The It Factor: What Makes a Teacher Great?


The impact a teacher has on students may be profound and lasting. Thus, teacher preparation is grounded in standards to assure that all teacher candidates know the content and have the skills needed to become good teachers. What makes a teacher great? The answer is not clear-cut or easily measured with tests. But we all know a great teacher when we see one. The best teachers have an It Factor that sets them apart from others. It is seemingly intangible and unteachable, as it’s often said that, “Some people are just born to be teachers.” This book challenges that assumption and uncovers the It Factor. Teacher and student voices helped to develop language and tools to examine how teachers are disposed to think and act and how this affects student learning. If we can identify what makes teachers great, we can teach it.

Students have a sea of information, opinions and messaging at their fingertips. They find themselves navigating through a myriad of facts and “alternative facts.” Opinions, beliefs, and fallacies share the same platform and status as well grounded information and vetted ideas, fueling tensions among individuals and distance between groups. Developing students who are caring, critical thinkers and problem-solvers may be more important now than ever. The teachers who are right for this challenge have more than content knowledge and teaching skills. To meet this challenge, teachers need to have “It,” that something inside that makes them not just good teachers, but great ones.

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Holly J. Thornton is a National Board Certified teacher who earned her PhD in educational leadership at the Ohio State University. She has evaluated multiple teacher preparation programs nationally as a program reviewer and member of the NCATE Board of Examiners. Her research employs using multiple lenses to examine quality education.
Preface viii

Part 1
What Is It And Why Does It Matter?

1 My Journey with Dispositions 3
1 What Do Students Think about Teaching and Learning? 4
2 What Do Students Think about Teachers? 5
3 Talk as Functions of Discourse 7
4 Teacher Types 8
5 What Role Do Structure and Power Play? 10
6 Dispositions 12

2 Dispositions in Action: What Do They Look Like? 14
1 Assessment as Defining Expectations 19
2 Instruction as Interaction 20
3 Management as Relationships 22

3 What Are Dispositions, Really? 25
1 INTASC Standards 26
2 Dispositions in Action 35
3 Why Dispositions in Action May Be Useful 36
4 Connections to Other Teacher Quality Frameworks 36
5 Can Dispositions Be Taught? 40
6 Do Context and Content Matter? 42
7 What about Collaboration and Shared Vision? 43

4 How Do Dispositions Align with Child Development? 47
1 Child Development in the Elementary School Years 47
2 Adolescent Development 51
3 Moral Development 54
4 Child Development and Dispositions 56

5 Why Dispositions? Why Now? 59
1 Dispositions and the 21st Century 59
2 Dispositions and Emotional Intelligence 60
3 Dispositions and Mindfulness 62
4 Dispositions and Democracy 63
5 Dispositions and the Teacher Shortage 64
6 Dispositions and the Testing Industry/Culture 65
7 Dispositions and Devaluing of Teacher Education 68
8 Dispositions and the Need for Higher Level Thinking 69
9 Dispositions and Media Literacy 70
10 Responsive Dispositions Now 70

Part 2
What Does It Look Like? Responsive Dispositions in the Classroom

6 Assessment: The Disposition to be Critical and Challenging by Lois Boone 77

7 Instruction: The Disposition to be Facilitative by Sarah Chapman 84

8 Instruction: The Disposition to be Creative by Jessi Hall 92

9 Management: The Disposition to Empower by Kim Tufts 98

10 Management: The Disposition to Connect by Brooke Huffman 105

11 Professionalism: The Disposition towards Change by Kellie Johnson 112

12 Professionalism: The Disposition to be Inclusive by Kalie Eppley 116

Part 3
Just Do It: Processes and Tools

13 Using DIA: Breaking It Down 125
1 Vignette One: Language Arts Classroom 126
2 Vignette Two: Math and Science Classroom 127
3 Vignette Three: Language Arts Classroom 128
4 Vignette Four: Math Classroom 129
5 Vignette Five: Science Classroom 130
6 What Did We Find? 138
7 Interview Data 138
8 DIA Results 142

14 The It Factor Tool Kit 145
1 DIA for Administrators and Human Resource Departments 145
2 DIA for Teacher Preparation Programs 146
3 DIA for Teachers 147
4 DIA for Parents 147
5 Tools to Get “IT” 148
6 Self-evaluation Narrative 149
7 Multiple Choice Word Preference Scale 154
8 DIA Observation Tool 158
9 Student Interview Guide 175
10 Resources 176

15 Next Steps for DIA: A Call to Action 179
Anyone concerned with teacher quality and preparing students as empathetic, ethical, and thinking leaders can benefit from considering the importance and cultivation of educator dispositions this book illustrates and assesses.
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