Fundamental to the In Focus framework on well-being is Maslow’s Hierarchy, which suggests a 5-tiered model of needs that must be satisfied in hierarchical order. These needs include basic needs, which comprise physical and safety needs; psychological needs, which include belonging/love and esteem; and self-fulfillment needs, which include self-actualization. When these needs are met, individuals can thrive. [3]

There are conditions that need to exist for students and teachers to be their best selves and do their best work. These conditions include the three lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. 

Fundamental and foundational, Maslow refers to physiological needs and safety. Physiological needs include basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. These are biological needs that must be met in order to survive. If these needs are not met, the human body cannot function properly. Our actions are motivated to meet these needs. We expand this condition in the context of education to include students being well-rested and having the necessary supplies and physical spaces to engage in learning. 

To do their best work, people need to feel physically safe and psychologically safe. Physical safety includes knowing that your basic needs are being met, and that you are not in physical harm or danger. Psychological safety is a shared belief that you can express ideas, opinions, and feelings without being punished, embarrassed, or made fun of. A psychologically safe environment is a place where people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. 

Coyle suggests that psychological safety is the foundation of culture, which includes close physical proximity, eye contact, physical touch, short, energetic exchanges, high levels of mixing, few interruptions, lots of questions, intensive, active listening, humor, laughter, and small, attentive courtesies (thank you, opening doors, etc). These belonging cues help to answer the question, “Am I safe here?” [1] Edmondson broadly defines psychological safety as a climate in which people are comfortable expressing and being themselves. When people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution. They are confident that they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored, or blamed. They know they can ask questions when they are unsure about something. They tend to trust their colleagues. [2]

The third condition necessary for establishing well-being refers to connection. Stallard [4] refers to universal human needs to help us create connection, including respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth, and a sense of meaning. As we move through the learning loss and forced isolation of the Covid-19 pandemic, connection is more important than ever. Students and teachers are longing for connection with peers, connection to school, and connection to the profession. 

Individuals, teams and organizations will give their best and fully maximize potential when intentional efforts are made to ensure physical needs, physical and psychological safety and connection. These essential conditions, or innate human needs cannot be overlooked; they are at the core of well-being.

Educators, parents, and supportive adults need to create conditions and operate under the lens that the foundational needs of students and teachers are directly related to academic success!


  1. Coyle, D. Culture Code (2018). New York : Bantam Books
  2. Edmondson, Amy (2019).  The Fearless Organization. John Wiley & Sons, New Jersey. 
  3. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:McLeod, S (2018). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from
  4. Stallard, Mike. (2015, October 28). 6 Essentials for Full Employee Engagement.Connection Culture Group.