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Thursday, 18 April 2019
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High Support and High Expectations for Students and Adults

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

04/03/2019

High Support and High Expectations for Students and Adults
“Becoming a Warm Demander” by Shane Safir in Educational Leadership, March 2019 (Vol. 76, #6, p. 64-69), https://bit.ly/2VroenY; Safir can be reached at shane@shanesafir.com.

In this article in Educational Leadership, leadership coach and former principal Shane Safir recalls a meeting when, as young teacher, she gave up on a 14-year-old student, telling the boy’s mother that he would be better off in another teacher’s class. “In truth,” says Safir, what the boy needed “was for me to believe in him and persist in finding a way to serve him. He needed me to see that his distracting classroom behavior was an attempt at masking his struggle to read at grade level. He needed me to teach him how to read the complex texts we were studying with proficiency. He needed me to become a warm demander.”

Safir imagines how her principal, who was sitting at the table, might have pushed her past her belief that this student didn’t “like” her to seeing what was going on with a ninth grader who was reading at the second- or third-grade level and carrying around “a backpack of shame about his learning gaps.” The principal might have said (in a coaching conversation afterward) that moving the boy to another class would add to his sense of rejection and marginalization. Having engaged in active listening, tuning in to Safir’s sense of failure and shame, the principal might have said, “You are an excellent teacher and I know you can find a way to serve him. I am here to help you figure it out.” The follow-up might have included the principal observing the class, a reading specialist helping determine the student’s reading level and ways to support acceleration, and a heart-to-heart conversation with the boy’s mother.

Safir believes the concept of high support and high expectations applies equally to principals working with colleagues as to teachers working with students. Based on the work of Matt Alexander and Jessica Huang, she suggests four “warm demander” principles:

• Shoot for the impossible. “Do you really believe that every teacher in your building can improve?” asks Safir. “When you believe this, you convey it. When you don’t, it shows.”

• Build trust. Growth and learning depend on “relational capital,” she says, built on care, curiosity, and ongoing discourse.

• Teach self-discipline. “The combination of belief and trust creates a platform from which to help your colleagues develop self-discipline,” says Safir, “or the will and skill to apply a laser-sharp focus on instructional improvement.”

• Embrace risk-taking, mistakes, and failure in service of equity. Coaching conversations might end with: “What are you going to try out?” “What are your next steps?”

Interrupting negative mindsets and practices is challenging work for leaders, says Safir, requiring “an orientation to vision – a leadership stance in which we define, coach toward, and message a vivid picture of success.” She suggests that principals “overcommunicate” their vision – in meetings, agendas, posters, and feedback to teachers on classroom observations. “Much of our work toward educational equity focuses on the problems we need to solve: institutional racism, sexism, exclusion, bias,” Safir concludes. “While we must develop a robust analysis of our equity challenges, the warm demander framework offers us a path forward rooted in hope and possibility.”




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