Fulfilling your students’ basic needs: How scholastic journalism fits easily into this type of educational psychology

By Jeff Nardone, Grosse Pointe South HS

Ten Fun Things (pdf)

Research today says that the best educators are the ones that really get to know their students; the ones with whom students feel a connection. I think that most scholastic publication advisers have always understood this. This is one of the few classes in which students already know who their teacher is going to be (and still sign up!).

But that doesn’t make our job easier. Each day we have numerous kids that we have to try to motivate, problems we get drawn into, and fires that we have to put out. That’s where I think I was lucky in my first job. In that experience I was given some tools to help me deal with these issues, and I couldn’t believe how they fit in advising a scholastic journalism program. I think they’re perfect.

In my first position, I was overwhelmed like everyone else. I was trying to figure out how to run a publication, deal with classroom issues, and I was also taking classes myself. I rolled all my problems into one, however, when I was introduced to the philosophy of Educational Psychologist Dr. William Glasser. His philosophies ended up being the subject of papers in many of my master’s level classes, helped me immensely in dealing with classroom issues, and I found they also fit in perfectly with publication problems.

You see, Glasser said that all students have five basic needs, and our job as educators is trying to understand and help students meet those needs. If you help them along this path, you’ll have a happier classroom, and ultimately, be a more effective educator.

Four of these five basic needs are psychological. I’ll focus on those mostly. The other one is more physiological. This can be met in the classroom at times (and I do focus on it occasionally), but it’s the other four (especially the last one) that really sold me on Glasser’s philosophy.

Glasser’s five basic needs, in my interpretation, are the needs to physically-sustain your health, the need to belong, the need for power, the need for freedom, and the need for fun. I don’t know about you, but when a guy says we have a need in our life for fun, he’s got my attention. Besides gaining my attention, I understood that you can interconnect all of these needs together, and fun helps me do this.

First off, let’s at least discuss the physically-sustaining issue. Glasser said we have a need to eat, sleep, reproduce, etc. Any of us who’ve watched editors break down over the years know that you can sometimes attribute it to any of these aspects of their life. I also know we eat a bunch in our classroom (I’ll mention this more in the fun portion), and occasionally students sleep. Just so you know, I’m not touching the reproduction aspect. Let’s just say kids feel a need for these things, and we must accept this.

Belonging is such an important part of high school life, and Glasser is 100 percent correct when he identifies it as a need for kids. Over the years, we’ve seen gangs, we’ve seen cliques, and now we’ve see the phenomena of social media. People have a need to constantly connect to others, to feel part of the group. It’s amazing what this belonging/team aspect can do to help a publication.

When I think of this, I can give tons of examples, but the one I like the best is that kid who sits in the publication room—you know the one—the kid that never talks. He rarely gets assignments done, he never gives his opinion, he sometimes never moves for an entire class period. And we, as educators, look at him and try to get him involved. But what I’ve found over the years is that for that kid, being in your room may be the best part of his day. He goes home and mentions something that happened to mom. He smiles when he tells people he’s on the publication staff. He belongs. He’s happy.

Power is another part of life that is incredibly important to high school students. We are a training ground for these kids, the final experiences they have before they head off to college (or life). Our job to help get these kids ready for this. This is why I think scholastic publication programs, especially ones that give the kids most of the say, are successful. Giving kids the power to write great stories, to show great images, to inform the world of change—it can be life altering.

This is also why the world is changing today. Look at the power of the written word. Social media helped to topple corrupt leadership in Egypt, helped connect families in Japan, and has helped high school students around the country do everything from gain “friends” to study for tests. Power is incredible. High school students need to experience it.

Having a need for freedom is an easy connection to power. When you have power, you typically have some freedom. In successful scholastic publications, students have the freedom to ask tough questions, make important points, and to sometimes make terrible mistakes. These things are all part of life—I always tell kids that I’ve learned much more in life from my mistakes than from when everything sails smoothly.

But with freedom, and with power, there are always great concerns. I hate to quote the movie “Spider-Man” (but it was awesome!). In it, Peter Parker’s uncle tells him that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The same can be said for freedom, too. It’s our job to teach this to students. We must stand by them when they take on the great challenges, we must push them and help them when they get to roadblocks, and we must help them through the rough patches that come. When we do this, we are encouraging freedom, and we are also being great educators.

As I studied Glasser, he actually sold me with these first four needs. If you understand these needs, you’ll likely have a happy, healthy classroom. But then Glasser said we all have a need for fun in our lives. At first I balked a little. We all like fun, we all try to have fun as much as possible, and we all know that fun is good. But Glasser said we “need” fun. That was my “ah-ha” moment.

We all have to make our scholastic publication experience as fun as possible for our students. I buy that. So we do it. And most of the time, we can check off other needs being fulfilled, too.

We check off need number one and five when we celebrate birthdays in the classroom with a treat (bagels, donuts or something else). We also sign parents up to bring food on deadline nights. This fulfills one, two (yes parents want to “belong” to the publication sometimes) and five.

We check off two and five with staff shirts (and that kid I mentioned earlier—the staff shirt is in his wardrobe heavy rotation). We check off these two and number one with staff parties and gatherings.

Three and four get the most fulfillments with our publication. We celebrate great writing, we celebrate when we make a difference, and we celebrate when someone does an outstanding job—power and freedom get time at our gatherings. We also try to bring those who give us power and freedom in on the fun. At our end of the year awards celebration, we always invite administrators, parents, hall monitors, secretaries and custodians. These are the people who help us. We couldn’t do our jobs without them.

Truthfully, I could list hundreds of other ways to incorporate fun into the classroom (at conferences I always ask people to give me examples—and I’ve stolen most of them!), but I think you get the point. The philosophies of an educational psychologist have been a great help to me in my 22 years of advising a scholastic publication. He can help you too.

If we think of this job in terms of psychology, it can really help us be more successful. When you recognize that every student that comes in your classroom has basic needs, you’ll be a better teacher. And the research proves that better teachers are better for kids.