Moving Forward – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Percussion Instruments on a stage

Hi everyone.  I am writing this FLC with my son in mind.  He is a first year Doctoral student at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut.  His degree program is percussion performance, and his instruments are housed at the school.  He left for Spring Break with a plan for what he was going to do when he was back, but suddenly he finds that the school is locked and off limits to all students and faculty.  His life went into complete turmoil over the last week, and his ability to complete the semester is unknown at this time.  With the exception of one pedagogy course, he can’t complete any of his course objectives online.  He is angry and confused.  Although he understands the situation as a whole, the effect on him personally has been devastating.

Why I wanted to share my son’s story is that you will also have students with varying degrees of reaction to the events that have taken place.  Students may be angry, disappointed, surprised, sad, scared, or indignant…  You may find that some students are ready to withdraw from school.  In these crazy times, we are all in uncharted waters, and reactions will vary.

It’s going to be very important over the next couple of weeks to show that you care, and that you are working with your students so they know exactly what is happening, and what the plan is moving forward.  The changes are coming fast – not just day to day, but sometimes hour by hour.  I know you have been through a lot in a short period of time, but your students are also feeling the stress. 


In 1943 Abraham Maslow published the paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in the scientific journal “Psychological Review.”  In that paper he wrote about the hierarchy of human needs.  As represented in a Pyramid, he shows that we need to be fulfilled at the (wider) bottom stage before we can move up to the next level.  From the picture below, you can see that our most basic needs are Physiological, and then we move up to Safety, followed by Love and Belonging, Esteem, and Self-Actualization at the top.

Maslow Hierarchy Pyramid

One of the issues with COVID-19 is that it has changed our needs.  Where we may have been working towards self-actualization, we suddenly and without warning, are questioning Safety Needs such as health.  Other items that fall under the category of Safety Needs are stability, and the loss of order.  Interestingly, the motivation to fulfill these (lower tier) safety needs will become stronger the longer the duration they are denied.   As Faculty, we need to understand that when lower level needs are not met, progress towards the higher end levels could be slowed.  As we get back into the online classroom, this means you can expect students to be anxious and tense.

Man sitting at a desk with head in his hand while holding a pencil

Please reach out to your students individually.  Knowing that you are there for them will be comforting, and help to get them moving back up the “hierarchy of needs” ladder. Right now they need stability.

Also, make sure you are reaching out and talking to your peers, your Dean and Provost.  You want to make sure your needs are also being met.  If I was to leave you with one final message it’s this – Do the best you can and remember that your mental health, and that of your students, is more important than academic skills right now.  What is going to stick with us all is not how much we learned, but how we felt during this time.

Thank you for reading the FLC.  Keeping moving forward, and stay healthy!!