What are dispositions?
And what are the key dispositions of an effective teacher-librarian?
What are dispositions?
Dispositions are the "attitudes, values, and beliefs that influence the application and use of knowledge and skills" (Wilkerson & Lang, 2007, p. 254). This is a general definition, since they are still being researched and defined. However, guiding questions for determining dispositions could be:
What does the teacher believe to be important about teaching and being a good teacher?
How is he or she likely to act?
(Wilkerson & Lang, 2007, p. 254).
One may have knowledge and skills, but it is crucial that one is disposed to teaching, and teaching well.
Top 5 Dispositions of a Quality Teacher-Librarian
(Thanks to Jessica Bonin, Emily Huang, Debbie Woodfine and Shannon Thiessen Burton, 2018, for an earlier version of some of these dispositions.)
Professional 21st Century teacher-librarians understand that their role is to be an exemplary teacher, a leader amongst peers, an organised collection manager, and a passionate champion of reading and literacies.* The following are six of the dispositions that undergird this type of teacher-librarian.
1. Caring Respecter of All Persons
The instinct to care for our students - to desire the best for them and to believe in them and their teachers - underpins core values and is the foundation for other dispositions. Caring has the power to transform libraries and learners by motivating action and shaping thoughts and decisions. Research by Weiner and Auster shows that care is even stronger than empathy, since caring is more sustained and more likely to result in beneficial action (2007). Jones and Bush (2009) assert the following:
It is difficult to imagine a situation where we could go too far afield by caring about our students' engagement to their own learning. Caring as a professional disposition might be a logical starting point because it brings us full circle back to the 21st-century learner dispositions in action. It is difficult to imagine modeling the dispositions without a foundation of caring equally about each student, believing that each student can learn, and understanding the equitable access to resources that translates to fairness for all students. (p. 12, bold added)
If we genuinely care about our students, we will interact with individuals with respect and compassion, showing ourselves to be worthy of their trust. When students were asked by researcher Kathleen Cushman in 2006 what qualities they wanted in a teacher, they said teachers should like their students, be trustworthy, treat students as smart and capable, care for and respect them, be engaging, and both like and care about their subject matter (Jones & Bush, 2009).
If we genuinely care about our students, we will be concerned about diversity and social justice issues, becoming advocates for all (Kimmel, Dickinson, & Doll, 2012). We will want to ensure diversity in the library collection because we care about individuals seeing themselves represented and included.
If we genuinely care about our students, we will model compassion, open-mindedness, kindness, and listening to different viewpoints (Bush and Jones, 2011), and this will be reflected in the library itself as it develops into a safe, inclusive, open, nurturing space. We will do whatever we can to best support students, providing the best library services possible, and ensuring their protection and continued service through best practice and policies.
If we genuinely care about students, we will also care about their teachers, supporting, encouraging and collaborating with them in best practice.
Caring: At the
heart of it all.
2. Lifelong Learner with a Growth Mindset
Growth mindset is the belief that "abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work” and it "creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment” (Dweck, 2010, para. 4).
Gritty trying, learning
Lifelong learning is the "love of learning, an openness, an eagerness to continually explore emerging ideas, technologies and professional trends, and who models curiosity and professional engagement” (Levitov, 2012, p. 9).
While the two are very similar, lifelong learning is simply the love of and desire to learn, while growth mindset is more broad - it enables and creates this desire and makes it resilient.
Teacher-librarians are in prime positions to display a love of learning as they passionately support quality research and champion the enjoyment of reading. Teacher-librarians also model a growth mindset by being positive and flexible when encountering challenges, and by believing that their abilities are always changing and thus openly working on professional development. “[A]s our world continues to change, it is becoming increasingly apparent that professionals in many fields must work to stay current”, “stay abreast” and “constantly improve” (Kimmel, Dickinson & Doll, 2015, p. 166); this may feel daunting, but is met through a love of learning, buoyed up by a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is critical to model for our students; Hochanadel and Finamore (2015) found that students who believed their intelligence was not fixed but could change were more resilient and persistent (p. 49). Growth mindset frees one to make mistakes as they are part of the learning process, not an indicator of incapacity. This provides greater confidence and willingness to take healthy risks. One must have the courage to first try before one can gain experience and improve. Lankes (2010) challenges teacher-librarians to be risking and failing: to try new things - and sometimes these attempts will fail - in order to bring about positive change. Visibly trying, failing, and trying again permissions others to do likewise - the library becomes a safe place to not know and then do something about it! It is modelling permission being gritty learners.
