Building and Modeling Warm Demander Teaching Identities

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EquityTeacher EducationWarm Demander Pedagogy
This collaborative self-study interrogates two mid-career teacher educators’ abilities to enact “warm demander” teacher identities with students in their licensure coursework. Each of the authors teaches in different types of programs in different locations within the U.S. Building on lessons learned through virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, they seek to study the gaps between their espoused teaching identities and their practices. Using surveys, teaching journals, and dialogue based on critical friendship and collaboration, they describe what they learned from explicitly studying their pedagogical relationships with students. Their findings reveal an insight into the ways that being a warm demander is a necessary part of teacher education, particularly in schools that have a diverse student population.


We are three mid-career teacher educators who have a history of working together to interrogate our practices. In previous work, we have sought to intentionally experiment with new instructional strategies (Allison et al., 2020, 2021a), learn from our challenging courses (Allison et al., 2021b), and articulate what we learned from leadership positions (Haniford et al., 2021; Ramirez et al., 2020). In this collaborative self-study, we build on our previous work while also confronting some of what we learned through our COVID-19 teaching experiences. Laura is an associate professor at a large research-one university in the southwestern United States. The students in her teacher preparation program are more diverse than national teacher demographics in the U.S. Valerie is an associate professor at a small, private, liberal arts institution in the northeast U.S. Her teacher candidates more closely match the national teacher demographics. Laurie, an associate professor at a mid-sized public university in the southeastern U.S., served as our critical friend.

Each of us has a clearly articulated teaching philosophy that values relationships and centers issues of equity and social justice. We strive to balance friendly, warm classroom environments and relationships with students with high expectations and rigor. In other words, we seek to be “warm demanders” (Kleinfeld, 1975; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Hammond, 2014). Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we each felt relatively successful in enacting a warm demander stance. Additionally, we each explicitly teach our preservice students the importance of being warm demanders. However, during the year of pandemic teaching, we came to question how effective we were with all students.

In reflecting with each other on our experiences during the 2020-2021 academic year, we kept returning to the challenges we faced with developing and maintaining strong relationships with our students. We found our ability to form the relationships necessary to be warm demanders were uneven at best in an online environment. As self-study researchers oriented toward improving our teaching practice (LaBoskey, 2004), this realization inevitably resulted in questions about our face-to-face teaching as well. As a result, in this self-study, we explore the following questions:

Theoretical Framework

Warm Demander

The concept of “warm demander” as a model for the effective teaching of diverse students was first coined by Judith Kleinfeld in 1975 in her analysis of strong teachers of Alaskan Indigenous students. Often the term has been used to describe teachers who teach in culturally responsive ways and who are successful with diverse student populations (e.g., Ford & Sassi, 2014; Irvine & Fraser, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Ware, 2006). The term itself suggests a teacher who exhibits personal warmth and care, combined with what Irvine and Fraser (1998) call “a tough minded, no nonsense, structured and disciplined classroom environment for kids whom society has psychologically and physically abandoned” (p. 1). For the purposes of our work, we rely on the definition provided by Zaretta Hammond (2014), “This unique combination of personal warmth and active demandingness earns the teacher the right to push for excellence and stretch the student beyond his comfort zone” (pp. 97-98).

As a facet of culturally responsive teaching (Irvine & Fraser, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Ware, 2006), a warm demander stance has been most broadly studied and theorized in the context of white teachers working with African American students (Irvine & Fraser, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2009). Because it is rooted in culturally responsive teaching, an explicit focus on social justice and equity is a critical component of teachers exhibiting a warm demander stance (Irvine & Fraser, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Ware, 2006).

At the heart of a warm demander stance are the relationships between the teacher and their students. Zaretta Hammond (2014) articulates the different important components in what she terms the “learning partnership” between students and their teacher. These include: “Establish an authentic connection with students that builds mutual trust and respect;” “Leverage the trust bond to help students rise to higher expectations;” and “Hold students to high standards while offering them new intellectual challenges” (p. 19).

