Solving the COVID-19 Conundrum: Using Maslow’s Hierarchy to Meet Students’ Needs

By Leonard Newby, Kimberly Stormer, and Desmond Delk

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed first responders, doctors, grocers, and other essential workers valiantly respond to the COVID-19 crisis that is ravaging the globe. Teachers and university faculty have adapted virtual-learning experiences to ensure continuity of instruction, in addition to addressing the social, emotional, and physical needs of our students. Here we highlight how three faculty members found technological tools that focused on the importance of relationships as a tenet of social–emotional learning, which insists instructors position Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the underlying framework for their instructional practices rather than Bloom’s Taxonomy to engage students who faced a double pandemic (Bloom, 1956; Maslow, 1954). 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies a person’s motivation as fulfilling needs in five areas: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization (Maslow, 1954). Traditional settings allow teachers to detect students’ met and unmet needs. However, in an online environment where some students are already disenfranchised, it may be difficult to assess their needs and respond appropriately. Our team provided an online community that recreated the safety and security of traditional class and office settings. While remaining in contact with one another via Zoom, texting, and email, we discussed the methods each of us used as our students continued to express their frustrations with their new contexts. We found that much of the technology we used fit the tiers of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  • Physiological needs refer to the essentials of everyday life, such as food, sleep, and shelter. In the online environment, we moved to attempting all methods of contact through their phones. Given our students’ varied access to computers and wifi, we expanded our perceptions of making learning accessible rather than adding to their drought of essential technology needs. 
  • Safety needs refer to one’s personal security. Our original synchronous learning platform resulted in students being inundated with downloading software that either took up too much space on their hard drive, or they didn’t understand, regardless of tutorials, how to download it. So we tried to find applications that enabled students to video chat, text chat, or dial in to participate in synchronous sessions. Zoom became our go-to source . They felt proficient with it because it integrated well with their phone. We also moved beyond our need to enforce strict assessment practices on overburdened students by opting not to use lockdown browsers. 
  • Love and belonging refers to the human interaction that all social creatures crave. As we spoke with students who were having difficulties engaging with content during the COVID hiatus, many of them expressed their dismay with asynchronous learning. They often felt like instructors put up “busy work” for them to complete. Some of the nontraditional students expressed they not only had to do the mounds of work from their online classes, but they also had the same issue with their children’s teachers who made a Google Classroom but never showed up to class. Students were missing the emotional connection from being with their peers and us. We explored the use of GroupMe and Houseparty. Both of these free social networking services, one via text and one via video chat, enabled students to communicate with one another, hold each other accountable for completing assignments, collaborate in study groups, and talk with instructors who experienced the same anxiety and assured them we were there to support them. 
  • Esteem refers to the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. There were times when students needed quick assurance while completing assignments. When we were unable to be at our computers, students contacted us through Google Voice. The ability to provide feedback and solutions after-hours allowed us to reassure our students when they struggled with concepts or when they needed praise for correct answers. Furthermore, Zoom Breakout Sessions enabled social learning and knowledge validation when students worked together to complete projects.  

COVID-19, although an anomaly, will have lasting effects on the field of education. This impact, however, doesn’t excuse teachers from creating learning experiences that place students’ social–emotional needs before academic achievement. Modeling these techniques for our preservice teachers equips them with skills to become self-actualized teachers in traditional and online environments. 

Dr. Newby is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Langston University. Dr. Newby specializes in theoretical and applied aspects of learning and dedicates his expertise to elevating student motivation to excel and thrive in and outside of educational settings.

Dr. Stormer is the Department Chair of Education and Professional Programs at Langston University. Her research agenda includes the writing habits of underrepresented populations and preservice teachers’ culturally relevant teaching dispositions.

Dr. Delk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation at Langston University. His research focuses on diversity in kinesiology graduate programs, physical activity engagement of HBCU students, and multicultural physical education.


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Co. 

Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. Harper. 

Reframing Rigor and Reinforcing Relationships in the Time of COVID-19

By Joshua C. Tipton

In the time of COVID-19, educational organizations have, once again, proven to be irreplaceable institutions of public good and service. School leaders from the elementary to university level led the way in making difficult decisions to care for their students, staff, and community while state and federal leaders at times hesitated. All 50 states experienced school closures, impacting more than 55 million students nationwide (Education Week, 2020). Though schools are the most important communal setting for children aged five to 17, closing the school doors has been a meaningful mitigation strategy to address widespread transmission of illnesses since the flu pandemic of 1918 (Carlo & Chung, 2009). Social distancing, rather than shared experiences and celebrations, marked the conclusion of the 2019–2020 academic year. The loss of both instructional and social opportunities for students and teachers was prevalent and palpable.

As a new teacher, reference to the importance of rigor, relevance, and relationships was frequently interjected into professional development and faculty training. The associated framework was viewed as crucial to student engagement and achievement (McNulty & Quaglia, 2007). Though the catchphrase has perhaps gone out of style, these concepts remain vital to effective teaching. But as district leaders, school administrators, and classroom teachers prepare for the possibility of the continued vacancy of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a reframing of rigor and relationships is especially needed. Both require a different approach in the virtual classrooms that many of our students logged into when the 2020–2021 academic year began.

