Recently, I attended the Indiana Association of School Principals Fall Professionals Conference. This conference brought together school leaders from all over the State of Indiana for a few days of learning with several keynote speakers, and then some great breakout sessions. While there are many things that I could share with you from the various learning opportunities, there was one thing that stuck out to me. In one of the sessions, our presenters shared something called the “Warm Demander Chart.” This chart is based on the work of Zaretta Hammond, and it looks like this:

As you look at the chart, you’ll notice four quadrants, which are based on two axes. The vertical axis is based on a spectrum from passive leniency to active demandingness, in other words, it’s how high of expectations we place on our students. The horizontal axis is based on a spectrum from professional distance to personal warmth. These traits will impact actions by teachers in a classroom, but also impact students’ perceptions about their sense of belonging.

Recently, in our building, we have been digging into the work of John Hattie. In that work, we’ve learned that research should impact practice within the classroom. In his work, Hattie has identified a variety of influences on learning. In that research, things like teacher-student relationships, school climate, sense of belonging, and teacher estimates of achievement (in other words, our expectations of students) all meaningfully contribute to accelerating academic success.

Which is why I want to come back to the Warm Demander Chart. Take a moment to go back to it and reflect on a couple questions. First, where do you strive to fall on that chart? Next, if you don’t fall where you strive to fall, where do you feel like you end up instead? Finally, as a spectrum, there may be moments when we might move from one quadrant into another. What are the things that might cause you to move somewhere other than where you strive to be?

When I was at the conference session, we were split into groups to discuss the chart. Within that small group, all of us agreed that we strive to fall into the “Warm Demander” quadrant, but that there might be moments when we land somewhere else. As people around the room shared with the whole group, almost everyone said that they want to fall in that “Warm Demander” quadrant, and I’m guessing that is true for those of you who are reading this post.

But the more we talked, the more we realized that there were similarities in the moments we might move into more of the “Sentimentalist” quadrant. What I notice when I look at this quadrant is that because we care about our students so much, we want to protect them – from failure, from difficulty, from the struggle. Most likely, we do so with the best of intentions. We might know that the student has lots of struggles outside of school, such as poverty or trauma, and we don’t want to add to that.

Then a guy I was sitting near said something that I hope will always stick with me:

Let that sink in for a moment…

Now, pause and think about your students. There is probably at least one (and maybe more than one) student that we lower our expectations. And again, we do this with the best of intentions. But here’s the reality – for that student, one of the best ways to help them out of the situation they are in is a solid education. In life, there are going to be struggles for each of our children. One of the best things that we as educators can do is to provide them with a safe space and appropriate scaffolds in moments of productive struggle. Over time, they will then develop skills to help them handle moments of productive struggle independently. If we lower our expectations because “My poor babies just can’t handle that” (yes, I have heard that said about students by teachers that I have worked with), we might be crippling them in the situations they will face in the future.

It is appropriate as a teacher to hold all students to high expectations and then add in some personal warmth so that all our students know what struggle will look like, but also that people are there to provide a helping hand along the way. This is such an important piece of the learning process for our students. So, the next time you begin to think to yourself that you might lower your expectations for one of your students, remember that decision could have long-term impacts on our kids.

In the long run, our goal is to meet every kid where they are when they come to us and provide them with learning opportunities and support along the way so that they may grow to the greatest extent possible. That won’t happen when we lower our expectations for kids.

Challenge yourself to keep the expectations high for every student. We can still be that loving, warm, caring person while also expecting the most of our students they are capable of!

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