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Washington State University
College of Education

Professional disposition

Professional dispositions

Do you know how to exercise? Do you exercise? Your answer might be “yes” to the first and “no” to the second. The first question asks about ability: Do you know the ways to exercise so as to do you some good? The second question goes beyond ability and asks about inclination: Are you disposed to exercise? Do you exercise regularly?

Professional dispositions are the principles or standards that underpin a teacher’s success in the classroom. They are the values, commitments, and professional ethics that govern how a teacher acts with students, families, colleagues, and communities.

The Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) mandates, through the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), that all certified educators must be “fit to teach” and “have the proper dispositions to teach.” The transformation of a person from one who merely possesses knowledge and technique into a superior teacher must include the development of characteristics such as a capacity for active and creative communication, a tendency to probe, and a willingness to explore topics from a variety of perspectives. Further, an outstanding educator must possess the desire to engage and encourage students who have a wide range of abilities, interests, and temperaments.

In order to provide the highest quality teacher force possible, Washington State University ’s College of Education has the responsibility of evaluating teacher effectiveness along a variety of dimensions. It uses many instruments and methods to assess the effectiveness of prospective teachers, to make certain they have the knowledge, skills and professional habits necessary to serve in the highly dynamic and complex classrooms of the 21st century.

Good teachers come fom widely different backgrounds, and have varied opinions, interests, and personalities. But some qualities, such as the ability to communicate clearly, are common to nearly all good teachers. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a teacher being a success without possessing these qualities.

Likewise, students in Washington’s K-12 classrooms come from varied backgrounds. They have a wide range of abilities, different levels of prior knowledge, and vary in how they feel about learning and school. These young people grow and develop, sometimes slowly, sometimes with astonishing quickness. Each classroom, therefore, is a mix of dozens of competing interests, stages of development, and strategies for learning.

Even within a single student’s attempt to learn, a teacher may have to try several approaches before finding one that succeeds. A student may believe that she is “no good at math (or science or history or reading),” for reasons having nothing to do with her abilities.

With as many as a hundred different students and several different subjects to teach every day, teachers have an almost impossible mission. Yet we expect nothing less of them than success with every student.

In order to be successful—to leave, truly, no child behind—teachers must purposefully act in caring, fair, professional, respectful, and responsible ways.

Professional dispositions of good teachers

  1. Good teachers are active, respectful participants in discussions.
  2. Good teachers express themselves clearly and effectively.
  3. Good teachers listen thoughtfully and responsively.
  4. Good teachers engage in lifelong learning, aided by reflection and assessment of new information and ideas.
  5. Good teachers interact effectively, respectfully, and empathetically across a wide range of situations and people.
  6. Good teachers work to ensure system-wide high quality learning opportunities and experiences for all students.
  7. Good teachers seek understanding of complex issues in order to solve problems both independently and collaboratively.
  8. Good teachers are committed to mastering best practices informed by sound theory.
  9. Good teachers are responsible colleagues.

How is it possible to tell whether a person possesses these professional dispositions? By careful observation of their behaviors and actions. Is the teacher candidate a thoughtful, active listener? Does he or she participate in discussions, and is that participation respectful? Does the teacher candidate give help readily?

Excellence is a long, laborious process. It is not always easy to foretell which teachers will excel in their careers. But patterns of action that show up in the course of teacher preparation can be presumed also to show up later on the job. A person demonstrating promptness, courtesy, and scrupulous attention to detail in teacher preparation will likely act likewise when employed. A person habitually late, or rude, or careless in pre-service work will, in contrast, be likely to have trouble in a teaching position.

These are judgments about professional potential, not about persons or their opinions or beliefs. Institutions certifying teachers owe the state’s citizens their best judgment and keenest observations when making decisions that will have such profound future effects. The identification and evaluation of professional dispositions is a valuable tool for identifying and capturing important information about prospective teachers, to make sure that they are best prepared for their professional lives.

Read our Professional Disposition Assessment Form (PDA).

The issue of dispositions has been widely discussed. The President of NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) has responded to claims in the press. Read the letter by NCATE President Arthur E. Wise.

See how our Professional Disposition Assessment (PDA) form compares with state, national, and accreditation standards.

Professional disposition forms

Professional disposition assessment (PDA)
Professional dispositions evaluation for field experiences (PDEFE)

The Professional Dispositions Assessment (PDA) is the form used by the Department of Teaching & Learning to document a student’s disposition to be a teacher based upon their performance in the University classroom.

The Professional Dispositions evaluation for Field Experiences (PDEFE) is the form used to document a student’s dispositions during practicum/field experiences. The PDA form and the process used by the Department of Teaching and Learning have received national accolades.

The procedures for the forms vary depending upon a student’s tenure in the program and the circumstances that precipitated the documentation. For example, all students taking T&L 301 will receive a PDA indicating strengths and weaknesses (if any). In T&L 301, students will discuss the concepts of teacher dispositions. Later in the program, a professor may issue a PDA/PDEFE when specific behaviors are noted and must be documented.

If you have any questions about disposition or the PDA/PDEFE, do not hesitate to contact Chris Sodorff, Director of Field Services at or 509-335-0925.