We hold students to high expectations because we care about them and believe in them.
Our foundational strategy for creating a safe classroom, and indeed for most everything that we do at JJSE, is what Franita Ware calls a “warm demander pedagogy.” This approach involves teachers creating clear boundaries for students and demanding high performance from them, and at the same time providing support and encouragement in a very humanistic manner. To do so, teachers bring their authentic selves to the classroom and develop strong relationships with students in order to establish authority and set high expectations for the young people in their charge.
Former JJSE Co-Director Darrick Smith explains that this is “an old way of being, an old way of mentoring, an old way of raising children in marginalized communities” which involves “clear boundaries between adult and child and clear expectations of excellence for the child, while [the adult] also serves as an important source of motivation and encouragement.”
In the classroom, teachers begin with the assumption that when students are violating norms, it is the adult’s responsibility to intervene in order to uphold community standards. By addressing all violations, and by providing detailed explanations to students, both in class and in separate one-on-one conversations, teachers communicate that they respect students and expect more of them. In effect, teachers’ words and actions say to students, “I believe in you and recognize your potential, so I’m not about to let you keep acting in this manner.” Teachers frame classroom management and discipline issues around caring for and believing in students, and often use humor to keep things in perspective. This reminds students that our classrooms are humane places where we need and expect them to be their best selves.
For more on the concept of warm demander, watch the videos below and read these two blogs by JJSE Co-Founder Matt Alexander– The Warm Demander: An Equity Approach and Who is Your Warm Demander Role Model?
Here are some specific examples of the warm demander approach at JJSE:
1. Hamster for a Sub, Bridget Brew
Math teacher Bridget Brew establishes strong relationships with students and then pushes them in ways that are always demanding and often humorous. Note in particular: (1) Ms. Brew’s response when students miss a ridiculously easy calculation; (2) Ms. Brew’s response when a student complains that she should have given them a problem with smaller numbers; (3) Her preemptive reminder that she does not want any “Boo-Hooing” about the composition of their small groups; and (4) Her expectations for the following day when students are going to have a substitute.
2. Cell Phone, TR Amsler
In another example of the “warm demander” approach, Humanities teacher TR Amsler responds with quick-thinking humor when a student’s cell phone goes off during a slide presentation on the first day of school. He establishes a clear expectation while also making students laugh (or at least groan). Later in the class period, he returns to the issue and makes the point that anything which distracts students from learning diminishes both their self-determination and potential.