Despite research demonstrating the effectiveness of a warm demander stance on the learning of students of color (Kleinfeld, 1975; Ladson-Billings, 2009; Ware, 2006), it is an often misunderstood approach to teaching, particularly for white teacher candidates (Bondy et al., 2012). This is due to the fact that being a warm demander requires that teachers demonstrate care to their students in a way that students see as caring (Bondy et al., 2012; Noddings, 2002).

Despite evidence that a warm demander stance in the classroom supports historically marginalized students, in our literature search, we were only able to find one article exploring how two first-year teachers attempted to become warm demanders (Bondy et al., 2013). We aim to begin to address this gap in the literature.

Self-Study, Critical Friendship, and Collaboration

Two major tenets guiding this research are collaboration and critical reflection. As Kitchen, Berry, and Russell (2019) argued, “conversation and collaboration with peers can have a powerful impact” (p. 93). Aligning with Brookfield’s (1995, 2009) conceptualization, we assert that reflection is critical when it is motivated by the desire to be just, fair, and compassionate and when it questions the criteria, power dynamics, and socio-political structures that frame our practice. Further, critical reflection includes framing problems from multiple perspectives, examining practice, and working toward change. This process occurs by questioning and analyzing taken-for-granted assumptions, routines, rationalizations, and unexamined explanations (Loughran, 2002; Rodgers, 2002). Through examining our pedagogical relationships with students, we strive for greater equity in our classrooms. One method we use to help us confront our assumptions and rationalizations is through our established critical friendship. Schuck and Russell (2005) maintained that “a critical friend acts as a sounding board, asks challenging questions, supports reframing of events, and joins in the professional experience” (p. 107). Additionally, we rely on our critical friendship in order to help us build trustworthiness (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001).

Our collaboration was born of shared beliefs and a true friendship that was honed over time. As we first collectively collaborated in the self-study research venue, we found Tidwell’s (2006) idea of nodal moments to be helpful - these are those moments that cause you to stop and reflect and result in the transformation of your practice. Further, LaBoskey (1998), Brookfield (1995), and Lighthall (2004) posit that enlisting colleagues to engage in collaborative study offers possibility, insight, and the opportunity to reframe practices. This study has been a rare chance for diverse women to come together from across the U.S. to identify commonality and divergence.

Data and Methods

For the study, Laura worked with the licensure class she teaches every fall to secondary education students (n=25). Valerie worked with a cohort of 11 secondary education students in two methods courses she teaches every fall.

Drawing on our theoretical frame articulating what makes a teacher a warm demander, at the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, we asked students to write about what trust/rapport looks like for them as learners. How do they know they have trust and rapport with a teacher? We analyzed these written statements for themes and to begin to identify students with whom it might be more challenging for us to develop the kind of “learning partnership” (Hammond, 2014) necessary to demand high academic performance.

Additionally, we tracked our interactions with students during each class session, focusing carefully on those students with whom we felt we were not developing the same sort of rapport as others. We each identified two focal students and in our teaching journals we focused on our interactions with these students, noting specific attempts to develop trust and rapport, whether those attempts were successful or not, and ultimately what we learned about teaching, teacher education, and ourselves as a result.

We met regularly via Zoom to share stories and strategies. We recorded and transcribed these meetings to use as additional data. Laurie, as our critical friend, asked us to uncover assumptions we were making about students, raised alternative perspectives, and helped us to consider additional strategies for developing strong learning partnerships. Sometimes she also simply reassured us that we were doing all we could.

Finally, we distributed an anonymous survey to all students at the end of the semester to measure their opinions about our ability to be warm demanders with each of them (see Appendix A). This survey contained questions eliciting their thoughts on our caring, our ability to develop learning partnerships and rapport with them, and whether we held high expectations for them.

