In a needs-fulfilling classroom, both the needs of the students and the teacher are met, writes teacher Chad Sansing. In this blog post, he writes that teachers in such classrooms give students more freedom and understand what the students consider fun, how they use power, how they relate to others and what they are scared of in order to better facilitate instruction. Needs-fulfilling classrooms also allow teachers and students to better work toward a common goal, Sansing writes.

As part of my work this year, I’m trying to unpack and illustrate the idea of the needs-fulfilling classroom.

The needs-fulfilling classroom is a place in which both the teacher and students feel empowered to learn together and from one another. It is an inquiry-driven place. Students follow their own curiosities into content, and teachers follow their students into learning. Insomuch as the teacher “teaches,” she does so by observing students at mental play. By doing so, she learns how her students self-organize intellectually as well as socially.

How students behave — and what they create — when given the freedom to learn provides much more useful information to the teacher about her students and their learning than any set of monocultural, text-based assessments ever can.

Because the teacher in the needs-fulfilling classroom doesn’t deny students the opportunity to play with, remix, and/or — at times — ignore class content, she is better able to meet students other needs than a teacher in a traditional, needs-denying classroom can.

  • By understanding what her students find fun, she can scaffold content in fun — or fulfilling — ways.
  • By understanding how her students use power, she can scaffold instruction to give students opportunities for meaningful, positive agency, collaboration and division of labor.
  • By understanding what her students find scary in self-directed work, she can scaffold self-directed learning for students with diverse understandings and expectations of what it means to learn — as well as for students who need different kinds of freedom to learn.
  • By understanding how students relate to others, including themselves, she can scaffold work to build trust within and between students who hold different expectations of themselves and their peers.

Very little of this is possible in the traditional, needs-denying classroom. I call such a place “the needs-denying classroom” because it privileges the desires of the system above the needs of both its teacher and students. Teachers in such places are subordinate to the system — they are expected to do what is right by their scores rather than what is right by their students. Students in such places are subordinate to the teacher who is making instructional decisions based on personal finance. There is little belonging, freedom, fun, power, or safety to be had in that classroom as the teacher competes for a job shaped by economic and political, not pedagogical, forces and students compete for the teacher’s attention by being mediocre enough to receive the most preparation for the end-of-course standardized test.


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