The Warm Demander

The Warm Demander

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!

What does John Wooden have to do with teaching?

As many of you know, when I was still teaching, I also coached basketball.  In one of the first seasons I was coaching, I attended a coaching clinic.  I learned a ton that day, but one of the things that has stuck with me even beyond my time as a coach was probably a throw away comment by one of the assistant coaches about John Wooden – one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.  During the clinic we were talking about a variation on Coach Wooden’s famous secondary break, and someone mentioned one of Wooden’s books.  I jotted a note to myself, and ordered it from Amazon later.  When it arrived, I expected a book with information about various plays and strategy – after all it is a book on coaching.  What I found however, was that the majority of the book was on coaching philosophies.

To me, this was valuable information as well, I mean the guy is one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, coaching his UCLA teams to 10 national championships, including a stretch of 7 consecutive national championships.  During his years as the coach at UCLA, he was able to get some of the best basketball players in the country to come and play for his team.  One of the things that I found most intriguing as I read about Wooden’s coaching was in how he began his season.  He was bringing in some of the best recruits in the country, there were many players who went on to careers playing in the NBA, and yet every season, no matter who was on the team, Wooden would start the first practice in the locker room talking about how players should correctly put on their socks and shoes.  He felt that you had to start at the absolute beginning with everything in order to make sure that the players on his team knew the expectations and procedures that were part of success for UCLA Bruins basketball players.

Every year at the beginning of the school year a new group of students walk into your classroom.  We have to look at each of those kids as our top recruits – we know that they are in the eyes of the parents who trust us to help their children learn and grow while they are here with us.

When Wooden got his top recruits, he could have easily gone straight to the basketball court to start working on offenses and defenses that the team would run throughout the year – I mean these guys all knew how to put on their socks and shoes, they had to have been successful players in high school to end up at UCLA.  But Wooden knew that expectations and procedures were the key to a successful season.  He started with the small things – socks and shoes.  Once they made it to the basketball court, much of their time in the early part of the season were on fundamentals – dribbling, passing, footwork.  Wooden understood that if you had a solid base of expectations, teaching players to play the game the way they needed to in order to be successful would be so much easier.

So, how do you spend your time at the beginning of the school year?  I know that it can be tempting to think that our students, most of whom have been “in school” for 5-6 years, know what is expected.  It can be easy to skip over the base level procedures.  Just like Wooden could have said that his players knew how to put on their socks and shoes, or they knew how to dribble, pass, and move their feet, we could assume that our students know how to line up, how (and when) to sharpen a pencil, how to work in a small group, etc.  But here’s the thing – it’s possible that the way you expect students to do some of these things is different than the way that a past teacher expected things to be done.

I am writing this post in late April, knowing that I’m not going to post it until the beginning of the school year.  In my role I have the privilege of visiting lots of different classrooms, seeing how different people spend their time, and seeing what people value.  One thing that I notice in April is that the teachers who have invested time throughout the year with the basic expectations – like Wooden did with socks and shoes – are currently (in April) having the most success with student behavior.

So, what are the things we need to teach on the most basic level?  Here are just a few ideas that come to mind:

  • Transitions
  • What to bring to class every day
  • Small group time / collaboration time
  • Lunch
  • Recess
  • Restroom expectations

What might you add to your list?  There might be expectations that are specific to your content area, or there might be things that don’t apply for your class structure.  In the last couple of years I was in the classroom, I created a 1 slide power point for each of these situations along with a few that were directly connected to my content area, and I would display them every time that it fit at the beginning of the year.  As the year went on, I would spend less and less time on the review, unless I noticed a pattern of issues.  Then we might review for a few days.  We would also spend some time reviewing each of the expectations after any break from school.  While this did not always solve every single issue, it helped in the long run, and by taking the time to create these slides in advance, it was easy for me to pull one up and display for my students.

As you prepare for your school year, what are the socks and shoes type of procedures that your students need to know about in order to be successful in your classroom?  After creating a list of expectations, think about the method that might work best for you to be able to teach your students those expectations.  It can be easy to assume that our students will know what to do, but they might not.  Maybe you will share your procedures in a power point slide like mine, maybe it’s something more involved like a student created video.  Whatever the plan is, take the time to think about how you can share your expectations with your students so that they truly know what to do.

For your students to be truly successful, they have to have a solid foundation.  What pieces of the foundation do you think you need to work on the most for your students to learn and grow in your class?  Share your ideas in the comments below – maybe your thoughts and ideas will spark an idea for others!