We compared the writing students produced at the beginning of the semester about trust and rapport with the results of the survey, looking for instances of similarities and differences between what students articulated generally about teachers and what they said about their trust and rapport with us specifically. This data gave us information about where we were successful and where we fell short in our efforts to model for students a warm demander stance.

At semester’s end, we immersed ourselves in our individual datasets in an iterative process, doing multiple readings to identify codes, emergent patterns, and questions for consideration as they relate to our initial research focus (Merriam, 1998; Samaras, 2011). In additional Zoom conferences, we discussed our individual findings, exchanged ideas, and established the broader patterns and divergent themes (Samaras & Freese, 2006). In preparing the final paper, we selected data excerpts that are representative of our datasets and illustrate the themes we collectively identified.


One of the indicators of a warm demander stance is high expectations and an explicit push for students to meet those expectations. Our struggles with developing relationships in a virtual environment raised questions for us about students’ abilities to hide or simply tell us what they think we want to hear in our face-to-face classrooms. Our findings helped us understand both our past experiences and ways for us to move forward.

Coming to Better Understand a Warm Demander Stance

Early in this study, we frequently spoke of being a warm demander as existing on a continuum from warm to demanding. In fact, we even uploaded a photo on our shared drive of a fuel gauge in a car with warm on one end and demanding on the other. Over time, we came to more fully understand Hammond’s (2014) definition quoted above. Relationships must be tended to and carefully nurtured in order for us to demand students rise to meet our expectations. Laura wrote in her final teaching journal:

Reading over their responses, something struck me that I think should have been obvious and is even written about in the literature but I’m not sure it’s as clear as it can be. It isn’t a continuum between warm and demander. They are the same thing. It is through the rapport and relationships that I build with students (the warmth) that I can demand. And, students actually demand more of themselves because they don’t want to disappoint me or damage our relationship. (December 9, 2021)

Some examples of the types of comments students made in their final survey that led to this realization were:

Among all my classes, I felt most guilty when I was absent in this one. I actually felt like pushing myself to not only arrive but also engage whereas in other classes I sometimes felt like skipping because I felt as though my time in class could just be subverted by turning my assignments in and dialing in my grade. The time in class here had no substitute.
Yes, I think based on everything you shared with us, both the how and the why we were doing things, it made me more inclined to try. I felt like if I didn't do my end of the work, it would waste my (and your) time.
I wanted to get my homework done because I genuinely wanted to hear your feedback, and it would give me something to talk about with you.

Valerie also received similar feedback from her students:

Yes, I feel like we all held ourselves to a high standard because we not only did not want to disappoint you, but we didn't want to look bad in front of our peers.
I did feel motivated. Honestly, I would be pretty upset to disappoint you as I have a great amount of respect for you and your opinion.
Yes, I felt motivated to meet class expectations due to our established learning partnership. Once a personal connection was established early on, I felt inclined to give this course my best effort. Although I could also credit this motivation to the implications of this course (highly relevant to student teaching), the established rapport certainly helped completing assignments and participating in class I was personally inclined to give my all.

As teacher educators, it is crucial that we have a deep understanding of what we are asking our students to do in their own classrooms. When we were teaching in middle and high schools, we were unfamiliar with the term “warm demander.” We understood the importance of holding high expectations for all our students, but we did not have the language to describe how the relationships we build with students contribute to our abilities to push students to meet those expectations. The above comments from our students coupled with the experiences we had in our classes this semester shifted our understanding in profound ways.

