What it means to be a “warm demander” and why it’s so important

April 29th, 2019 | Elise Darwish

When I first started teaching, I taught next to a fourth-grade teacher that kept many students after school to work.  This group of students included students with learning disabilities and English learners who didn’t complain or seem phased by the additional work.  Although she seemed to care for her students, at the time, I thought she was unkind to make students with learning difficulties work so hard.  I now know she was a “warm-demander”.  The students worked hard because they knew this teacher cared deeply for them and was going to hold them to high standards.

Becoming a warm-demander means communicating at every opportunity that I care about you so much that I won’t let you miss this learning opportunity.   It requires rigorous caring and caring rigor. Becoming a warm-demander requires attention to both sides of the equation: emotional and instructional.

To be a warm demander, the first step is to develop a true caring for individual students.  This happens through every interaction including non-verbal interactions like eye contact, smiling and standing close to the students. Some teachers even use the entry into the classroom as a time to shake hands, fist bump or smile at every single student, developing a relationship with them.  These warm-demanders are making sure every student is seen and there’s a purposeful connection.  Students can also feel that their teachers care for them when the teacher takes an authentic interest in their activities outside of school. As an example, my son would have done anything for one of his high school teachers who shared his favorite AC/DC song after seeing my son’s AC/DC t-shirt.  A caring relationship earns the teacher the right to hold high expectations for students because students trust that those expectations are coming from a place of kindness.

As important as showing your students you care is holding them to high expectations.  This is often the more difficult part.  Providing a consistently high academic press to all students requires a deep knowledge of the content as well as pedagogical content knowledge, so the instruction supports every learner, even those who may need additional support.  In the case of English learners, it requires the addition of academic language objectives for the same rigorous content that native speakers are learning.  Teachers also have to create lessons and classroom instruction that allows all students to experience productive struggle and grapple with rigorous content.  Ultimately, it requires the teacher communicating that learning takes work and time, but that the student is worth investing in and they can do it. It’s an unflinching belief that with academic supports every student can reach high standards.

Becoming a warm-demander requires a focus on both instruction and relationships.  It’s not surprising that research shows these are the high performing teachers because it demands a lot of work.  But, your students are worth that effort.