Igniting Learning: The Impact of Teacher Disposition on Learning Outcomes

Igniting Learning: The Impact of Teacher Disposition on Learning Outcomes
Dr. Renée Greenfield, Head of School Blog
Listen to Renée read this article aloud.


When I arrived at Carroll as a teacher in 2000, the first year felt like a crash course in understanding how to teach—and reach—students with dyslexia. I was an early-career educator and I hadn’t yet worked with kids with learning differences. I remember watching the more established teachers closely. I was struck by how patient and encouraging they were, and how they understood—really understood—what each of their students needed to succeed.

To this day, I have yet to encounter another group of educators in a team meeting, for example, wringing their hands over how to connect with a student, how to find a way “in.”

Countless hours are spent over copy machines, via email, and in meetings figuring out how best to reach each and every student. Our educators always find a way.

In that first year of teaching at Carroll, I thought a lot about what drove their relentless optimism and persistence, neither of which are necessarily taught in teacher education programs. What leads them to work so hard for these kids? Slowly, I began to realize.

The Impact of Teacher Disposition on Learning Outcomes

The differentiating factor—the thing that really ignites learning with students—was, and is, their mindset.

In education circles, we call this teacher disposition.

And in my experience, teacher disposition is the lighter fluid on the campfire of learning.

To be clear, explicit pedagogical skills—learning exactly how to teach students with dyslexia—are critical. We hire Carroll educators based on their knowledge and experience. But beyond this training is an intrinsic set of traits that we don’t talk about enough: the dispositions or beliefs educators hold about students and their potential.

What do these beliefs look like at Carroll? 

The Impact of Teacher Disposition on Learning Outcomes

→Carroll educators are curious. They look at our kids and ask, “What can they offer the world?” not “What’s wrong with them?” or “How can I fill them up with information and skills.” Framing their teaching in this way is a very intentional, active choice our educators make.

→Carroll educators are continually reflecting on their own part in the teacher-student relationship, asking themselves and their peers how they can improve, and gathering feedback from their coach.

→Carroll educators possess a core belief that kids have infinite potential. Rather than dwell on deficits, our educators elevate a student’s strengths and help them to understand and embrace them so they can leverage their potential.

→Carroll educators believe in neuroplasticity. The brain of every child is malleable and, with the right attention and encouragement, can grow and change. To put this another way, our educators believe in the power of “yet.”

I should point out that the learning environment we’re able to create nurtures the natural dispositions of our educators. We have clearly defined expectations that our teachers get to know their students, be in relationship with them in order to teach them effectively, and have a plan for them. And we offer abundant professional development opportunities and teacher coaching to make this all a little easier.

Of course, our students play a central role in teacher disposition, too. Often, as I dip into classrooms, I watch as they engage in some pretty serious productive struggle. It amazes me. They choose to stay the course, to persist, even when a task is really hard. Inspired by their struggle, our educators can’t help but persist right alongside them.

The next time you find yourself wondering how a Carroll educator is able to make such a difference, remember that their training is far from the whole story. The inherent beliefs they possess about student potential, paired with a nurturing learning environment and willing students, make for some pretty powerful outcomes.  



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