the mental and emotional well-being our students? I don’t think that’s a bad path to take…do you?

Maslow before Blooms.


Borkoski, C., & Roos, B. (2020, April 3). Cultivating belonging online during COVID-19: Helping students maintain social distancing without feeling socially isolated. Retrieved from

CASEL. (2020). Core SEL competencies. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Retrieve from

Something to Consider

A friend of mine sent the following gif to describe her current situation…and I think most of us have felt like that dog at some point within the past couple of weeks.

As my district enters the second week of remote or distance learning, I feel compelled to share something that I recently mentioned to several colleagues. In my discussions about how to help transition fully face-to-face or blended courses to completely online, teachers, students, and parents have shared their frustrations, fears, and concerns.

To begin, teachers who were not ready to use technology (as in they had not jumped onto that wagon) were suddenly thrust into a situation in which they had to not only quickly set up an online platform (Google Classroom being the easiest), but they also had to figure out how to upload assignments that students could conceivably complete at home. Teachers who used technology here and there had a bit of an easier transition since they had some working knowledge of what technology tools would best support the learning objectives. Then there are the teachers who use technology on a regular basis with their students, BUT they always had the opportunity to provide and receive real-time, face-to-face assistance when technology issues reared its ugly head.

Make no mistake, students use technology. They have their phones and gaming systems. They know how to use those. But those tools are typically for entertainment. Not school work. While some students used technology in their classes, as previously stated, they also had the real-time, in-person support of their teachers.

And then there’s parents. Most parents use some type of technology every day. It could be their phones to check email or social media, a computer to do their work, and even online gaming systems to entertain themselves.

So…teachers, students, and parents have some type of working knowledge of technology and how they use it in their daily lives.

But when the schools closed, suddenly all learning was transitioned online to be done at home without training and in-person support. Teachers, students, and parents were forced to figure things out basically on their own. And it hasn’t been an easy process. And that’s without taking into consideration the stress of this pandemic, running out of food and water, being forced into isolation, not knowing what the future holds…etc. [see gif at the top].

And I wanted to just say…no one* signed up for online learning.

  • My students didn’t sign up to take fully online courses
  • My colleagues didn’t sign up to design and teach fully online courses
  • The parents of my students didn’t sign up to homeschool their child for fully online courses

So, everyone just needs to take a GIGANTIC breath or two or three. I believe that everyone–teachers, students, and parents–is doing the very best they can considering everything else that is going on.

To my colleagues…I want to say, you’re doing a great job. I see you working overtime to figure out how to provide some type of continuity for your students. I see you trying to figure out how to create assignments that students can do with minimal direct instruction. I see you trying to balance work, family, five different Zoom session for your own kids, and your sanity. I see you.

To my students…you are doing an amazing job. I see you working late into the night trying to complete assignments or tasks. I see you trying to maintain your composure when you see that the food supplies are low at your house. I see you stepping up to help your little brothers and sisters with their suddenly online courses while trying to maintain the workload you have for your own classes. I see you trying to be brave for your parents who are worried that they may lose their jobs. I see you.

To the parents of my students…you are doing an outstanding job. I see you reaching out to teachers asking questions about technology. I see you patiently sitting down with your child trying to help them understand algebra while also running a Zoom meeting for your elementary aged child. I see your concern about your job and whether you’ll have enough money for food and utilities. I see you balancing more than you ever thought you could. I see you.

We may not have signed up for the fully online learning situation…but we can certainly get through this if we put compassion and empathy first. And that my friends begins by first showing compassion and empathy to ourselves…so that we can then BE that to others.

air hugs


*I have taught fully online courses…that is totally in my wheelhouse. But that didn’t make it any less stressful when I had one day to transition my entire course to be fully online.

Empathy: A Necessary Skill (Part 1)

I recently wrote an article for the Social Studies Review about two types of assignments I have my students complete that help them understand and hopefully develop empathy for various historical figures. One of the assignments focused on the use of emojis to encourage students to connect emotions to certain key events in the life of a historical figure.

Because I am always looking for ways to improve my instructional practices, I combined the Developing Historical Empathy emoji assignment (from the article) with an Open Mind template. My goal was to narrow the focus to emotions at pivotal times in the story of Muhammad and the origin of Islam.

To begin, I had students brainstorm emotions (in general).

Interestingly (and completely off-topic), I sensed a theme of emotions as relayed by my students from all six periods of world history. I was thankful that some students shared positive emotions to help lighten the mood.

From there, I explained that they were now going to step into the shoes of Muhammad and imagine the various emotions he went through from his tough childhood, revelations from the angel Gabriel, being run-out of town, and eventually returning to his hometown, Makkah.

The assignment was to come up with a minimum of four emotions (thoughts and feelings), draw/label the emotion, cite textual evidence, and explain how the textual evidence supports their thinking or understanding.

As Muhammad left no written records, what the students come up with is purely conjecture. But that’s okay…because the goal is for students to learn how to empathize with the plight of others.

“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another”

Alfred Adler

Because I believe in student choice, I like to give them several options for assignments. In this case, I suggested that students use the emojis from the iPad keyboard as a starting place as they reread the various sources on Muhammad’s life. Students could draw those emoji, name the emotion, cite textual evidence, and explain the connection.

The other option was to use simple drawings that used body-language to convey emotions. Students still need to name the emotion, cite textual evidence, and explain the connection.

For the artists in the room (and I have some phenomenal artists!), I stressed that they do not have to feel constrained with choosing from the emoji keyboard or simple drawings of body language.

What I noticed today (Day 1) was that students who could identify with certain emotions had an easier time connecting the emotion to the textual evidence. Now, this is completely anecdotal, and I should have more concrete evidence on Monday when the Open Mind is due, but I’m thinking that students who have lost a parent or loved one will be able to better empathize with Muhammad’s upbringing as an orphan. I also suspect that students who have experienced bullying may be able to personally identify with Muhammad when he and his followers were run out of Makkah.

“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that  happen.  Empathy is a quality of character that can  change the world.”

Barack Obama

However, even if students have not experienced personal loss or threatening behavior, they can certainly empathize with the various hardships in the life of Muhammad. My students have quickly learned that talking with their peers is a good support system, and I suspect that they will be able to help each other gain a better understanding of Muhammad’s life by walking in his shoes.

The newest layer to this assignment is for students to add a personal connection by reflecting on their life in comparison to Muhammad’s and how what they learned may impact them in the future. This written reflection will hopefully provide insight on whether this type of assignment has the potential to help students develop empathy (or not) and whether empathy is a skill that can be transferred to other situations.

Stay tuned.