Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Essential Dispositions for Nurturing Passion, Learning and Growth

You've seen the commercials, the ads in the newspaper, the stores stocked full with pencils, markers, notebooks. Yup, it’s that time again!
If you are in the United States, you are getting ready to (or have already) headed BACK TO SCHOOL! You have rested, relaxed and rekindled the passion you have for teaching and the reason you choose to be a teacher, to make a difference in students’ lives. You are imagining the possibilities for this year, having reflected, reconsidered, reworked and re-imagined how this year will be different and even better than last year.

FAST FORWARD...to the opening in-service days when you reconnect with your colleagues, sharing your energy and hopes for the new school year. Then, the district initiatives for the year are introduced along with the district scores from the latest round of state testing. Common Core State Standards, a new writing program, changes to the math program to align with Common Core, a new professional employee evaluation system along with school level plans to address deficiencies related to not meeting Annual Yearly Progress. Your heart sinks, your energy deflates, your positive outlook turns, your belief in your ability to make the difference in your students’ lives waivers.

OK, Let’s REWIND to those moments and feelings just before the district initiatives were announced. What would school look and sound like if it instead nurtured your passions, supported your belief in yourself, facilitated your efforts in trying new ideas and becoming the best teacher or administrator possible?
How would you want a coach to approach you if you were going to commit to really putting yourself out there, being transparent, trying all kinds of ideas, taking risks, to follow learning where it took you?

Let’s take a few stabs at what it is not.

  • It’s not simply having your performance rated.
  • It’s not with a stance of judgement.
  • It’s not by offering advice that was not requested.
  • It’s not by hearing about all of their problems.
  • It’s not with expectation of failure.

Instead, imagine the coach or colleague who approaches you with essential dispositions that encourage and empower you to develop your learning and growth. How would you want them to approach you and interact with you? What would be those essential dispositions? What are examples of the essential dispositions in action? What dispositions could you foster to develop the culture and atmosphere that will nurture your beginning of the school year hope and optimism throughout the school year?


This is the ability to create a safe, supportive environment that produces ongoing mutual respect and trust. Strong, respectful and supportive relationships are at the heart of coaching and learning.
Trust opens our work and dreams to each other and makes possible
continuous improvement of how we teach and what our students learn.
-- Carl Glickman
Taking time and employing a range of strategies to develop trust is a critical first step in coaching and an essential disposition for meaningful engagement. But, what do TRUSTING and TRUSTWORTHY look and sound like? Getting to know each other, sharing interests, family stories, photos, social media ID’s such as Twitter or Facebook help to build an atmosphere ripe for learning and commitment to the group and group norms. Maintaining the initial trust that is built is supported through collectively developed norms. Having integrity, being there for each other, listening to each other, being truthful and open, and keeping promises are all hallmarks of trusting relationships.

This disposition is evident in the ability to focus completely on what another is communicating to understand their intent in the context of their values and goals, and to support self-expression non-judgmentally. How often have you begun to share a story or concern with another and they respond with “A similar thing happened to me...” and then share their own story? Active and mindful listeners focus all of their attention on the one speaking, listening for words, tone of voice, and feelings to hear what is actually being said. They demonstrate respect for and interest and belief in an individual’s strengths, goals, style, and learning. The locus of control is shifted to the speaker because the active and mindful listener recognizes the importance of “self-discovery.” In addition, the active and mindful listener demonstrates appreciation for the other’s perspective, even when it is different from his/her own. Through the use of paraphrasing, clarifying, and asking questions, the active and mindful listener, encourages, explores, and accepts without judgment the expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, and suggestions of the one speaking.

You were all set, had thought through your new approaches to the school year and then the district threw you a curve ball. How do you respond? Are you open to possibilities and welcoming the unexpected? This disposition is evidenced by the ability to shift perspectives and approaches as needed in the moment. It is about a willingness to leave your comfort zone and experiment with new strategies. It is about being a learner, a passionate learner who believes that with trying, collaborating, and experimenting anything is possible. By embracing the unexpected, considering broader perspectives and seeing different, interrelated factors, you will find new possibilities for action. It will require perseverance as you explore ideas and concepts, rethink, revise, and continually re-pack and unpack, resisting the urge to finish prematurely.

Accepting the role of being trustworthy, an active and mindful listener, and open to possibilities is a tall order! The fourth disposition is the ability to integrate and accurately self-evaluate multiple sources of information, and to make interpretations to guide future efforts. As you develop, try, practice and deepen the newly adopted learning and practices the ability to be self-aware and self-reflect on self-directed actions is needed. As you consider your newly adopted actions, think, “What have I learned? What have I accomplished?” A learning stance, reflects from a positive perspective. Energized by our own thinking and accomplishments, expansive thinking is engaged, generating new possibilities, new ways of thinking, new connections, new goals and actions.

As much as the fourth disposition is about self, self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-directed action, it it buoyed by the belief in collective intelligence, that none of us is as good as all of us. It is through collegiality that the efforts and contributions of everyone leads to learning and growth for all. The answer is “in the room,” but it will take trust to emerge from the collective good, active and mindful listening to recognize when you hear it, openness to possibilities to activate it, and self-awareness, self-reflection, and self-directed action to refine and make it a reality.

How will you approach this new school year? How will you continue to kindle your passion and spirit for teaching, learning, and growth? Where are you on the “I think I can” journey of learning. What step will you take today? What will you reach for?


  1. Linda,
    You've really woven a fine rich fabric of dispositions that would nurture and support educators as they begin the new year!

    Of your listing, are you feeling that one is more critical than another in supporting others on their I think I can journey?

    I so appreciate your depth of thinking here,
    My best wishes,

    1. Lani,
      Thank you for your thoughts. If I have to pick, I would say that Trusting and Trustworthy would have to be at the top of the list as being the most critical to supporting others on the "I Can" journey. Without trust, there would be no foundation for the listening, possibilities and energy for self-direction to take hold. The listening could feel disingenuous, the possibilities could feel overwhelming, and the self-reflection could easily turn to the exploring failures and problems rather than learning.
      It truly is amazing how powerful trust and relationships can be in making possibilities a reality!

  2. Linda, thank you for creating such a thoughtful and encouraging post. I've Tweeted it with hashtags for my district and my state. With your permission, I will create something similar directed specifically toward my in-service work next week.

    1. Lauren,
      Thank you for your tweets about my post. I am so glad that it has engaged your thinking. Reworking it to address the perspective and needs for your in-service work next week sounds like a great idea. Could you please share your link when you post?
      Thank you for your thoughts.