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Leading Adult Learners


14 May

Taking care of self and others: our human needs

Posted by Joan Dalton

My friend Erika has had a lot on her plate!

As principal of a large primary school, Erika has been dealing with an avalanche of Department of Education communications regarding Covid-19, rapidly changing school plans and procedures, and supporting staff as they engage in new ways of learning and teaching online. She has been in constant communication with parents and caregivers concerned about children’s school attendance and learning; she is working exceptionally hard to ensure the safe transition of student learners back to school. As part of this mosaic of pressures, Erika has also been supporting her parents through the untimely death of their best friend of 50 years, the special ‘auntie’ that had always been in her life.

Erika’s story is a fractal of the larger story that we, as educators, leaders and teachers, are currently experiencing. Unprecedented and challenging times call on our deep sense of heart to go the extra mile to lead, nourish and support those we work with and care about.

During this time, it is all too easy to expend all of our energy outwards. When we do this to the extent of ignoring our own needs, our own energy and well-being is depleted. We become overwhelmed and stressed. We end up on our survival seat, unable to care properly for ourselves or others.

Erika is a wise leader. She understands that in order to take care of others, she has to take care of herself. And like any quality leader, she understands that staff well-being and how they are able to satisfy their human needs at school is paramount to their effective functioning as people and professionals.

Take a look at this Human Needs framework. Based on and adapted from the work of William Glasser, it highlights the basic needs we are biologically driven to meet as part of our quest to make sense of the world in which we live. Beyond our survival needs, we continually seek to satisfy four major psychological needs – for belonging, empowerment, freedom/options, and enjoyment-challenge.

A Human Needs framework

Human Needs Framework
Reproduced from: Dalton, J. Learning Culture for Learning Impact: A Hands On Guide (2020)

Meeting these needs in balance is key

Four legged stool illustration

Imagine you are sitting on a four-legged stool:

The flat part is your survival seat. The legs represent each of your four human needs. If one of these needs is not being adequately met, your stool becomes wonky and uncomfortable.

If two or three of your needs are not being met, it becomes incredibly challenging to maintain your balance. You have only your survival seat left, so you cling to that and hope to stay upright! Meeting your needs in balance helps your imaginary stool to support you firmly and well.

When we understand the human needs that drive our behaviour, we are able to reflect on and monitor these, and ensure we are satisfying them in positive, constructive ways.
Take a little time for yourself to reflect on these questions

How are my needs for belonging, empowerment, self-responsibility and enjoyment-challenge currently being met?

How balanced is my imaginary stool in supporting me to function productively and positively?

Which need/s do I need to pay more attention to, and what actions will I take to do that?

The Human Needs framework not only offers us a lens for personal reflection, it provides a practical team tool for ongoing reflection and improvement of the environment in which we lead, work and learn.

The physical and psychological environment you intentionally create plays a significant role in enabling adults to satisfy their human needs, and contributes markedly to teamwork, productivity and learning success.

This is important because if adults work within a culture or environment that blocks or doesn’t enable them to satisfy these human needs in positive ways, they may seek (as will student learners) to meet them in non-productive ways!

One of the things we know is that you can't meet anyone else's needs for them
What you can do is actively involve your team in using the Human Needs framework as the window through which to reflect on these questions:

What currently exists in our workplace that enables our whole staff to satisfy their human needs in positive ways?

What do we need to pay more attention to, so we can work together to improve things?

What practical actions might (and then, will...) we take?

Not only will your team provide different perspectives and constructive feedback toward improving their adult learning culture, they are likely to feel valued, involved and empowered.

Learning Culture for Learning Impact: A Hands on Guide

The Human Needs focus in this blog offers a tiny snapshot from my forthcoming new book, Learning Culture for Learning Impact: A Hands On Guide.

The core purpose of schools is learning, and the improvement and transformation of student learning and well-being. How well we achieve this purpose depends significantly on the culture we intentionally create for the adults who lead, teach and influence these learners.

Designed to support busy school, team and aspirant leaders, and those who work with schools, this book contains a wealth of practical strategies, processes and protocols that show you how to build a learning-focused, collaborative culture with your greatest resource for learning impact – people.

Expected publication is end of June, available then from our online store.


Looking forward to purchasing this to add to my thinking Joan.
Thanks for continuing to inspire us

Posted by Murray Fletcher on June 29, 2020

Joan & David, delighted to receive an update from you both and looking forward to your new publication. Your wisdom never goes out of date.

Posted by Anne on May 18, 2020

A perfect reading at a perfect time. Looking forward to another great read, Hope you are both travelling well Joan and David.

Posted by Louise Chesterfield on May 18, 2020

Congratulations! This is a key, timely message in these challenging times! Your practical strategies will be very helpful!

Looking forward to publication!

Posted by Gloria Carey on May 18, 2020

Really looking forward for this book coming out. Ngā mihi nui Kim

Posted by Kim Tautari-Scott on May 18, 2020

So lovely to receive your link. We are actually revisiting Choice Theory Basic Intensive and the links with your article are so strong. I do hope you are well.

Posted by Colleen Hope on May 18, 2020

Timely, practical information in these challenging times! A powerful resource!

Looking forward to publication!

Posted by Gloria Carey on May 18, 2020

I have always admired the fabulous work of Joan Dalton and her colleagues.
I am hoping that this new resource will assist many schools to continue to work towards creating classrooms that ensure all students, staff and community members meet their Basic Needs from the work of Dr William Glasser.

Posted by Judy Hatswell on May 18, 2020

Looking forward to the publication date.Was so happy to see this pop up in my email.

Posted by Sonya Branca on May 15, 2020

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