This is a humble confidence, not prideful, since it acknowledges that one does not know it all, and is trying to improve. This is helpful in maintaining positive relationships, since teacher-librarians need to be self-starters that take initiative to make things happen, while having the sensitivity to not burning bridges along the way.
Relational partnering, both near and far.
3. Collaborative Global Facilitator
Collaboration is considered an essential to the effectiveness of teacher-librarians (Long & Jones, 2016; Cahill, 2016). To be an effective collaborator, one needs a flexible willingness to work with others. To be an effective collaborator, one must also be an effective communicator, both with speaking and listening.
With sensitivity and respect, teacher-librarians can gently "nudge" teachers further into inquiry-based learning (Fontichiaro, 2009), encouraging students to think more deeply and independently, and building stronger research and evaluation skills.
Teacher-librarians become global facilitators when sharing with others - in person or on social media - via Global Read Alouds, Twitter, blogs, online forums, webinars, online professional development sessions and more (Kimmel, Dickinson, & Doll, 2012.) Global facilitators pay attention and respond to what is going on in the wider community, within and outside of education, and with other teacher-librarians. It is collaboration on a grand scale. Participating in community knowledge learning and sharing was part of part of what makes a “rock star librarian” (Cahill, 2016).
4. Ethical Practitioner and Social Justice Advocate
Teacher-librarians are uniquely positioned to challenge and encourage entire school communities in all areas of social responsibility and social justice. Teacher-librarians have a mandate to serve all patrons - staff, students, and their families - and as they interact with everyone they can model and promote kindness, fairness, equality, integrity, respect, inclusiveness, and appreciation of diversity.
Championing what is fair and what is right.
Beyond their personal example, teacher-librarians must create policies and collections that are inclusive and representative of the span of society. They address topics of representation, privilege, and oppression, as teacher-librarians are instrumental in “promoting positive social interaction and developing healthy and helping relationships with youth" (Bush & Jones, 2009, p. 11) and advocating for vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Teacher-librarians are also the go-to people for the ethical use of information, especially with regards to Intellectual Property Law, copyright, and proper referencing. This is not just important for the graduating class with their final essays - an understanding and respect for other's intellectual property must be taught in a consistent and coherent manner, across the grade levels and subject areas, and it is teacher-librarians that can facilitate and support this process.
5. Critical and Creative Thinker
Creativity and critical thinking are crucial dispositions not only for teacher-librarians to model and instil in students, but also to be successful in their various roles and duties. While participants of the Delphi study by Bush and Jones (2010) rated both critical and creative thinking as of high importance for teacher-librarians, they also suggested they be combined and labelled as "problem-solving" (p. 11). While both broad and important, critical and creative thinking skills are needed for more than just the solving of problems.
Always imagining; always questioning.
Creativity is something that cannot be automated or researched - it is uniquely human. It allows for artistic expression, innovative ideas, and unique strategies. Critical thinking is crucial for being able to make considered evaluations and informed, well-reasoned decisions, and insightful and research-based changes to improve library systems and schools.
Creative thinking and critical thinking skills often work hand-in-hand; they both supplement and balance each other. Creative thinking allows for openness and mental flexibility, which is crucial to successful collaboration and the adopting and incorporating the use of new technologies and tools. However, critical thinking allows for the careful consideration of collaborative directions and decisions, and evaluates the contextual usefulness of various new technological options.
Critical and creative thinking can be applied both outwardly - to individual situations and more global questions - as well as inwardly - in self-reflection, and self-improvement.
Creative thinking allows teacher-librarians to find interesting new ways to engage students in various literacies, while critical thinking allows for the considered analysis of what is most needed for individual students and for the library community. Together, these thinking processes help answer the questions "What should we do?" and "How can we best do it?"
*I deliberately did not include dispositions that are directly connected with the job-description of a teacher-librarian, such as having a disposition to teach, or to manage and organise resources. It is also true that teacher-librarians need to be leaders, but I would argue that leadership needs to permeate all other areas. As we work to lead staff, students, and our community, we model what we would ask of them, we come alongside, we support, we enable, we encourage, we facilitate, we advocate, and we also overtly teach and train. I did not include being an effective leader much like I did not include being an effective teacher or being an effective collection manager. Kimmel, Dickinson, and Doll (2012) likewise did not include leadership in their Dispositional Continua, although many dispositions contained elements of leadership and together form a picture of a teacher-librarian as a 21st Century leader (p. 113).
