Editorial: What Teacher Dispositions Engage Children in Learning?

by Dr. Jill Klefstad - UW Stout

Last November, Joe and Brandon, two of the male early childhood students attended the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference and participated in every presentation given by a male educator. These two men were affirmed in their decision to become early childhood teachers because they continually heard how important it is for children to have a male teacher. Joe and Brandon realized that boys and girls need to have a positive male role model but they questioned what male teachers had, or did, that supported the statement that more male teachers of young children are needed.

After discussing various teaching styles between male teachers and female teachers they had experienced, they concluded that the best teachers were those who could absorb children in learning. Together we posited that perhaps dispositions of teachers could affect the degree to which students are engaged.

A disposition can be defined as a person’s temperament, character, or nature including their attitude or mood (Merriam-Webster). Within schools of education, teacher candidate’s dispositions are rated using a rubric designed by faculty. These dispositions include statements relating to preparedness, punctuality, the ability to reflect, and the acceptance of constructive feedback.

Joe and Brandon began to research dispositions teachers use to engage children in learning and created a survey that contained the following thirteen characteristics and brief definitions:

1) Intelligent: displaying or characterized by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment;
2) Industrious: working energetically and devotedly; hard working; diligent;
3) Cooperative: mutual assistance in working toward a common goal;
4) Enthusiastic: having or showing intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval;
5) Humorous: having or showing a sense of humor;
6) Compassionate: feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others;
7) Genuine: truly what something is said to be; authentic;
8) Creative: relating to or involving the imagination or original ideas;
9) Respectful: characterized by, or showing politeness or deference;
10) Trustworthy: able to be relied on as honest or truthful;
11) Courageous: possessing or characterized by courage;
12) Impartial: treating all students equally: fair and just; and,
13) Ingenuity: the ability to think creatively about a situation or to solve problems in a clever way.

The survey was sent via email to approximately 950 early childhood education classroom teachers including the following: 4K-3rd grade classrooms, pre-service education students, and student teachers. More specifically, the survey was sent directly to over 50 men via email. The survey was also posted on social media by three different men’s organizations including New Zealand, New England and Wisconsin. Due to anonymity of survey participants, an accurate number of men taking the survey via email or social media was questionable.

Participants were asked to consider the 13 dispositions (the attitude or mood of a person) that may help students engage in learning more consistently and at a deeper level. They were to rate each disposition as very important, important or not important.

The response rate from the surveys yielded 238 responses; 10% from male participants and 90% from female participants. Data was analyzed using quantitative descriptive statistics.

Results from the combined data (men and women) indicated the top three dispositions given the rating of very important that engaged children in learning were compassion, respectful and trustworthy. However, the data generated from the male participants, garnered the number one disposition that engages children in learning as trustworthy. The next four dispositions of compassionate, industrious, enthusiastic and respectful received an equal rating of very important.
As Joe, Brandon, and I reflect upon these results to come to some conclusions we are curious as to why trustworthy is the most important disposition that male teachers in our sample identified as engaging children in learning. We are also interested in hearing what you think about the list of dispositions and which dispositions you feel most engages children in learning. Most importantly, we invite you to think not only about what dispositions are most important to you in your work with young children but also how these dispositions are displayed.

If you have thoughts or ideas, we welcome your input. Please feel free to contact me, klefstadj(at)uwstout.edu. Thank you for the work you do with young children. We ARE making a difference.

Resources
Mowrer-Reynolds (2008). Pre-service educators’ perceptions of exemplary teachers. College Student Journal, v42 n1 p.214-2224. March.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from
https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=dictionary%20define%20disposition

Orlando, M. (2013, January 14). Nine characteristics of a great teacher. Retrieved from Faculty Focus website: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/nine-characteristics-of-a-great-teacher/

Veland, T.D. (2012). A study of leadership dispositions of transformational leaders in Georgia high school. Electronic Theses & Dissertations. Paper 814. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1818&context=etd

Wirtz, P., Erickson, P., Hyndman, J. (2005). Why is the study of dispositions a necessary component of an effective educator preparation program? Retrieved from:  http://www.usca.edu/essays/vol132005/Erikson.pdf