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October 18, 2022

A Framework for Professional Dispositions and Ethics

Dr. Mamie L. Pack, Managing Principal of Healthy Learning in the School of Education shares insights in this article about a new program to teach and model Professional Dispositions and Ethics for next-gen educators in the WGU Teachers College. Dr. Pack’s appointment has her collaborating with key WGU experts to integrate healthy learning across many programs and professional learning opportunities inside WGU and beyond. Her primary collaborator and executive sponsor for this new integrated program for Professional Dispositions and Ethics for Next-Gen Educators is Dr. Verna Lowe, Associate Dean and Academic Program Director, joined by Program Portfolio Manager, Monica Brown.

Next-Gen Educators Need Next-Gen Learning Environments

The WGU School of Education is a champion of next-generation teaching, learning, and leading. We believe to catalyze next-generation teaching and leading, our students need to experience next-generation teaching and leading. This transformative work needs a transformative environment. To achieve that, the School of Education's Teachers College is building and delivering a comprehensive, integrated, research-based model that empowers opportunity for coaching supports geared toward professional dispositions and ethics. 

faculty high five

Through faculty training and development, as well as curriculum integration and pedagogy, our educators will model and coach our students regarding the professional dispositions and ethics our graduates need to have to be successful educators and leaders in their communities.

The year-long, cross-curriculum research was a collaboration with key stakeholders across the Teachers College. The work is part of the college's deep commitment to healthy learning environments of high intellect, care, and integrity.

“This work with dispositions and ethics is grounded in our belief that all students can learn,” said Dr. Pack. “We believe learning is malleable. We are equipping our students with extraordinary content and learning experiences to be well-educated next-gen teachers and leaders."

"We also want to equip them with the knowledge and skills to be emotionally intelligent educators. The best way to do that is through this immersive model of shared language and expectations,” she said. “As our faculty emulate and embrace these dispositions, they are modeling them as they teach them to their students. It creates a healthy learning and working environment for faculty and student alike. Our students are being modeled and taught these dispositions and ethics, and they will bring these talents, beliefs, and perspectives to their communities when they become teachers and leaders.”

Understanding Professional Dispositions and Ethics

Our model is grounded in research,” said Pack. “It is deeply influenced by Sockett’s Framework for Developing Dispositions, as well as many others who are showing us the art and science of creating healthy learning environments.” Pack and team are defining Professional Dispositions as ‘consisting of beliefs, virtues, values, and ethics addressing qualities of character, intellect, and care (Sockett, 2006) as part of the fabric of the education profession.’ They are defining Professional Responsibilities and Ethics as ‘essential requirements of the profession and integral for the success of the next-generation educator.’ The drive is to create an environment where faculty are trained, supported, nurtured, and encouraged to engage in professional learning, act with integrity, assume responsibility for student learning, respond to the needs of a diverse education population and the greater community, and collaborate effectively with others.

graphic of the 8 dispositions and ethics

The five core Professional Dispositions include: all individuals can learn, empathy, growth mindset, intellectual courage, and belonging. The three core Professional Responsibilities and Ethics include: professionalism, integrity, and communication.

Pack notes these were selected based upon Socket’s Framework for Developing Dispositions, as well as additional research including but not limited to:

  • Dispositions are malleable and can be taught and cultivated over time (Kindall, Crowe, and Elsass 2017).​
  • Reflective thinking and writing (LaBelle and Belknap 2016), ​
  • Authentic internship experiences (Kindall, Crowe, and Elsass 2017)
  • Personal experiences, coursework, and authentic experiences all play a role in dispositional development (Mueller 2009 quoting M. F. Mueller & Hindin 2009) 
  • Yost (1997) found that dispositions can improve during professional preparation programs if dispositions​ foster awareness and reflection
  • Best accomplished when faculty affirm, model, and support the desired dispositions (Welch et al. 2010; Notar et al. 2009; Berk et al. 2005; Duling 2007; Bair 2017).
  • Professional preparation programs may not dramatically transform existing beliefs but can have an impact on Next Gen candidates’ ability to be reflective and become effective professional educators (Mueller quoting Darling-Hammond 2000)

“By immersing our Teachers College faculty in this model, our students will better understand how to embrace these dispositions and ethics, and will understand our expectations of them,” said Pack.

