Professional Dispositions: Essential Traits for Effective Teaching & School Leadership

Being an effective teacher or school leader involves much more than simply possessing a solid command of subject matter or earning a certain GPA. It also takes more than an ability to write detailed lesson plans, or to maintain discipline in a classroom. Being an effective educator requires skills that are just as important to teaching and learning success–they are the attributes students mention when they are asked to think back to their favorite teacher–the one who made the greatest impact on their lives:

  • She always made me feel as though I mattered.
  • He had a great sense of humor!
  • She could admit when she had made a mistake.
  • He was tough, but always fair. 
  • She was kind of like a mom to me when my life was in such chaos.
  • She always encouraged me to keep going and told me she knew I could make it. And I did. 


These attributes–sometimes known as soft skills–are more properly labeled as professional dispositions. Accrediting bodies such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) started emphasizing their importance many years ago. Even though they never defined them, NCATE spoke about dispositions in terms of values, commitments, and ethics; these in turn impact the behaviors and decisions of teachers in the classroom and in their interactions with others. More recently, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as well as industry leaders such as the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) emphasize the role that professional dispositions play in effective teaching and school leadership, and they hold schools of education accountable for identifying, selecting, and graduating individuals who indicate a propensity for success as an educator, including the demonstration of specific professional dispositions.

Needless to say, dispositions can have a huge impact on student learning, development, motivation, and overall happiness in school. Dispositions stem from our beliefs, our attitudes, and our personal “compass” that steers us through life. Do we really care about others? Are we compassionate and empathetic? Are we respectful of other ideas or traditions, even if they differ from our own? Do we take responsibility for our own actions? Do we take the high road even when no one else is looking?

Other important questions to consider:

  • What dispositions make the very best teachers? What about school leaders?
  • How can dispositions be assessed?
  • Can these skills be taught, or are they innate?
  • And if they can be taught, how can it be done effectively?
  • On a wider scale, are the dispositions for teachers and school leaders the same for those outside of education–such as in the health professions, or in IT, or in business?
  • Are there particular teacher dispositions that are most highly correlated to student success?




Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, educator quality, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site ( 

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