Business thought leaders and their relevance to educational technology leadership: Abraham Maslow

This is article 1 of a series of 3.

A short while ago I posted a message in Twitter to the effect that anyone who quotes a statistic like "The number of geniuses in China outnumbers the total population of our own country" does not understand the nature of genius. I believe that genius has much in common with creativity, about which the psychologist Abraham Maslow had particular views.

He also had views about human needs. In this series I should like to explore what the educational ICT leader can learn from Maslow and others when it comes to performing the educational technology leader's role, especially that of encouraging other teachers to incorporate the use of educational technology into their curricula.

Maslow's views on creativity

What distinguishes you, me, and most of the people we know from someone like Shakespeare? In fact, writing is a good area to look at in this context, because lots of people love the idea of being a best-selling author -- yet the number of best-selling authors can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. How come?

Maslow drew a distinction between what he called primary creativity and secondary creativity. The former, which most of us enjoy, consists of having great ideas and moments of insight. But most people are lacking in secondary creativity which is the hard slog bit. That's the part where you try to hone the idea, and spend hours drafting a wonderful few pages -- only to discard them when you read them again the following morning.

Oscar Wilde was once asked to define a day's work. He replied:

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Like most of Wilde's quotations, that seems like a throwaway comment at first glance, but has a much deeper aspect to it. What Wilde was describing, in effect, was Maslow's notion of secondary creativity as it manifested itself in practice in his own life.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow stated that people's primary need was for the need for survival, followed by the need for safety and security. Other needs, in chronological order (ie each one can only be addressed once the preceding one has been met) are social needs, ie the need to be part of a group; ego needs, ie the need to be held in esteem by others and to have self-confidence; and the need for self-actualisation, ie the desire to express oneself fully.

Implications for the educational technology leader

Both of these sets of ideas have implications for the successful embedding of ICT in a school curriculum. For example:

  • Given the reality that most people lack the time, energy or motivation to fully develop their technology skills, part of your role will be to help them achieve their aims without needing to put in the effort.

    For example, it may be that the geography teacher would use a spreadsheet to chart the rainfall in different areas, if only she didn't have to spend time actually creating the graph. She might be more amenable to the idea of using a spreadsheet if all she (and her students) had to do was input the data and then play around with different types of graph -- in other words, if the process of taking rows of numbers and turning them into a chart was not necessary for her to do.

    And if you think about it, why should she have to do it? As far as I know, being able to turn numbers into a chart is not a required geographical skill, whereas being able to interpret charts, and make decisions about the best type of chart to use in a particular situation, are.

    In other words, a geography teacher who does not wish to learn how to create a chart, and does not want to spend time in her lessons doing so, is probably taking a very rational and apposite view of the whole thing.

  • There is no point in expecting anyone to use the educational technology facilities if they are scared of them going wrong. What do you do with a class of kids when the lesson you have spent hours planning has to be abandoned halfway through because something has gone wrong with the technology?You may have an answer, but that won't help a teacher overcome the fear of that sort of scenario.

    Therefore, you need to anticipate the fear and deal with it even if it doesn't explicit reveal itself. We'll discuss how in another article.

  • Dealing with people's social needs does not have to be difficult, and you can kill two birds with one stone by addressing some of their lack of confidence in their own abilities at the same time. I mean, of course, setting up a room, or a surgery, or both, where staff can come along any time they like, away from the laughing eyes of their students, grab a cup of coffee and use the facilities in a warm, friendly, non-judgemental atmosphere.

  • The need for ego-boosting can also be easily dealt with. You give the kids a fillip by putting their best work on the wall. How do you showcase the best work of teachers?

    One way is to ask them to help you deliver some training. For example, in one school I worked in, a science teacher developed expertise in using databases with her students, and taught the rest of her science teacher colleagues how to do so. It did not take a great leap of imagination for me to realise that she would be able to help other teachers too.

    And there is also another psychological benefit of that approach: like it or not, your co-workers see you as some sort of guru, which can be very intimidating for them. As soon as you step aside and let them be taught by someone who, in their eyes, is just like them, part of the psychological defence barrier comes down.

Maslow was primarily concerned with deep issues like the human condition, but it is testimony to the greatness of his insights that his theories can be applied in many contexts, including that of the drive to embed the use of educational technology in schools.

Further information on Maslow may be found here:

The next article in this series will be published at the same time tomorrow morning.