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Educators in classrooms throughout the country experience similar realities: students who have academic challenges compounded by inappropriate behaviors that impede their ability to be successful in school. Many students and families of students with Learning Disabilities (LD) find themselves in this situation; despite good intentions, these students often fall through the cracks and struggle to keep up. According to Hyland (2009), teachers who find themselves with students who have turned off to school for one reason or another, often attempt to educate themselves on and implement what they deem effective teaching practices. In these attempts, teachers do many things right as they reach out to their students; these include having high expectations for students’ learning, incorporating community issues into the classroom, viewing knowledge critically, and valuing students. However, sometimes their attempts are not enough.
Educational research has recognized that students are more successful in classrooms when two conditions are present: 1) when students believe they have the intellectual ability to succeed in school, and 2) when they know that their teachers hold high expectations of them. Research conducted by Adkins-Coleman (2010) found that successful teachers were those that created structured learning environments that fostered these beliefs in students. These environments set in motion situations in which teachers were able to 1) encourage students to work hard, 2) encourage students to be inquisitive and 3) encourage students to participate in classroom activities and assignments. Furthermore, these structured learning environments were facilitated by a teacher’s ability to do three things: 1) develop strong relationships and mutual respect with students, 2) maintain high behavioral expectations, and 3) build empathy for students through actions and words. (Adkins-Coleman, 2010).
Developing Relationships: The importance of a personal approach to teaching.
A personal approach to teaching is evident in a pedagogical style known as “warm demander.” The term warm demander was first coined by Kleinfeld (1975) who studied teachers who communicated personal warmth and used a pedagogical style he referred to as “active demandingness”. Although Kleinfeld was looking at teachers who taught culturally diverse students, warm demander pedagogy promotes useful practices that are applicable to all academically diverse students, such as those experiencing learning challenges. What makes warm demander pedagogy unique are the counterintuitive pedagogical practices; the teacher must establish both a caring personal relationship with students while countering this relationship with high academic and behavioral expectations. The warm personal relationship between the teacher and student sets the foundation that allows for the demands of academic achievement (Bondy & Ross, 2008). Student perceptions of warm demander behavior suggest that there is merit to the coexistence of these possibly contradictory teaching practices. “She’s mean out of the kindness of her heart,” (Bondy, Ross, Gallingame, Hambacher, 2008) expresses with clarity the typical student sentiment when warm demander pedagogy is practiced correctly. Students are aware that their teacher has a personal interest in them and their academic success, and it is that investment that is driving the teacher’s high expectations.
Insistence: Holding students accountable for meeting expectations.
Bondy, Ross, Gallingame, and Hambacher (2008) advocated that “one key strategy in creating a positive psychological environment is the teacher’s capacity to ‘insist’ that the students meet established academic and behavioral standards” (p. 142). Within the framework of warm demander pedagogy there are no power struggles nor is there any overt assertion of power over the students. As such, any respect engendered to the teacher is earned rather than expected. It is the comparative difference between an authoritative pedagogy and an authoritarian pedagogy. Insistence is characterized by repeated and respectful requests paired with the calm delivery of consequences. The pedagogy of insistence is communicated through the following practices:
1. The explicit and clear cut communication of expectations. Teachers ensure that
after they have stated their expectations, their students, 1) heard them, 2) understood
them, and 3) practiced them.
2. A pattern of repeat, remind and reinforce in which the teacher reintroduces those
clear cut expectations to students on a daily basis. Teachers use the pattern of repeat,
remind and reinforce in two ways: as a means to further communicate expectations to
their students and as a response to student misbehavior.
3. Communication with students is delivered in a tone of voice that is calm and
respectful, yet firm and direct. Warm demander teachers all exhibit an authoritative
insistent tone when engaging their students.
Further, the insistent message of teachers utilizing this practice communicates the beliefs that students are expected to learn, they are capable of learning, and that the teachers truly believe the students want to learn. This is a powerful and highly successful combination.
Caring Behaviors: Creating a safe place for learning.
Relationships often begin when teachers first let their students know they care about and believe in them. This display of empathy communicates to students that the classroom is a safe place to learn. Garza (2009) investigated caring behaviors in teachers and found that five dominant themes of caring teacher behaviors emerged.
The students felt that caring teachers:
Provide scaffolding during a teaching episode, “She helps me understand when I am confused…she does not make me feel stupid,” (Garza, 2009, p. 310).
Reflect a kind disposition through actions, “She teaches you like if she were your friend,” (Garza, 2009, p. 312).
Make themselves available to the student, “When I need something, she is always there for me,” (Garza, 2009, p. 313).
Show a personal interest in the student’s well being inside and outside the classroom, “She asks every day how I have been and sincerely responds back to me,” (Garza, 2009, p. 314).
Provide effective academic support in the classroom setting, “Whenever I forget an assignment, she gives me a chance to bring it in to turn in assignments,” (Garza, 2009, p. 315).
Educators and other school professionals who care about children can utilize warm demander pedagogy. Research has shown that students immersed in a warm demander culture view their teachers’ insistence on meeting expectations as a positive attribute and viewed this as an example of the teacher pushing them to be their best. Children of all ages, cultures, ability and disability levels benefit when the teachers in their lives develop personal relationships with their students, hold high expectations for success and insist that their students meet those expectations, as well as demonstrate a sense of caring. For further information about how to implement warm demander pedagogy in your classroom, consult the references listed below.
Adkins-Coleman, T.A. (2010). I’m not afraid to come into your world: Case studies of teachers facilitating engagement in urban high school classrooms. The Journal of Negro Education, 79, 1. Retrieved from http://www.journalnegroed.org/ (accessed October 14, 2011).
Bondy, E. & Ross, D.D. (2008). The teacher as warm demander. Educational Leadership.
Bondy, E., Ross, D. D., Gallingame, C., & Hambacher, E. (2008). Promoting academic engagement through insistence: Being a warm demander. Childhood Education, 84(3), 142-146. Retrieved from http://www.acei.org/
Garza, R. (2009). Latino and white high school student’s perceptions of caring behaviors: Are we culturally responsive to our students? Urban Education, 44:297. DOI 10.1177/004208590831714.
Hyland, N. E. (2009). One white teacher’s struggle for culturally relevant pedagogy: The problem of the community. The New Educator, 5(2), 95-112. Retrieved from www.ccny.cuny.edu/neweducator.
Kleinfeld, J. (1975). Effective teachers of Eskimo and Indian students. School Review, 83,
Micheline Malow, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. She teaches courses in the Foundations of Special Education, Research in Special Education, and Child Development. In addition, Dr. Malow has presented at numerous professional conferences and has published articles on students with disabilities, effective strategies for students with disabilities and teacher training. Additionally, Dr. Malow has co-authored a book about adolescent risk taking behavior from Greenwood Press, Adolescents and Risk. Contact Dr. Malow at firstname.lastname@example.org.