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Students in high school are still trying to decide who they are now and who they are going to be in the future. They need the comfort to be who they are and the freedom to explore who they might be. A curriculum that focuses on self-discovery and a teaching staff that understands and appreciates the unique developmental aspects of adolescence are the key.
Students have a psychological need for high, consistent, achievable expectations. Even my students with the most inappropriate behaviors, when approached one on one about their performance, acknowledge that they want and can achieve the expectations. Having low standards sends an implicit to students that you really don't value them.
I think this also depends on where you are teaching. In our rural district our high school students deal with some of the same physical needs that younger students deal with. We are still there only source of meals for some, the only shelter some have, we have to be certain their physical needs are being met before we worry about other needs.
In my year of working at a wilderness camp with at-risk youth, we were taught to identify negative behaviors through one of four psychological needs: love, power, freedom, or fun. Honestly, this pretty much covers every psychological need of humans.
Anytime one of my students was acting out, if I could identify the need that was not being met, it was not long before the behavior could be corrected. Then, of course, the ultimate goal was to get the kids themselves to identify exactly what they needed.
To break them down into a little more detail for you:
Love: affection, appreciation, personal attention (often this was lacking from home/family first and was difficult to establish in a counselor/student setting. The "love" need was easier to meet with campers I'd had for several weeks or months.
Power: independence, the need to be heard and listened to, the need for control of something. Providing choices as well as giving kids input in what direct the class (or therapy) is going helps this need.
Freedom: similar to power, the need to be independent. I think this is a general need for all adolescents and isn't fully met until they get out of the house and on their own.
Fun: exactly how it sounds, the need for recreation, laughter, humor, play-time.
In my experience students need to feel successful, if even in just small ways. I'm not sure where that falls on the traditional Maslov heirarchy of needs, but it is probably in the middle somewhere. Once they feel successful they usually become more motivated and interested in their studies. It almost never fails: success breeds success.
The major psychological need of teenagers is to be accepted by their peers. I don't think anything else even comes close.
By the time students are in their teens, their peers mean more to them than parents (at least in the immediate present) and teachers. Therefore, their behavior tends to be aimed at pleasing their peers, not at pleasing us authority figures.
I would think that there is a bevy of research out there for you. Over the last twenty years, the field of adolescent psychology has undergone major change as the understanding we have of adolescents have changed. From the most basic of view, I think that there are some psychological needs that have to be understood. The first would be the conflicting association with personal freedom and collectivity. On one hand, there is a psychological need to assert independence. Yet, there is an equally compelling desire to want to belong. The paradox that results is a being that wishes to be free to belong to a group. The collision between individuality and collectivity comes out in different forms throughout the adolescent period and might be one that requires attention and vigilance. Along these lines, the intensity of emotions and mood swings are another part of the psychological framework that has to be understood in adolescence. In this light, I think that one has to grasp the need for proper channeling and comprehension of challenging emotional dynamics.
Great question and since I work with both of these age groups, it can be a complex issue to address. However, being a life-long learner myself, one focus that can address those needs is to treat them with respect, be patient and listen to what it is they are saying. Don't be too quick to jump in with an answer to their questions but repeat what it is you think they want to or need to know, and then ask more questions to find out what it is they are really asking. These two age groups often come to school with a huge load of baggage from home. They have a wall up and before you can effectively meet their needs psychologically, you have to be able to break through that wall. Being kind, showing compassion, and showing a willingness to just listen to their needs often is enough to help them deal with their emotions, their fears, and with any outside influence that may be causing that wall to be so high. Until you can take down some of the bricks, and peak over the top, you will never be able to help them discover their self-worth and feel good about who they are and what they can become which are their most important psychological needs.
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