Why International Schools Should Remember Maslow

I’ve been working at internationals schools for over 10 years now and each one has been an incredibly rewarding but each one a very unique experience. I am about to shift schools again and will be working at an international school in Jakarta. As I enter the last 7 weeks, you start to go through that transition period between past and future. I really want to do a good job and have a lasting impact at my current school but part of my brain wanders to the future. It’s inevitable and human nature.

I think that I am a pretty adaptable person and embrace change easily (that’s part of the draw to international schools). But I know that with change comes the grieving process as one desperately tries to get over feelings of loss and embrace the new. I am also busy finishing up graduate courses online and one is a leadership course on change in international schools.

One of our questions was to think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see figure below)We needed to think about all humans have these essential needs and you can’t really move up a level until your basic needs are fulfilled which makes sense. Think about a classroom and your students and how you can’t really move forward with learning and the curriculum until students feel safe and a sense of belonging.  That’s why so much emphasis is placed on learning routines (safety and physiological needs) and building community within the classroom (belonging needs).

Moving to a new country and working at a new school forces everyone to seek out all these needs. You need to find a new home, car, friends and learn the culture before you can even think about the school. I believe administrators need to really consider their faculty and where they are at any given point in the school year. Obviously, the goal is to have all teachers at the top at self-actualization where people feel a genuine sense of purpose, intrinsic rewards and contributing to the community.  During the 1-2 weeks of new teacher orientation, it is critical that administrators help teachers attain their basic and safety needs BEFORE even trying to talk to them about the curriculum.  The other challenging is building community and helping new teachers integrate into the new community and feel a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen at one of the schools I worked at and resulted in new teachers being extremely stressed, frantic and behind the 8 ball from day 1. International schools need so spend that time supporting teachers in finding housing, setting up utilities, finding nannies, places to shop and eat, etc.

I’m very fortunate in that my new school has already started this process and have been extremely supportive. This only means that we can quickly transition and reach Maslow’s highest level-self actualization.

Have a story to share about transitioning into a new international school or place? Would love to hear your comments!