“You have to do Maslow before you can do Bloom” is a frequent comment from educators, particularly since social-emotional learning and trauma-informed instruction have been a focus of school systems around the United States. The necessity of these programs has been made especially clear since the onset of the pandemic. Now, more than ever, educators are concerned with ensuring that the basic needs of students are being met so that the deeper learning included in Bloom’s Taxonomy can occur.

Lisa Morgan is president of the Georgia Association of Educators and has worked in the DeKalb County School District as an early-childhood educator since 2001.

Created by Benjamin Bloom, a twentieth-century educational psychologist, Bloom’s Taxonomy promotes higher-level thinking (analyzing, evaluating and creating) rather than just the remembering and recitation of facts. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, role-playing is on a higher level than memorizing, predicting outcomes is higher than answering basic questions. However, “you have to do Maslow before you do Bloom.”

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is one of the basic principles of psychology included in most educator preparation courses. The focus in these educator preparation courses is often on aspiring educators understanding that students must have their most basic physiological needs (food, water, sleep, shelter) met before they are able to focus fully on learning. The current pandemic has continued to highlight those needs while bringing student’s safety and belonging needs (friendship, connectedness and sense of family) to the forefront of these discussions.

The current inability to meet these students’ needs is, in many cases, a direct result of policy decisions made over the past two decades. From 2003 to 2018, the state of Georgia reduced public education funding through austerity cuts to QBE (Quality Basic Education), underfunding and changing the formulas for equalization and sparsity grants, and creating tax credit programs that divert public funds to private schools. All these cuts resulted in increased class sizes, the reduction of the arts and other elective courses, less professional development for teachers, and limited instructional resources available for teachers and students. With further cuts to public education in the current budget, the recovery from 16 years of previous cuts is further delayed.

Further damaging to our schools during this time of budget cuts was the requirement that school systems choose to either remain status quo or become charter systems or Strategic Waiver School Systems. These last two designations have resulted in all systems but two that no longer have to abide by any of the Title 20 laws or state Board of Education rules concerning the administration of their schools. For these systems, such mandates as the number of days or hours of instruction, class-size limits, duty-free lunch for teachers, requirements for the number of school counselors and social workers, requirements for physical education or fine arts classes, and fair dismissal for teachers no longer apply.

During this time when meeting our students’ needs requires lower class sizes, more counselors and social workers, and increased resources for technology and the access to it, the funds to meet these needs simply do not exist. The opposite is happening; larger class sizes are in effect, and support professionals, elective classes, and resources are not available. The ability of educators to dig deep inside themselves and their pockets to make up for the insufficient resources provided by policymakers is being stretched to the breaking point. Educators themselves are in need of some attention to Maslow’s before they can provide Bloom’s.

In addition to having their physical safety needs met, educators need the security of professional pay to meet their physiological needs. They need policies that promote health and safety, whether the policies are protecting from a virus, an active shooter or an aggressive student. Educators need to be respected as the professionals they are and provided the resources to practice their profession. They also need to be heard as the experts in their field with the knowledge, expertise and experience to provide the solutions to the issues confronting public education.

As we continue to navigate through the challenges ahead, our focus must be on the students and those who educate them. Meeting the needs of all involved must be the primary objective of all educational policy decisions. We cannot afford to have another generation of students who spend their entire school careers experiencing austerity and reductions. We cannot continue to expect educators to try to supplement from their own resources for what is not and should be provided by their schools. We must meet our students’ and educators’ needs so they can thrive in their respective roles. Maslow, then Bloom.

Lisa Morgan is president of the Georgia Association of Educators and has worked in the DeKalb County School District as an early-childhood educator since 2001.