Needs-driven staff development

Needs-driven staff development

Findley, Beverly


Principals expect teachers to meet students’ needs. But motivating teachers to do so means meeting their needs first.

Are you one of those principals who thinks staff development only occurs when all faculty and staff members are gathered into one room at the same time? Or have you come to realize that anything that helps staff members grow as professionals, as individuals, and as a team is staff development? The most common theme for staff development is addressing content or teaching techniques. But by helping staff members grow as individuals, we principals can have more competent, confident teachers in the classroom. Further, any time we can get our faculty and staff members together, even for social gatherings, we are creating more opportunities for them to get to know one another better and feel more comfortable with one another. This often translates into a more collaborative work environment. Have you thought about how to incorporate Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into this whole concept?

The Hierarchy

Most of us were introduced to the hierarchy of needs in our first undergraduate education courses. The hierarchy is based on the premise that humans are motivated developmentally. Maslow developed his now-famous pyramid to demonstrate the order of needs: physical, safety or security, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. As Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon (2001) note in the book SuperVision and Instructional Leadership, needs at a lower level must be met before an individual is motivated by needs at a higher level.

In our classes, we learned that students would have diffculty learning if they were hungry, so meeting their physical needs was the first priority. We learned that meeting their other needs-security, social, self-esteem, self-actualization– were needs that should be addressed in school. We learned the importance of clubs and cocurricular activities in helping students learn social skills and feel that they belonged. In turn, that sense of belonging enhanced the student’s selfesteem. It makes sense. But what happened when we became administrators? Did we remember that adults (our faculty and staff members) have those same needs? Do we practice Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in our role as instructional leaders?

Below are a few suggestions for implementing the various levels of the hierarchy. Perhaps you are already doing these things. Great! If not, perhaps you will implement some or all of these suggestions. Remember that many more suggestions exist; add your own to the list.

Physical Needs

* Provide parking in close proximity to the school for faculty and staff members who have permanent or temporary disabilities. Remember to plan for the possibility of someone having an unexpected need to park close to the building (e.g., a broken leg).

* Ensure that room temperatures are conducive to learning and instruction. Not all buildings are air conditioned. Provide enough fans to make rooms comfortable.

* Be flexible in convocation or assembly assignments. You don’t want to send a teacher who is pregnant or who has a broken leg to upper-level bleacher rows in the gym. Keep lower rows vacant for staff members who need them.

Safety and Security Needs * When reviewing your school’s crisis plan, remember to plan for the small issues as well as the big ones.

* Ensure that parking lots and other school areas are well lit.

* Remind faculty and staff members who work into the evening that they should not walk to their vehicles unaccompanied. Develop buddy systems as much as possible.

* Consider providing photo identification cards to everyone who belongs in the building. University students who are observing should also be required to wear identification cards.

* Require visitors to obtain an identification card or visitor’s pass upon entry. If the visitor is to report to a classroom or an area away from the office area, the visitor should be escorted to that destination. “One entrance, many exits” is a good guideline.

* Consider banning backpacks or coats in class to lessen the possibility of weapons being brought into classrooms.

* Use cameras within the building as well as on buses.

* Enforce the board-approved discipline policy. If teachers have taken all steps at their level to work with a disruptive student (e.g., parent conference, detention, and so forth) and must send the student to the office, be supportive of the teacher. If principals don’t support teachers, teachers may become disillusioned and hesitate to take the discipline steps for which they are responsible.

Social and Belonging Needs

* Ensure that new faculty and staff members are invited to have lunch with the veteran members on their first day. A simple phone call to a veteran teacher explaining that there is a new faculty member will generally be all that is needed.

* Create a committee (and provide some funds if possible) to recognize birthdays, weddings, births, and deaths among faculty and staff members and their families. You, the principal, should also send a card.

* Celebrate every time there is an opportunity. For example, improved test scores, increased student attendance, and increased parent attendance at an open house should be celebrated. Every time a team gets together, each member’s sense of belonging increases.

* Prepare a welcome packet for new faculty and staff members. Include a list of resources (e.g., local banks, day care facilities, and physicians). Local real estate agents or community newcomer clubs may already have such packets prepared. Welcome packets will help new staff members feel like part of the community more quickly.

* Distribute copies of the hierarchy of needs to all faculty and staff members. Each staff member could then identify ways that each level could be met. For example, at the physical level, maybe leaking sinks in the lab are a distraction to the class. Even the act of voicing concerns can meet the need for belonging.

Esteem Needs

* Remember to give verbal praise, which costs nothing but means so much to faculty and staff members_Iaff. Prepare generic thank-you cards on your computer (e.g., for chaperoning a dance, sponsoring a club, planning a field trip, or covering a class for a colleague), and write a short note on the inside specifying the great deed that was done.

* Encourage teachers who have exciting class units to submit proposals for presentations at national or state conferences. The reviewers may not accept the prooposals, but the fact that you thought a unit was worthy of presentation will lift the teacher’s esteem.

* Use the talent within your school for professional development. An outside expert is not the only one who should present to your faculty and staff members. An added bonus: In-house experts will be able to provided follow– up information long after the outside expert has left.

* When evaluating a faculty or staff member, remember all the extras he or she does. Taking graduate classes, sponsoring clubs or cocurricular activities, providing tutoring services, and so forth should be noted on your report.

* Empower teachers to be a part of decision making when appropriate. If changes to your school are necessary, those who were involved in the decision making are more likely to accept the change.

Self-Actualization Needs

* Encourage experimentation in teaching strategies or office routines.

* Encourage those who demonstrate leadership abilities to pursue an advanced degree in administration.

* Encourage veteran staff members to mentor new faculty and staff members.

* Encourage faculty and staff members to offer their expertise as consultants to textbooks companies or other school districts. Different Strokes for Different Folks

Because needs are met at different rates, each person moves through Maslow’s hierarchy at a different pace. Glickman, Gordon, and Ross-Gordon (2001) note that changes in one’s life may affect the sequence of meeting the needs. For example, a promotion to a new school district may appear to meet the esteem or self-actualization level for an individual, but learning new routines and meeting new people may cause that person to try to fulfill physical, safety, and social needs. With this constant jockeying for meeting needs, an administrator has a monumental task in motivating faculty and staff members.

We, as administrators, must practice what we preach. We want our teachers to meet the needs of our students. Therefore, we must remember to meet the needs of our faculty and staff members. We must do whatever we can to help them feel comfortable and safe in an environment that is caring and inclusive of its members. Maslow (1998) noted in his journal that work actually becomes part of the individual’s definition of himself and is therefore a circular relationship: “Work tends to improve the people. This tends to improve the industry, which in turn tends to improve the people involved… ” (p. 1). As principals, we can use Maslow’s hierarchy to improve our staff members and thus improve our schools.


* Glickman, C. D., Gordon, S. P, Ross-Gordon, J. M. (2001). Supervision and instructional leadership. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

* Maslow, A. H. (with Stephens, D. C., & Heil, G.). (1998). Maslow on management. New York John Wiley & Sons.

Beverly Findley (, a former middle level principal is a professor of educational administration at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL.

Copyright National Association of Secondary School Principals Mar 2002

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