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Background on Adoption of Dispositions

In 1996, the Council of Chief State School Offices proposed a set of standards for entering teachers (INTASC, 1996). These standards included reference to teachers knowledge, skills and dispositions. The latter category moved beyond traditional notions of teacher competence based on what teachers know and are able to do to include an attitudinal, motivational and affective dimension that reflects ideas not captured by knowledge alone.

As Ron Ritchhart states in his book, Intellectual Character, Dispositions concern not only what we can do, our abilities, but what we are actually likely to do, addressing the gap we often notice between our abilities and our actions. (p. 18)

Ritchhart defines dispositions as: 
Acquired patterns of behavior that are under ones control and will as opposed to being automatically activated. Dispositions are overarching sets of behaviors, not just single behaviors. They are dynamic and idiosyncratic in their contextualized deployment rather than prescribed actions to be carried out. More than desire and will, dispositions must be coupled with requisite ability. Dispositions motivate, activate and direct our abilities. (p. 31)

Ritchharts model of dispositions highlights how an individuals ability interacts with his or her inclinations (including attitudes, beliefs, values, traits and temperaments), awareness of occasions (capacity to accurately define circumstances) and motivation (including needs, interests and desires) to produce action.

This realm of teacher competence historically functioned as the subtext for significant discourse about teaching and teacher preparation by the faculty of the teacher-education program at St. Norbert College. Issues of dispositions frequently seemed to arise when describing some of the best qualities of successful pre-service teachers but they were also at issue when a pre-service teacher struggled.

These discussions clearly indicated that while faculty believed that dispositions reflected important qualities of effective teachers, they found it difficult to measure these somewhat intangible constructs. Consequently, faculty tended to deal with dispositional issues on a case-by-case basis rather than in a systemic fashion.

As the national and state movement toward the use of dispositions increased, it became clear that the St. Norbert College teacher-education program needed to take a more systematic approach to incorporating teacher dispositions into our pre-service program.

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.