Soft Skills and Dispositions: Essential Traits for Exceptional Teachers

Soft Skills and Dispositions

We often read today about soft skills but feel confused as to what this means. Soft skills are also commonly known as dispositions. Regardless of the term you use, soft skills and dispositions are connected to our attitudes, our work habits, and our interpersonal skills.

Being an effective teacher or school leader involves much more than simply possessing a solid command of subject matter or earning a certain grade point average (GPA). It also takes more than an ability to write lesson plans, or to maintain discipline in a classroom.

Soft Skills, Dispositions Defined

Accrediting bodies such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) and the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP) as well as the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) emphasize the role that soft skills or professional dispositions play in effective teaching and school leadership.

These bodies hold schools of education accountable for identifying, selecting, and graduating individuals who indicate a propensity for success as an educator. This includes demonstrating specific soft skills or professional dispositions.

In a white paper focusing on knowledge, skills, and dispositions sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Innovative Lab Network (ILN) defined dispositions as: mindsets (sometimes referred to as behaviors, capacities, or habits of mind) that are closely associated with success in college and career.

Our Soft Skills Leave an Impact on Others

Our soft skills and dispositions make a statement about who we are, what we believe, and what kind of employee we will be.

For example, being an effective teacher requires numerous skills that are essential to teaching and learning success. Not all of these skills involve subject area expertise.

When students are asked to think back to their favorite teacher–the ones who made the greatest impact on their lives, they make comments like these:

  • 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. 
  • Being in Mr. ______’s class made me want to become a teacher. 
  • 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. 

Comments like these are the result of teachers who made a profound impact on their students’ lives. The impact isn’t just academically, but personally.

Soft Skills & Dispositions: Our Professional “Compass”

Soft skills or dispositions stem from our beliefs, our attitudes, and our professional “compass” that steers us through life. For example:

  • Do I really care about children?
  • Am I compassionate and empathetic?
  • Am I responsible enough to arrive on time each day?
  • Do I respond promptly to phone calls or emails from parents?
  • Do I begin each day fully prepared?
  • Am I respectful of other ideas or traditions, even if they differ from my own?
  • Do I take responsibility for my own actions?
  • Do I take the high road even when no one else is looking?


Ten Essential Key Soft Skills for Teachers

In its research, the Innovative Lab Network was able to pinpoint 10 key soft skills or dispositions that effective teachers possess:

Correlation to Student Success



  • Self-Efficacy
  • Initiative
  • Integrity
  • Intellectual Curiosity
  • Adaptability
  • Study Skills
  • Time & Goal Management
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Problem Solving
  • Leadership
  • Critical Thinking
  • Self-Awareness

The Role of Grit and Self-Control

Renowned psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth identified two key characteristics that closely predict achievement across multiple professions: grit and self-control.

In essence, grit is the ability to play the long game – to remain focused and committed to meeting long-term goals. In other words:

Grit means not giving up and moving on to something else when there are challenges or bumps in the road.


Self-control is similar to self-discipline. It refers to not allowing ourselves to act on impulses and not needing instant gratification.

In many ways, grit and self-control are related. Individuals who possess these traits can remain focused on accomplishing their long-term goals and are able to cross the finish line.

We need teachers and school leaders with grit and self-control.


What School Districts Look for When Hiring Teachers

Many school principals and human resource directors are looking to hire teachers who demonstrate professional traits and behaviors such as:

  • Adaptable, confident, & organized
  • Good communicators & lifelong learners
  • Team players but also leaders
  • Imaginative, creative, & innovative
  • Committed to Students & the Profession
  • Can locate engaging resources, including technology
  • Empowered and inspire students
  • Successfully manages a positive online reputation
  • Able to periodically unplug from technology & social media

It’s essential to hire teachers who will make a long-term positive impact on the achievement, success, and lives of our students. Subsequently, building principals need to provide teachers with professional development support and mentoring at all career phases to foster their soft skills.



About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at: 


Top Graphic Credit: Adam Winger on Unsplash