Why Dispositions are Important

"Career, college, and life ready" are the buzz-words in K-12 education today. Probably no time in our nations history has there been a greater need to ensure that our graduates have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to succeed in an ever more complex and competitive environment. And it is of no surprise to learn that when asked, successful individuals—whose ready for work, life-long learning, and life in general—attribute a significant portion of that success to teachers who have taught, encouraged, and influenced them. Interestingly, the teachers described when recollecting those that made a significant impact on our lives shared very similar characteristics. Some of the most common things said about these impactful teachers are:
  • She really enjoyed teaching and cared about students.
  • She looked for the good in each of us.
  • He could teach something and make it fun.
  • She held our interest with her lively, humorous manner and her thorough knowledge of the subject.
  • He believed in me.
  • She challenged us.
  • He saw us as unique and treated us with respect.
  • She really knew her subject and cared that we learned it.

They displayed a unique amalgamation of knowledge and skills that shined through essential human qualities that allowed them to transform our lives for the better. These human characteristics, or dispositions, separated these “favorite teachers” from average, run-of-the-mill teacher. Just imaging what could happen in students lives, schools, and communities if all teachers had these dispositions.

What are Dispositions?

When the term dispositions is used in educational settings today it can mean anything from being prompt, neat, and courteous to kind and caring. For this project, dispositions are defined as the human elements possessed by educators that integrate with knowledge and skills to facilitate significant learning. Dispositions are a person’s core attitudes, values, and beliefs that are the foundation of all of our behaviors. The framework for the dispositional hiring practices relies on the theory and research pioneered by Arthur W. Combs (Combs, 1976), psychologist/educator (1935-1999). He spent his professional career investigating the dispositions of effective helping professionals--people who were able to significantly and positively affect others’ lives (Richards, 2010). The Perceptual Dispositions Model “drills down into the essence of the person to the attitudes, values, beliefs, or perceptions level of the personality. This allows for a more manageable number of variables to define and measure, and more predictive value, but with the trade-off of requiring the use of more qualitative assessment measures.” (Wasicsko, Wirtz & Resor, 2009, p. 20). The Perceptual Dispositions Model was chosen because it is straightforward, easily understood, and built upon a strong theoretical and research base.

As a result of the research by Combs and colleagues (Combs & Snygg, 1949; Combs, Soper, Gooding, Benton, Dickman, & Usher, 1969), Wasicsko (2007), classified dispositions into four categories that differentiate effective from ineffective tachers: (1) perception about self; (2) perceptions about other people; (3) perceptions of purpose; and (4) perceptions of one’s frame of reference. These elements are used as the rubrics for hiring teachers and other school personnel.

Perception of Self focuses on the ability to connect with and build meaningful relationships with people, even with those who have dissimilar beliefs. Teachers who have positive perceptions of self, identify more readily with others, they try to see diverse points of view, and they display a positive attitude toward life and work. Because of a positive sense of self, they tend to be more self-trusting and, thus, less threatened by others, they have less difficulty accept constructive criticism, and can provide others with feedback that is more likely to be heard

Teachers who have a high Perception of Others see students as having the capacity to face up to challenges and be successful when given the opportunity and resources. They demonstrate a belief in students’ abilities to find adequate solutions to events in their own lives; display a general belief that all students are valuable, able, and worthy; share responsibility with others; and share credit for accomplishments with others.

Teachers who have high Perception of Purpose have goals that extend beyond the immediate to broad implications and contexts. They tend to see the big picture and are committed to life-long learning in themselves and students. They treat everyone equitably and fairly; they avoid being sidetracked by trivia or petty issues; and see work in the larger context of life. They realize that what they do as teachers is more than a mere job but less than a life.

Teachers who are people oriented have a Frame of Reference that recognizes that helping students, with all their human strengths and frailties, is what it is all about. They understand that, while order, management, mechanics, and details of things and events are necessary, their long-term success must be concerned the human aspects of affairs--the attitudes, feelings, beliefs, and welfare of students. They understand the importance of maintaining positive relationships with students, parents, and colleagues and they focus on the human dimensions rather than, or in addition to, a things dimension in most situations.

*All citations on this page are referenced on the annotated bibliography page
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21st Century Superintendents - Planning for the Next Generation