Reframing Rigor

Academic rigor in the classroom is intended to provide students with the opportunity to engage in work that requires not only awareness and comprehension but also application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Unfortunately, rigor is often confused for workload, and students are inundated with simply more assignments rather than rigorous assignments that inspire intellectual growth or build 21st-century skills.

This misconception of rigor poses more potential pitfalls for teachers and students in the virtual classroom. Some helpful tips from digital learning experts include:

  • Avoid panic-gogy. Focus on practicality rather than attempting to fully convert an on-ground course to an online format (Kamentz, 2020).
  • Emphasize the quality of class objectives and assignments over the quantity of completed work (Davidson, 2020).
  • Engage students through assignments and assessments that promote 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, analysis, curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
  • Utilize backward design. Clearly define what learning objectives and skills students must master, and scaffold assignments and assessments to support them (Dimeo, 2017).

Reinforcing Relationships

All teachers should understand that relationships are critical to supporting student success and establishing effective classrooms. Positive relationships and interactions between teachers and students can impact student engagement, achievement, and overall educational experience; however, establishing strong teacher–student relationships can be more challenging in virtual classrooms. Darby (2019) offers the following advice:

  • Utilize technology to infuse the class with opportunities for collaboration and feedback to prevent feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • Offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for class meetings.
  • Offer virtual office hours to increase your accessibility for students and parents/guardians.
  • Allow students to see your face and hear your voice on the screen to create a warmer and more welcoming online environment.

View the virtual classroom as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to positive classroom relationships. As Darby (2019) stated, “When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom. You greet students. Smile. Make eye contact. Apply that same principle to your online classes” (para. 54).

Concluding Thoughts

Summer break was different last year. The time that school leaders and teachers typically take to rechargewas instead needed to revise traditional back-to-school plans. Though any presumption of what is to come would be projection at best, the coming spring and summer will certainly still present challenges for schools and students. We must prepare to continue engaging students in virtual classrooms. Online learning doesn’t have to be dumbed-down and distant. Reframing rigor and reinforcing relationships will engage students, energize teachers, and produce success.

Dr. Tipton is an Assistant Professor of Education at Lincoln Memorial University. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in instructional leadership, classroom management, and social studies education and has served as a middle and high school teacher, administrator, and district supervisor.


Carlo, J., & Chung, W. (2009). Review of school closure as a pandemic mitigation strategy. Texas Medicine, 105(7), 21–26.

Education Week. (2020, September 16). Map: Coronavirus and school closures in 2019–20.

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to be a better online teacher. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Davidson, C. (2020, May 13). Quantity is not rigor. Inside Higher Ed.

Dimeo, J. (2017, November 15). Peer advice for instructors teaching online for the first time. Inside Higher Ed.

Empathy and Flexibility in the COVID Era

By Dorota Silber-Furman and Andrea Arce-Trigatti

We cancelled classes last Tuesday and Wednesday to serve and volunteer. More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff joined the 2,500 plus volunteers over those two days and since to help in any way possible. (Office of the President, 2020, par. 4).

Navigating the spring 2020 semester was challenging. Not only was the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic on the forefront of our professional and private lives, but our community faced tremendous devastation from a Category 4 tornado just weeks before. It was a time of heightened stress, trauma, and grief for not only our students and their families, but also for faculty and staff at our university.

As faculty in the College of Education, our primary work responsibility is to prepare preservice and in-service teachers. During the spring 2020 semester, many of our students were working with their own students at the Pre-K to 12 level and facing the same challenges of the online teaching transition that we were facing at the postsecondary level, while also processing new experiences of stress, trauma, and grief.

In our shared struggles, instructors and learners had to develop mutual empathy and flexibility to successfully navigate the new reality of our academic worlds. Below, we reflect on a few of these cases and how strategies of empathy and flexibility supported student learning as well as facilitated effective teaching during difficult times. 

Surviving the Storm

Eighteen fatalities, 88 injured, over 500 buildings damaged, over 100 families lost homes. Five families lost precious children and some children lost both parents. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking (Office of the President, 2020, par. 1).

The effects of the storm were evident in the trauma, stress, and grief experienced by our students and their students in the aftermath. Many of them not only lost belongings or access to technology and electricity, but also lost a loved one or had someone close suffer an incredible loss. This feeling of emotional chaos led to decreased engagement and motivation, which increased the need to open venues of communication to continue learning.

Surviving COVID-19

On Monday, we all begin teaching and learning online together (Official University Correspondence, 2020, par. 1).

After the storm, the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, requiring a massive transition to online learning in the Pre-K to 16 grades. It’s safe to say our students’ level of stress, trauma, and grief were exacerbated; they lost contact with one another and the on-campus support that they relied on after the tornado.

Many were also still without access to electricity and Internet, which heightened the anxiety associated with not only online learning, but also that of their children via homeschooling. Meanwhile, the virus became a reality as it began to infect our local population, students, and their loved ones.