Intentionality Matters

A second finding was that simply through the explicit focus on developing strong relationships with each student assisted us in being more mindful of checking in with every student, in every class. As Valerie said in a Zoom meeting on March 21, 2022, we “couldn’t simply rely on our personalities.” While both Laura and Valerie felt that developing strong relationships with students was one of our strengths, the process of focusing on our relationships with all of the students in our classes had an impact. Additionally, the fall of 2021 was the first semester that Laura’s institution was back face-to-face (albeit masked), and it was exciting for Laura to see students in person again. As a result, she found herself explicitly checking in with each of the 25 students each class session in a way that she perhaps did not prior to COVID. After the first day of class, Laura made a list of the students she felt she was already developing rapport with, and those with whom she did not make an immediate connection. The process of writing down students’ names and thinking about whether she could picture them in her head and what type of interactions she had had with them caused her to focus on who she was going to attend to in the coming week. For example, the addition of masks made it more challenging than usual for Laura to recognize some faces. She had to extend what she paid attention to in order to learn some students' names, e.g. noting that one student always had beautifully manicured long nails.

Students noticed these efforts and spoke to them in their comments on the end-of-semester survey. A few examples are:

You always came to check in with me especially when I was sitting alone, which I really appreciate because it can be hard for me to be social, but I don't like to just sit by myself when everyone else is talking to each other.
I can be pretty quiet sometimes and can keep to myself to a fault and every single day that I came into class you said hi to me and asked how things were going. That really meant a lot to me even when I responded with a quick "just fine". Also I have instant rapport with any Dr. Who fan.

Because Valerie’s program is much smaller, and she serves as an academic advisor to all students who declare they are pursuing secondary education certification beginning in their first semester, Valerie knew her students’ names and a little about them before they became her students in the fall of their senior years. For her, engaging in this study meant thinking about which of her students she already knew well and which she did not. In the case of a few students, she began the semester (based on previous advising experiences with them) having some trepidation.

I sort of had a bad attitude about him before the semester began because he had previously stood me up for advising appointments and not apologized. I needed to let that irritation go because he really is a nice person who seems dedicated to becoming a teacher who cares about his students and not just his content area. (September 16, 2021)

In her early journals of the fall 2021 semester, she systematically thought through how she was engaging with each student in her courses and where she needed to work to intentionally draw students into the classroom community. In writing about a couple of students who did not volunteer often in class discussions, Valerie wrote,

I’m being really mindful of encouraging and calling on them when the stakes are lower. I’ve also been doing more of getting students to develop and ask their own questions of the group/class. In that way I can get quieter students to ask their questions first. I’m also trying to be very mindful of calling on students by their names. (October 2, 2021)

Of course, we each also made some missteps with individual students. For example, Valerie had one student who struggled throughout the semester to complete assignments on time and/or according to expectations. Additionally, the student had multiple absences and disclosed they were struggling with anxiety. At the end of the semester, Valerie met with the student and followed up with an email detailing what needed to be completed in order for the student to pass the courses and be eligible to student teach in the spring. In order to be in compliance with her institution’s student management policies, she submitted an electronic alert to the Student Academic Success Committee. Alerts submitted trigger emails to the students they reference. Valerie’s student was offended by the alert as evidenced by their response to the end-of-semester survey.

I feel there was no need to report me for "not responding to outreach" when I did talk to you and told you when I would submit the missing assignment.

In hindsight, Valerie wished she had handled the situation differently. She believes simply letting the student know of her obligation to issue the alert would have gone a long way to helping the student not feel like they were being “tattled on.” As teachers, her students are going to encounter similar situations where they have professional obligations to record or report student concerns, and it would be beneficial to them to have a model for navigating those situations in a way that maintains rapport and does not result in students feeling shamed or disrespected.

Laura also realized that there are certain personality types she relates to more easily. There was one student in her class who was more quiet and less willing to have more personal conversations with her. At a certain point, you can’t force a relationship with students. Also, one student left a comment on the survey that left her with additional questions. In the end of the semester survey, in response to the question asking students to explain whether or not they felt they had rapport with her, one student wrote: “I do not have many controversial beliefs by any stretch of the imagination, but I feel like if you actually knew me you would not like me very much.” To Laura, this comment has several implications. First, she is concerned that this student did not feel they could be their full selves in the class. She doesn’t know which beliefs the student has that made them think this, so it is challenging to know how to respond. Additionally, there are certain teaching dispositions that Laura feels are necessary to becoming a teacher and that she is very upfront about in her classes. These include a commitment to interrogating our own biases, working to change our classrooms to be more inclusive of all students, and advocating for those who have been historically marginalized in schools. While she is unwilling to lessen her insistence on these dispositions, she also wants to consider how students such as these could more fully engage in the course.