In school systems such as in Canada and in the International Baccalaureate, teacher-librarians are required to have teaching qualifications as well as librarian qualifications. In Canada, this is typically a Bachelor of Education and then a Master of Education in Teacher-Librarianship, or possibly in Library and Information Sciences. Akers (2015) highlights that teaching is what sets teacher-librarians apart from public librarians and that those within that profession need to promote, advocate, and enlighten the school community about the importance of having a teacher-librarian in charge of the library. Teacher-librarians create spaces and opportunities for discussions, activities, transfer of knowledge, and the acquisition of skill sets for patrons (Bush & Jones, 2011).
There is no universally agreed list of teacher dispositions. Lists of principles and standards vary between provinces, states, and countries, as do the importance placed on these lists. In the USA, teacher dispositions are assessed as part of teacher education programmes, such as Washington State University College of Education's discussion of professional dispositions, and their Professional Disposition Assessment Form showing how it compares to state, national, and accreditation standards (Washington State University College of Education, n.d.). The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) - mentioned in that document - provided statements about dispositions, but this body has since merged to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). The CAEP Standards consistently distinguish between knowledge, skills and professional dispositions, all of which are to be assessed, and dispositions are specifically addressed in Standards 1.1, 2.3, 3.3, and 4.2 (CAEP, 2013).
Bush and Jones (2010) state that dispositions are learned by modelling, both for other colleagues, and for our students (p.4). It is useful for teacher-librarians to articulate their dispositions for themselves and to discuss these with staff and students, since, much like with class content, "[g]ood modeling includes not only providing examples but also labels the exemplars so that students can know why they are exemplary and can therefore effectively employ the model to their own topic” (Donham, 2016, p. 26).
What's behind this: Research & Reflections
Akers, A. (2015). School librarian dispositions: Serving two masters. Knowledge Quest. Retrieved from
Bush, G., & Jones, J. L. (2011). Forecasting professional dispositions of school librarians. School Library Monthly, 27(4), 54-56.
Bush, G., & Jones, J. B. (2010). Tales out of the school library: Developing professional dispositions. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries
Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. (2013). The CAEP Standards. Retrieved from
Cahill, M. (2016, December 2). Learning from rock star librarians. School Library Connection. Retrieved from
Dweck, C. (2010). What is mindset. Retrieved from https://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html
Donham, J. (2016). Mental scripts for nurturing student dispositions of inquiry. Teacher Librarian, 43, 24-27.
Fontichiaro, K. (2009). Nudging toward inquiry: Re-envisioning existing research projects. School Library Monthly, 26(1), 17-19.
Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed and growth mindset in education and how grit helps students persist in the face of
adversity. Journal of International Education Research, 11(1), 47-50.
Jones, J., & Bush, G. (2009, May/June). What defines an exemplary school librarian?: An exploration of professional dispositions.
Library Media Connection, 10-12.
Kimmel, S. C., Dickinson, G. K., & Doll, C. A. (2012). Dispositions in the twenty-first century school library profession. School Libraries
Worldwide, 18(2), 106-120.
Lankes, D. (2010, November 17). NEXT symposium. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN-UUcucA9E
Levitov, D. D. (Ed.). (2012). Activism and the school librarian: Tools for advocacy and survival. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Stephens, M. (2018). Champions of confidence. Library Journal, 143(10), 18. Retrieved from http://www.mediasourceinc.com/
Weiner, S. J., & Auster, S. (2007). From empathy to caring: Defining the ideal approach to a healing relationship. The Yale Journal of
Biology and Medicine, 80(3), 123.
Wilkerson, J. R., & Lang, W. S. (2007). Assessing teacher dispositions: Five standards-based steps to valid measurement using the
DAATS model. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Washington State University College of Education (n.d.). Professional dispositions. Retrieved from
Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. (2013). CAEP Accreditation Standards One-Pager. Retrieved from
O'Neill, J., Hansen, S., & Lewis, E. (2014). Dispositions to teach: Review and synthesis of current components and applications, and
evidence of impact. Auckland, NZ: Massey University. Retrieved from
Washington State University College of Education (n.d.). Professional Dispositions Assessment (PDA) Form Associations with State,
National, and Accreditation Standards. Retrieved from
Diez, M. E., & Raths, J. (Eds.). (2007). Dispositions in teacher education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Example of teacher dispositions in educational research:
Vannatta, R. A., & Fordham, N. (2004). Teacher dispositions as predictors of classroom technology use. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(3), 253-271. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ690932.pdf
Developing a Growth Mindset with Carol Dweck,
9 Oct 2014, posted by Stanford Alumni
"Should you tell your kids they are smart or talented? Professor Carol Dweck answers this question and more, as she talks about her groundbreaking work on developing mindsets. She emphasizes the power of "yet" in helping students succeed in and out of the classroom."
Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck (animated book summary) - Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset,
14 Dec 2016, posted by Better Than Yesterday