Could a Focus on ‘Dispositions’ in Education Improve Teaching?

Deborah Schussler, associate professor in Penn State's College of Education, said that ‘dispositions' — rapid, calculated judgments and responses — should be included as one element to be evaluated in teacher education programs. According to Schussler, it is important to clarify and build dispositions in teacher education to help future teachers to be better prepared and morally sensible.

Explaining dispositions in education, Schussler said they are a teacher's quick decisions or understandings based on the perceptions of his/her environment and how they affect future actions, Pennsylvania State University said in a statement.

"For example, failing to recognize what a parent means when she tells me that her son is a ‘good student' may cause misunderstandings between me, the child and the parent," said Schussler. "That parent's idea of ‘good student' may mean the child sits quietly in class. While my idea of a ‘good student' means the child is intellectually curious."

Schussler further noted that teaching the concept of dispositions in a meaningful, concrete manner is often difficult for teacher educators, and dispositions in teacher education became a catchall term that included anything from attitudes to beliefs.

"If teachers only learn a set of techniques, they will be successful only sometimes," said Schussler. "Understanding their own assumptions and understanding that everything happens within a particular context will help them to actually achieve morally worthwhile ends."

According to Schussler, she wants the idea of dispositions and the moral aspects of teaching to take a more prominent role in the discussion of how quality teaching is evaluated.

"We cannot ignore the relational and moral aspects of what teachers do," Schussler said. "I think if the science of teaching practice merges with the thoughtful reflection of dispositions, future teachers will be unsurpassed in their level of preparedness."

Teacher attitudes and actions in the spur of the moment can have an effect not just on that particular classroom session, but throughout an entire course. A survey of 438 American university undergraduates shows teachers need to opt for a more action-orientated approach as opposed to relying on verbal cues in order to get the command of the classroom, and that a failure to do so can cause disengagement and lack of trust.

The survey shows evidence contrary to the common belief that self-deprecating teaching methods help students relate to teachers. Instead of connecting with students by opening up and appearing more down to earth — which conventional teaching wisdom suggests will result in the teacher commanding greater respect and students following instructions more closely — the survey reveals that the opposite is true.

In addition, the survey reveals that crafting and commanding authority in the classroom — and cultivating a classroom culture of trust in one's teaching — seems to come from one's mastery of subject matter and communication skills.

10 22, 2013
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