Unanswered Questions

Finally, at the conclusion of this study, we are left wondering what it means to be a warm demander in higher education with professional students at the end of their degrees. Students in our programs have chosen to become teachers and so to a certain degree, they are internally motivated to successfully complete our courses in order to obtain their teaching credentials.

Additionally, we noticed differences based on the fact that Laura’s students are more diverse and have had more negative experiences in their own K-12 schooling experiences. Many students had not experienced the “warm demander” stance in their schooling, and there were many stories of students experiencing teachers with deficit perspectives of them, their families and communities, and their potential for success. Most students in Laura’s classes could see and understand the importance of being warm demanders based on their own schooling experiences.

In contrast, most of Valerie’s students are white and come from economically comfortable backgrounds. While they shared some negative stories of teachers who failed to develop rapport or who ruptured rapport with them; these stories were balanced by abundant memories of teachers taking interest in them and supporting them. However, the importance of being both warm and demanding was something we felt was important and necessary for our teacher education students, both for their own growth and for modeling for their future professional roles. Each of us are left with questions about how best to prepare teacher candidates to adopt a warm demander stance in their own classrooms, whatever their own schooling experiences have been.


Preparing teachers who are able to teach in culturally responsive or, more recently, culturally sustaining ways has always been imperative (Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2021; Paris & Alim, 2014, 2017). This call has become even more critical in the wake of the uprisings in the U.S. in 2020 and as we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic. Teaching in ways that are culturally sustaining means thinking about and modeling how to foster learning that views the “outcome of learning as additive rather than subtractive, as remaining whole rather than framed as broken” (Paris & Alim, 2017, p. 1). Those of us in teacher education have an opportunity to recommit to supporting teacher candidates who can construct warm demander teacher identities (Hammond, 2014) in order to develop supportive relationships with and hold rigorous expectations for all students. One unintentional realization we came to through this self-study was that while many of Laura’s students had never experienced the kind of supportive classrooms led by warm demander teachers, Valerie’s students, by and large, had although they would not describe their experiences as such. However, all teacher candidates need positive role models and experiences to draw from in order to later seek to build these same kinds of classroom communities and teaching identities. In order for our teacher candidates to develop these teacher identities, we must model this stance in our own classrooms. While we are pleased with the successes we experienced through this self-study, we are more keenly aware than ever of the importance of intentionally tracking which students with whom we do and do not have strong learning partnerships. We invite our teacher education colleagues to think with us about how best to prepare all teacher candidates in becoming warm demanders in their own classrooms.


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Appendix A

1. Did you feel you had rapport with me this semester?

Yes No Maybe

2. Please explain

3. To what extent did I create a warm, welcoming classroom?

1 2 3 4 5

Not at all All the time

4. To what extent did I create a personal learning partnership with you?

1 2 3 4 5

Not at all All the time

5. To what extent did I genuinely care about your success in the class?

1 2 3 4 5

Not at all All the time

6. To what extent did I establish a community of learners?

1 2 3 4 5

Not at all All the time

7. Did you feel I held high expectations for you?

Yes No Maybe

8. Please explain

9. Did I communicate me expectations for you clearly

Yes No Maybe

10. Please explain

11. Did you feel motivated to meet class expectations because of the learning partnership we had established?

Yes No Maybe

12. Please explain

13. Did you feel I was a warm demander as a professor?

Yes No Maybe

14. Please explain

Laura C. Haniford

University of New Mexico

Valerie A. Allison

Susquehanna University

Laurie A. Ramirez

Appalachian State University

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