“Additionally, our faculty will be better equipped to excel at creating belonging and encouraging a growth mindset and intellectual courage among their students, and even among their fellow peers.”

faculty interacting

Teachable Moments Restorative Practices

Core to the model is the belief that dispositions and ethics can be modeled and taught in a positive environment rather than a punitive one. Students are supported and developed using restorative practices that seek to build their knowledge, skills, and adoption of the dispositions and ethics as they progress along their learning journey, again holding to the core belief that all students can learn. When implemented effectively, restorative practices improve the learning environment, promote positive relationships, and promote safety, inclusion, and respect (Kline, 2016)

“Dr. Pack’s work leading our Healthy Learning with our cross-functional team of experts including Dr. Verna Lowe, and many others has produced an integrative program rooted in proven research and data that shows us the value of this holistic approach to dispositions and ethics across the learning experience. This work will have a positive outcome on our pedagogy, our culture, and our learning and work environments here in the Teachers College, and I expect our students to gain enormous benefits from this.” said Dr. Aaron Popham, Academic Vice President, and Dean.

Putting the Dispositions and Ethics Research into Practice

A sampling of the research that supports the work in each of the eight dispositions and ethics follows. Future articles will provide deeper dives.

1 - ALL INDIVIDUALS CAN LEARN

Research basis: Highly effective next-gen educators value learning and believe all individuals can learn. They will recognize learning is transformative as they learn by making meaning of information and creating innovative ideas and knowledge (Kolb, 1994). These teacher candidates will act on the knowledge that learning is a process, which includes “effort, mistakes, reflection, and refinement of strategies” (Digital Promise, n.d).

2 - EMPATHY

Research basis:  Empathy requires awareness, understanding, and experience related to the feelings, thoughts, and needs of others (Hashim, 2019). Next-gen learners demonstrate empathy by creating and exhibiting a safe and supportive educational environment. Next-gen teaching and leading involve more than conveying cognitive learning – it encompasses compassion, responsiveness to others, and valuing their lived experience. Educators who intentionally work on understanding learners will be more successful (Monahan, 2017). Learners who perceive educators as understanding and caring work harder and have greater academic success (Coffman, 2018).

3 - GROWTH MINDSET

Research basis: Next-gen learners demonstrate their ability to create and exhibit a growth mindset, which involves the learning process where talent and skills are developed. (Dweck, 2006). When a growth mindset is present, learners and leaders are more willing to embrace challenges, persist when dealing with adversity, and show resilience in meeting goals (Keesey et al., 2018).

4 - INTELLECTUAL COURAGE

Research basis: Intellectual courage is demonstrated by engaging in a professional and respectful manner while remaining open to feedback and criticism (Axtell, 2000). The next-gen educator who consistently displays intellectual courage will earn the trust of colleagues and students through genuinely listening and treating others with respect.

5 - BELONGING

Research basis: Belonging intentionally creates and sustains an environment in which all students feel seen, heard, and valued (Goodenow, 1993). Next-gen learners will demonstrate their ability to create and exhibit belonging. Endorsing the conviction that all students can learn, belonging shows genuine care and concern for all learners. By developing culturally responsive perspectives, they will consider the broader social contexts that impact learning and educational climate (Gay, 2000).

6 – PROFESSIONALISM

Research basis: Next-gen educators demonstrate professionalism by performing as exemplars of professional service and integrity throughout their profession and communities. As a priority, they exhibit honesty by engaging in respectful written, verbal, and non-verbal communication and collaborating as responsible digital citizens. They fully embrace ownership and remain accountable (Green 2010).

7 - INTEGRITY

Research basis: Integrity is the consistency between words and actions (Palanski & Yammarino, 2007) within a morally justified set of values and ethical principles (Van Niekerk & May 2019). Next-gen educators demonstrate integrity in all aspects of professional and personal interactions.

8 - COMMUNICATION

Research basis: Next-gen educators are responsible and accountable for communicating professionally and effectively with learners, colleagues, and community stakeholders by recognizing that all forms of communication, intended or not, have an impact. They understand how lived experiences and culture shape communication both in verbal and nonverbal ways (Neito, 1999).

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