University of Virginia Study Shows Black Students Thrive With Demanding Teachers

A new study by researchers at the University of Virginia finds that African American students learn more from teachers whom the researchers characterize as “warm demanders” – teachers who expect a lot of their students academically, lead a very well-organized classroom and make students feel supported in their efforts.

Lia Sandilos, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and lead researcher of the study, stated that “initially, we found that a teacher’s perceived warmth alone was related to students’ academic growth. But when we examined teachers’ perceived warmth in combination with demand characteristics, such as whether students viewed their teacher as being well-organized or having high expectations of them, it turned out that demand played a much bigger role in predicting academic growth.”

Another key finding from the study is that African-American students showed academic growth when they perceived high expectations, regardless of the race of the teacher. “It’s important for teachers to be aware that the direct or indirect messages they send to students, particularly students of color, can influence how they perform in the classroom,” Dr. Sandilos said. “What we see is that receiving clear, positive messages about their abilities and their potential for achievement can really go a long way in fostering academic success.”

The study, “Warmth and Demand: The Relation Between Students’ Perceptions of the Classroom Environment and Achievement Growth,” was published in the journal Child Development. It may be accessed here.

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  1. This research is nothing new by any metrics. Regardless of a student SES, they generally rise to the expectations of the teacher. In fact, most students can generally tell after their first encounter if a given teacher is truly concerned about them learning. Further, this applies to “all students” regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, or religious affiliation.

    • Michael,

      Most public school K-12 teachers are white females, raised in white families, ignorant of the historic culture of African descent families, whether those families are lower economic, middle or upper economic. There are commonalities there that mold the child based on a heritage that is thousands of years old.

      African descent families prize education and under a segregated system, forced on them, were ironically able to instill a sense of pride and love of self and culture in support of their families. This was negativey impacted in a racially integrated system, but still we rise.

      Not knowing, understanding, and accepting this leads you to say “all children” without comprehending the African descent cuture of my people, perhaps your people too. That same white teacher I work with daily here in rural Maine brings the same racial bias that we “expect” from a teacher in the Southern states.

      If the teacher does not know “who the child is,” ethnically and culturally, and without confronting the historical reality of the role race has always played in this country of ours, there is a challenge in fully being a teacher of African descent children as well as an effective teacher of “all children.”

      As you express your truth, please be aware, my truth to power is reflected as a descent of 1740s Berkshires of Massachusetts, African descent educator

      • Adelaide Jordan: I agree with everything you have stated. I might add that the most important ingredient in setting the tone for learning in any classroom environment is the attitude of the classroom teacher, whether it’s in Paw Paw, West Virginia, Bel Air, California or Greenwich, Connecticut.
        It’s very unfortunate that the African American community have left the education of our young people to White female teachers who in most cases do not have an acute understanding of our culture and our rich history. It is also imperative that African American teachers and other teachers of color have that same deep understanding and appreciation for the African American experience and the history of Africa.
        Ronald B. Saunders,

  2. I agree with Michael. When students know teacher have high expectations of their success in the classroom, they rise to the occasion. The days of just getting by with mediocre grades are not meeting the demands and qualifications of the job market.

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