Maslow, Bloom, and Educating During Pandemic Times

Kaitlyn MacDonald

I want to take you back to when your children were babies and toddlers. Think back to a moment when you were about to leave the home, maybe for a road trip, maybe just to get to the store. We thought constantly about what our little one’s immediate needs were. There was no leaving the house without proper clothing, being fed, snacks, comfort items, diapers, etc. We were prepared to meet our child’s physiological needs. We understood innately that for that trip out of the home to be successful, the first step of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs had to be met and supported. 

In some ways, the pandemic has brought our children, now beyond the baby and toddler stage, back into that first stage of the hierarchy. The need to feel safe and secure when so much is uncertain. We have children in our youngest grades who have only ever experienced school under pandemic conditions. We have middle school students whose entry into this new stage also meant losing out on many end of elementary school traditions. We have high school students working so hard preparing to enter a world where old standards of success are shifting and changing. 

And yet, 20 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, there is this resurgence of pressure to move forward. And I get it. As humans, we crave progress. The past two years have been hard and we all want a level of ‘normalcy’ to return to our daily lives. We measure our success on our ability to easily know, comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate. We want our education to fall well within Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, but what do we do when so many of our children are having to work hard to attain basic needs, have security, feel belonging, grow their esteem, and approach self-actualization? How do we help our kids move towards positive progress when so many of them are hurting?

This week  the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that “A coalition of the nation's leading experts in pediatric health has issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency,” (Pediatricians Say Mental Health Crisis is National Emergency).  There is the old trope “Back in my day, I had to walk to school in snow uphill both ways,” often said when a younger generation complained of what someone may have thought of as a simple inconvenience. I believe we need to push back on some of these old tropes, however. The challenges in the world our kids are growing up in are far more complex than an over-exaggerated snowy walk to school. They are surviving so much more right now and educators learn daily from parents (worldwide) that kids at a variety of ages are showing:


  1. Increased irritability

  2. Difficulty sleeping

  3. Distancing friendships

  4. Challenges focusing

  5. Forgetfulness 

  6. Mental health crises 


So what are we doing at Sparhawk and how can you help at home? 

  1. Social Emotional Learning Time (SEL): providing space to discuss emotions, build resilience, grow self-regulation skills, and expand our mindfulness places a high level of importance on our children’s SEL wellness. 

  2. Quiet and Calm Spaces: We have carved out many spots on campus for students to go when feeling overwhelmed. The Brick Building on the Lower Campus is a comfortable place for our youngest students and Cynthia is there with a welcoming smile. We have redesigned several offices at the Upper Campus to engage students in spaces that feel warm and open. 

  3. Communication Amongst Staff: We are working cooperatively to notice trends in our student’s performance and behavior and communicate with one another so that we are all supporting students more effectively.

  4. Having Realistic Goals: We are working with our students to build realistic and achievable goals. 

    1. Sometimes students have a vision and expectation of themselves that is not yet achievable. Sometimes students may think a new school or a new year will immediately resolve long-standing challenges. We want to help those students build towards their very important goals by taking smaller, more structured steps. We can’t run without walking first and so, too, we can’t write a 15 page research paper without first building our organizational skills. 

    2. For other students, our approach may be different. Those students may benefit from a gentle push forward so that they are not stuck in a place of stasis. Our guidance department, administration, and teachers work together to develop plans for progress in cooperation with the student and family.

  5. Communication With Home: We need to know the important stuff. Is your child overwhelmed with class or homework? Are there changes in the home we should be aware of? Are there struggles we can help with? We want to hear from you when things are working well, of course. But there is so much to be gained about knowing when things are not quite working. We want to work with you in helping your child gain a stronger sense of self, comfort, belonging, and achievement. Again, this growth is not overnight, but together we can help these students succeed and the first step is open communication. 

  6. Getting Outside Help When Needed: Occasionally, kids can hit a challenge that is too complex for parents or school to take on alone. Getting outside help is important in these circumstances and our guidance department is ready to assist and learn from a student’s  outside of school team. 

  7. Breathing Deeply: This might sound silly, but as I write this, our seniors are taking the SAT with masks on. They are preparing for their future masked in a reminder of their present. They are incredible kids achieving hard earned successes every day. We remind them and ourselves to breathe deeply and stay mindful as much as possible. Sometimes, that is what we need to do to feel a bit more centered.

  8. Attend November 3rd PTO Sponsored Anxiety and Depression in Kids Discussion: We are so lucky to have Rhonda Hodge in our parent community. A Nurse practitioner, Rhonda’s practice, Harmony Psychiatric Services, hopes to “empower children and adults to become the best version of themselves.” Rhonda will be discussing anxiety and depression in kids during the pandemic. We hope you will join us at the Upper Campus on November 3 at 6pm.

  9. Commitment to Traditions: Last Friday night was meaningful. Though soupless, we returned to our celebration of Art at Sparhawk with the annual Soup & Cider event. We are eager to rebuild old traditions and kickstart new ones, bringing us all together with a celebratory purpose. As a community, there is so much we can celebrate and be thankful for. Next week we start a new tradition as we begin Gratitude Month (more info to come from Amanda at the Upper Campus)! 

Gratitude. What a word to end on. I see gratitude as the bridge between Maslow and Bloom. Once we have our basic needs met, our self-actualization is so often steeped in gratitude for ourselves, our communities, and our growth. It is then that the big academic work strengthens us, pushes us, allows us to comprehend and synthesize and evaluate meaning. I am thankful and grateful to be a part of this journey with this community, as we work together to rebuild ourselves as individuals and as a collective Sparhawk School. 


Here are some additional resources to help you explore Maslow and Bloom, as well as resources to help you and your child navigate the challenges before us. 


Exploring the Core: Maslow Before Bloom


How to Maslow Before Blooming All Day Long


Signs Your Child May Need More Support


Caregiver Guide to Helping Kids Cope with the Pandemic


Stanford University: Education in a Transformational Time


Short Video: Maslow Before You Bloom  


Cognitive Load, Mental Health, and Learning Under Stress