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The Matrix of Needs: Educational Applications

For over 20 years I have been a supporter of the pedagogy known as Invitational Education. Their website is, and it is, in my opinion, the best pedagogy in the world. Simply put, Education is the result of two processes – Teaching and Learning – coming together in the context of the People, Places, Processes, Programs and Policies that, together, make up a school, a school district, and an educational system.

Here is my visual explanation of how Invitational Education works:

Teaching is what educators do. The word “educators” in my mind includes teachers as well as supervisors, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, coaches, and others in the broader educational system. Learning is what students do, and here is where the Matrix of Needs is specifically useful.

Underlying everything is the concept of safety. In this visual representation, safety is in the white space between the processes of Teaching, Learning, and Education. Safety is the glue that holds our psychosocial constructs together. The core needs: Subsistence, Attaching Relationships, and Communication support the formation of Social Relationships and the process of Achievement. These 5 needs must be significantly met in order for Teaching, Learning, and then Education, to occur.

The Covid-19 Pandemic is threatening the Educational system because teachers and learners do not feel safe. When safety is threatened, so is everything else! The worst thing, in my opinion, about our present sociopolitical environment is the disagreement between all the principal players and the endless jockeying for position. When we as professionals, as leaders, cannot agree on safety protocols, then safety for all people is threatened. Whether or not schools are open or online or a hybrid, if safety is not present, Education will be difficult if not impossible.

Once we an establish a sense of safety, then we work on the three core needs. Online schools cannot provide meals to hungry students. The New England Journal of Medicine, in an article published April 30 2020 by Caroline Dunn and others, stated that “Meals and snacks from schools or child care centers fulfill up to two thirds of children’s daily nutritional needs and are generally healthier than those brought from home.” (Dunn et al, 2020, page e401(1))

Attaching Relationships are central to the development of human beings from a psychosocial perspective. When these relationships are unstable in the family home, the interactions with an adult in the school system – teacher, principal, custodian, cafeteria worker, etc. – becomes an important replacement that can provide a lifelong foundation for a child. A teacher I had in the 7th grade for only 5 months made a life-long impact on me, and his presence is important over 50 years later.

Communication is the third of the core needs, and when Communication is hampered for whatever reason – disability, low bandwidth, no access to WiFi – then the core of that child is weaker. Communication is a core need for all people and is especially important in the process of education

Social Relationships and Achievement are Growth needs. If the Core is weak, then the processes of Achievement and Social Relationships will be weakened. We can facilitate Social Relationships through learning pods in person as well as through online education, and we can certainly facilitate Achievement in online education as well.

For all this to work, the people, places, policies, process and programs that make up our educational institutions have to be Inviting. We have to be Respectful, Trustworthy, Optimistic, and Authentic in our lives, both personally and professionally, in order for this thing called Teaching to interact with Learning in order for Education to occur. The Growth and Core Needs are vital for this process to reach its maximum potential.

When I graduated from high school, my grade point average was 2.62, a solid C. For most of those years I was living in an abusive household with an alcoholic father. My core was very weak, and as a result I was not a motivated learner. I had some physical bruises, but never where others could see them. Most of my bruises were in my heart and soul, my mind and spirit. There are literally millions of kids like me in school today. We need to pay attention to their core, and the core of the grown-ups in the school as well. We need to facilitate Achievement and the development of Social Relationships so teachers can teach, learners can learn, and schools can become centers of educational excellence.

Bob Bowen


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