Why Teachers Need to Be "Warm Demanders" Toward Themselves

Many educators, particularly those focused on having culturally responsive and inclusive classrooms, understand the value of being a “warm demander” for their students.  This term, originally coined in 1975 by Judith Kleinfeld, describes how teachers can hold their students to high expectations in a structured environment while still conveying a deep and sincere belief in, and care for, those students.  

More recently, teachers and coaches have described warm demanders as educators who, in the words of author Lisa Delpit, "expect a great deal of their students, convince them of their own brilliance, and help them to reach their potential in a disciplined and structured environment." If you are a teacher who is unfamiliar with this term, I strongly recommend making the effort to learn more about it, whether you work with underserved or highly privileged youth. 

This article is not focused on our students, however.  It is focused on you, the educator.  The purpose of this article is to invite YOU to extend the same level of warmth and unconditional positive regard to yourself.

We all have an internal dialogue where we reflect on and critique our performance, choices, and personal characteristics.  Sometimes we are overly critical of ourselves, putting an excess of pressure to meet some arbitrary (and often unrealistically high) set of expectations.  Then, when things don’t quite work out, habitual negative self-talk can take over and we mentally beat ourselves up

To reference Delpit’s description, there is nothing wrong with “expecting a great deal of [your] self.”  However, if you want to “reach [your] potential,” I believe you need to focus more on “convincing [yourself] of [your] own brilliance.”

We need to turn up the emphasis on the “warm” and dial down the severity of the “demander” with our internal dialogue.

Why?  Because I have observed that educators, in general, tend to be rather hard on themselves.  Perhaps it is because we are so passionate.  Perhaps because the autonomy we crave is underscored by higher expectations for ourselves than others have for us.  Perhaps we’re not that special and everyone is doing this – I can’t be sure. 

Whatever the reason, I think we need to unconditionally believe in ourselves.  We need to remember that we’re doing the best we can.  We need to be as kind and gentle to ourselves as we would to someone we love and care for.  We need to embody warmth and compassion for our perfectly imperfect selves, because if we don’t, how can we expect to bring this same level of warmth and care to our students?