A Marian University professor has offered new teaching strategies for at-risk educators based on research and input from both teachers and students. He divided the most highly successful at-risk educators into one of two groups: Angel educators and Warrior educators.

Anthony Dallmann-Jones, Ph.D., recently shared his findings in a post on LinkedIn.

Teaching Strategies of At-Risk Educators

The veteran educator, who helped design Marian University’s  Online Master of Arts in Education, Area of Focus: At-Risk and Alternative Education degree program, wrote that Angels and Warriors share common traits. They include valuing student progress, understanding the power of education to improve lives, seeing themselves as having “high self-efficacy as instruments of betterment for kids, and, most importantly, they want to be working with these kids.”

Both also have a great deal of success with students. They just take different paths to achieve that success, illustrating different approaches and teaching strategies when working with at-risk students.

The Qualities of an Angel Educator

In developing his findings on Angels and Warriors, Dallmann-Jones surveyed 90 students placed in alternative programs and 110-plus teachers who were formerly at-risk students themselves. He developed a list of attributes for both Angels and Warriors. Angel Educators tend to have the following qualities, according to Dallmann-Jones.


While Warriors may match Angels in compassion, Angels tend to show it more clearly. They look beyond symptomatic behavior and “peer into my soul with eyes of concern,” one student said in the survey.


Angels stay present in the moment, communicating clearly to students that they want to be in the classroom. This contrasts with teachers who seem distant and unfocused, as if they’d rather be elsewhere.

A Light Being

One student described this quality in this way: “It seemed like her feet never touched the floor. I used to watch to make sure they did because rumor had it that she was an angel and might be able to fly.” Those with this quality are quiet, soft in their speaking, and seem to know when a student needs help without being told.


One student noted a teacher “never raised her voice the whole year!” Dallmann-Jones wrote that this applies not just to Angel teachers, but also principals. Such gentleness can have a powerful impact. “Shouting, or being angry, just causes fear and resistance. Most at-risk kids have already experienced enough verbal force to last a lifetime,” wrote Dallmann-Jones.

Focused on Positivism

As Dallmann-Jones notes, “What you focus on expands.” By focusing on the positive with a student rather than the negative Angel educators help students build upon their accomplishments.

The Qualities of a Warrior Educator

Warrior educators also bring a collection of qualities to the table that work well with at-risk students.


Warrior educators act gruff but express surprise when they learn others see them that way. Their gruffness is not meant to harm anyone, but rather conveys their intensity about educating at-risk students.

Street savvy

Warrior educators have often experienced life in less than ideal circumstances, including veterans who have survived war zones. But they emerged from these trials “smart, capable of handling the unknown, and fearless,” according to Dallmann-Jones.

Goal focused

Where Angel educators may focus more on student needs, Warrior educators focus on outcomes. One student said of a Warrior teacher: “He would start off by saying, ‘Today we WILL accomplish the following things! Then, he would proceed to do exactly that, repeating it at the end of the class with, ‘Look what you did!’ That was powerful to me. Every day I could see what I had gained.”

Overcome obstacles

Warrior educators see the world as a challenge or “a race against an imaginary clock with dire consequences if one loses,” Dallmann-Jones wrote. They help students find ways to quickly overcome obstacles and maintain a firm belief in the power of effort.

Dallmann-Jones notes many teachers combine Angel and Warrior traits. He also noted that students almost universally cite two key attributes found in all good teachers: a sense of humor and enthusiasm. Both Angel and Warrior educators “do not know the word quit,” he writes. “They fight failure as if it were a dragon. Above all else, they care deeply about their children’s futures and are not shy about showing it.”

A Trailblazer in Education

Educators regard Dallmann-Jones as a trailblazer in at-risk education. In addition to working on the design of the online MAE program, he also founded the National At-Risk Education Network (NAREN) that supports collaboration with like-minded educators and others working in the at-risk youth field. His new book, HOW TO CONNECT with STUDENTS PLACED AT-RISK ~ Creating learning environments for teacher and student success! will be published in June of 2020.

Dallmann-Jones is director of the At-Risk and Alternative Education teaching degree at Wisconsin’s Marian University and an avid writer and researcher, including work in identifying successful teaching strategies for educators of students placed at-risk.

Professionals who work with at-risk youth find the 100% online MAE program convenient, allowing them to attend school while maintaining a full-time job. The program attracts students from a wide variety of professions, including schoolteachers, social workers, prison educators, and school counselors.