Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs within Teaching

By Nick, posted
Psychologist Abraham Maslow first introduced the Hierarchy of Needs model in 1943.  This is regarded as one of the most popular and well-known theories of motivation which can be applied to many different sectors such as: teaching, leadership and management and sports coaching.
The concept explains that people are motivated to fulfil their basic needs first in order to progress onto more advanced needs. Maslow believed that every person has an internal desire to ‘self-actualise’ and achieve their own personal goals and targets to ultimately strive towards a successful and fulfilling life. This humanist model is presented in a pyramid format with a total of 5 stages. The initial stages within the pyramid are the survival or physical needs which Maslow explained need to be met first in order for more advanced ‘psychological’ needs such as ‘self-esteem’ leading to self-actualisation or accomplishing your desired goals. For teachers or trainers, a knowledge of Maslow is beneficial as you can understand how to make a safe and supportive teaching and learning environment in order for learners to progress up the pyramid in pursuit of their desired goals.

The following stages provide some further information and guidance on the different stages and how each section can be applied to the role of a teacher. 

Physiological needs 

The term physiological needs means the biological requirements needed for human survival. These include: food, drink, shelter, warmth, clothing and sleep. Within the world of teaching and training, if learners feel relaxed, comfortable and secure within a classroom environment, they will be more likely to focus and enjoy the learning environment.  This will ultimately support them in achieving their desired qualification or training requirements.   

Of course, it is not the responsibility of the teacher to ensure the learner is fed or to facilitate other basic needs such as clothing- However, the teacher can support the basic needs by providing adequate break times/rest breaks and setting clear ground/housekeeping rules. Some teachers/trainers do often provide refreshments for their courses such: as tea, coffee, biscuits or even fruit, others will inform learners where the toilet facilities/kitchen areas or where they can make a drink. Simply allowing the learners to drink water within the teaching environment contributes to their physiological needs. Other elements of the stage you can control is the temperature of the training room, not too hot or too cold to support the concentration levels of the learners. 

If you see that a learner appears tired, withdrawn or not themselves then of course ask them for any additional support required or seek advice from a specialist. You can of course signpost a learner to specialist support. 

Safety & security needs

The second stage of the pyramid focuses on the safety and security needs of the learner. At this important stage, learners seek an environment of order, calm and reassurance where they can collaborate with fellow learners. Learners should be safe from any accidents and injuries and a teacher should be mindful on how these issues can be prevented. If a teacher can demonstrate a proactive and forward-thinking approach such as checking the teaching environment before the learners arrive, this can promote professionalism and make learners feel relaxed and supported. 

There are a number of methods a teacher can use to promote the safety and security of learners: 

• Risk assess the teaching environment prior to training. A teacher can become familiar with the training environment and remove any hazards or report them to a member of staff. If you are teaching within a new environment, aim to arrive early and speak to a manager.

• Ensure there are no trip hazards and learners belongings are secured away safely. 

• Conduct a classroom register and keep track of attendance/lateness.  

• Be aware of venue procedures such as fire exits and evacuation points. 

• Ensure the teaching room is warm, well-ventilated and clean.

• Ensure learners are familiar with how to keep their work safe and secure such as keeping their work password protected. 

• Promote a culture of respect. 

• Signpost learners to specialists if they require any additional support such as: financial, careers advice, emotional support. 

Love & belonging 

Stage 3 of Maslow’s Hierarchy’s of Needs is love and belonging. This stage reflects on the importance of recognition and being part of a group/class of learners. If you feel that you belong within an environment, then you are more likely to participate within the activities set by the teacher and ultimately challenge yourself to improve. A cohesive and supportive teaching and learning environment will help foster a range of qualities such as: inter-personal skills, friendships, communication, thus promoting their minimum core skills. A vibrant classroom will see a range of teaching and learning activities, such as: discussions, debates and games. 

There are a number of practical ways a teacher or trainer can promote a sense of belonging: 

• Welcoming learners to the lesson- a teacher can stand next to the classroom entrance and welcome learners to the lesson. 

• Positive and open body language as a teacher- a positive teacher is one who has an ‘open’ body language, try to avoid any negative or ‘closed’ body language signals. 

• Delegate team roles and responsibilities- you can delegate roles to group members such as a classroom rep to promote a sense of belonging. 

• Promote discussions and debates- asking learners for their thoughts and opinions on topics will promote a two-way communication process. 

• Use learner names.

• Use open and nominated questions.


One of the key roles for any teacher or trainer is to be a motivator and to support each learner throughout their learning journey. A great hallmark of any teacher is to encourage learners through positive and constructive feedback to promote the learner’s self-esteem and confidence. Sometimes whilst studying towards a qualification, a learner may have a ‘dip’ in motivation or not be fully engaged within their studies or training. A teacher can be a motivator and use encouragement and formative feedback to help keep the learner aware of their progress. 

There are a number of ways a teacher or trainer can promote the self-esteem of a learner:

• Providing both written and verbal praise. 

• Providing formative ‘on- course’ feedback to support the learner with their journey. 

• Celebrate the learner’s success- including their own personal hobbies/interests. 

• Promote stretch and challenge opportunities. 


The highest and final section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is self-actualisation. This concluding level within the pyramid is the learner’s acknowledgement that they have achieved their desired goal-for example, passing a course or receiving a certificate. Self-actualisation is the learner’s realisation that they have achieved their goals and feeling that they can pursue other goals should they wish. Some learners are satisfied with achieving their goal, others will look to seek out another target immediately afterwards. As a teacher, the self-actualisation stage is the most rewarding, seeing learners develop and fulfil their goals. 

A teacher can promote the self-actualisation stage by: 

• Congratulating the learner on their achievements. 

• Providing learners with information on their next steps within their development such as advice on other courses or the next steps.  

• Encouraging learners to self-reflect on their achievements and identify their progression. 

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