There is no question that studying high frequency words and learning math formulas are important things to learn in school

There is no question that studying high frequency words and learning math formulas are important things to learn in school. At some point, we have seen the info graphic that demonstrates how many books we will read over the course of a year if we read 10, 15, or 30 minutes each day at home. I believe that there are valuable lessons learned while completing the at-home science project that demonstrates a volcanic eruption or book report. However, what do we do if our students do not have the support and resources to complete these assignments? With good intentions, we ask our students, who are being raised by grandparents, to write a poem about their mothers for Mother’s Day and fathers for Father’s Day. We ask our students, with parents that struggle making ends meet, to write a Christmas list to send to Santa or give to their parents. We ask our students to complete science worksheets at home when some don’t get “home” until ten o’clock after bouncing from babysitter to neighbor waiting for mom to get off work. We expect higher order thinking from our students with ripped jeans and empty stomachs. So as counselors and educators, how can we maintain high learning expectations yet realistic for our students who are not coming to school equipped to succeed? Unlike Jeanette Walls, not every student is resilient nor has the grit and resolve that enabled her to succeed despite her circumstances.
Students may come into our schools preoccupied; they worry about other classes, friends, home life, extracurricular activities, physiological needs like food and sleep, and the list goes on. When our students are worried with these concerns, it is common for learning and achievement to be put on the back burner. The students current concerns, e.g., lack of food and sleep, are driving the students behavior. According to Snowman and McCown (2013), humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, offered an explanation for this behavior through his theory of basic, psychological and self-fulfillment needs that motivate individuals to move consciously and subconsciously through stages based on our satisfaction of those met or unmet needs (p.248). When our students are concerned about certain needs, their behavior is fixed on meeting those needs. Those concerns will take priority over learning and achievement. As counselors and educators, we can help our students meet their needs, so the focus can be on the subject matter and learning.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs proposes that an individuals’ basic needs must be satisfied before their higher needs become motivating. In a classroom, this would suggest that before a student can excel at her full potential, we must ensure that her basic needs are met. For example, the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy covers physiological needs including food, water, sleep, and warmth. Maslow suggested that these needs are the most fundamental. If not met, students may struggle to meet their full academic and personal/social potential. Throughout my fieldwork experience, I had the privilege of working with many amazing counselors but unfortunately I also encountered counselors who were not student driven to say the least. I always thought to myself, I wonder how many of these students that she is calling “lazy” are actually hungry and malnourished? How many “unmotivated” students are actually operating on four hours of sleep? How many of these “behavior problems” are simply a reflection of what has been dumped upon them at home? Our goal as counselors is to take a holistic approach when working with our students and figure out if any external factors may be causing low academic performance and behavioral referrals. We must never make false assumptions; instead, we need to advocate for our students and use data driven practices to ensure that our student’s needs are being met.