Surviving Teaching and Learning

Students, let me reassure you that some things haven’t changed. Your faculty members are ready to help you through the challenges. They will deliver the quality education you expect. Plus, they stand ready with patience and understanding (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 2).

In the midst of these tragedies, it is important to remember that we are only human. Through empathy and flexibility, we can better serve students’ needs while still attending to our families and communities.

Empathy: Not everyone is an online learner, and not everyone has the bandwidth to be attentive (let alone awake) in the few hours they can dedicate to schoolwork while juggling five other jobs. Acknowledging this reality, it was OK to let the beginning of courses become pseudo group therapy sessions. It was OK to have family members come in and take notes in an online session for a relative still without electricity. It was OK to extend deadlines and work with our students’ proposed schedules.

Flexibility: For our teaching, this translated to a departure from the norm and a large overhaul and re-adjustment of several items, including homework, deadlines, project formats, course content, and collaborative expectations. Critical questions were asked: What topics rise to the surface? What lessons will resonate with our students? How can we give them tools that have immediate benefits?

Concluding Thoughts

Take care of each other and finish strong (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 5).

At times our students disengaged (due to lack of electricity, technology, or motivation) but we did not give up on them. Through multiple modes of contact, community “grapevines,” and rallying our College’s resources, we tried to create an avenue for success that worked for them and provided a space to cater to an ever-changing reality. With all of our actions, at the forefront was the mantra that in teaching, there is care; and where there is care, there can be learning.

Dr. Silber-Furman is a Lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee Technological University (TTU). She currently teaches courses related to multicultural education, culturally relevant practices, and ESOL. Her research interests are connected to literacy, international education, culturally relevant practice, multicultural education, ELLs, and critical theory. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

Dr. Arce-Trigatti is the Director of Institutional Assessment and Accreditation for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Tallahassee Community College. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and connected to cultural studies, social justice in education, educational policy, innovation-driven learning, and engineering education. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

If Not Now, When? Making Time for Wholeheartedness and Wellbeing

By Sharon McDonough and Narelle Lemon

This post is by the authors of the article “If Not Now, Then When? Wellbeing and Wholeheartedness in Education,” in the current edition of the KDP journal The Education Forum. You can view the article here for free during the month of August.

Dr. Sharon McDonough is a researcher in teacher education with advanced disciplinary knowledge of sociocultural theories of teacher emotion, resilience and wellbeing. Sharon brings these to explore how best to prepare and support teachers for entry into the profession, how to support the professional learning of teachers and teacher educators across their careers, and how to support wellbeing in education and in community. Sharon’s research expertise lies in methods of phenomenology and self-study.

Associate Professor Narelle Lemon is an interdisciplinary researcher in her fields of education, positive psychology and arts located at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.  She is a researcher who focuses on translating theory and evidence into practice to enhance engagement and participation for teachers and students across all fields of education. Recent research has investigated mindfulness in education, self-care and wellbeing to empower educators, arts and cultural education, and her award-winning scholarship of learning and teaching in the integration of social media for learning and professional development.

“But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?”
“Well, sometimes you get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.”
—Tomos Roberts

In his picture storybook The Great Realisation, author Tomos Roberts creates a hopeful and optimistic vision for how we might all begin to live in meaningful and thoughtful ways in the time after the pandemic. His book suggests that the pandemic becomes the catalyst for the “great realisation,” and in our article in The Educational Forum we, too, suggest that the pandemic provides the perfect time to pause. Additionally, we invite you to embrace this pause as a time to consider what are the key principles and practices that we should seek to instill in education.

The global pandemic has brought shifts to remote and flexible learning across the globe as schools have faced temporary closure of face-to-face classes. These shifts have provided both opportunities and challenges. Teachers have innovated their practices, young people have found ways to actively participate, and parents have communicated and worked with teachers to support young people through these uncertain times. But alongside these positives has been an intensification of some existing inequities, the challenges of intense workloads, issues of access, isolation, and questions of how to support wellbeing for teachers, students, and the community more broadly. In our research with Australian teachers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work and wellbeing, teachers expressed that the pandemic highlighted the need to provide care and support to their colleagues, students, and their families. They expressed frustration with systems, government, media, and policy that seemed to suggest that teachers were ‘cannon fodder’ on the front lines of the pandemic.

The need to privilege wellbeing as a central endeavor in education seems more timely than ever in light of the current contexts in which we live and work. But has this happened? In our article, we draw on our data and Brené Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living to create a series of poems that highlight the need to place wellbeing and wholeheartedness as core principles of the educational endeavor. For ourselves as teachers, for our students, and for our communities, now is the time to support collective wellbeing and to critique systems and structures that do not work to support this. In the light of all that has unfolded across the globe in the last year, we ask, if not now, when? We invite others to join us in this collective call for the prioritizing of wellbeing. You can join the conversation by reading our article in the Educational Forum. Will you join us as we seek to foster and support a wholehearted approach to education?

Click here or below for a live storytime reading of The Great Realisation by the author, Tomos Roberts.