Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Teaching As a Moral Practice: Defining, Developing, and Assessing Professional Dispositions in Teacher Education

reviewed by Linor Lea Hadar - April 14, 2011

coverTitle: Teaching As a Moral Practice: Defining, Developing, and Assessing Professional Dispositions in Teacher Education
Author(s): Peter C. Murrell, Mary Diez, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, and Deborah L. Schussler (eds.)
Publisher: Harvard University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1934742783, Pages: 264, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

What are teaching dispositions? What are the roles of those professional teaching dispositions in teaching and teacher education? And what are the ways in which key teaching dispositions can be developed among teaching candidates?

Editors Peter C. Murrell, Jr., Mary E. Diez, Sharon Feiman-Nemser, and Deborah I. Schussler and their colleagues – members of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education – explore these questions by sharing their struggle with the challenge of understanding, defining and fostering professional teaching dispositions in their teacher candidates. Their journey was launched as these teacher educators identified discrepancies between what they (or their colleges) were trying to convey to teacher candidates and what those candidates then demonstrated in their actual teaching practices. These discrepancies pointed to the possible existence of a gap between the educational, behavioral, moral, and learning messages that teacher educators wanted to communicate and what the students were actually experiencing in class. The well-known sociologist Basil Bernstein (1990) pointed out that that the pedagogical messages that educators would like to convey are not necessarily congruent with those that actually influence students. As shown in a recent study (Hadar & Hotam, 2010), the pedagogy as planned by the teacher can be quite different from what actually acts on the hearts and minds of the students. The educational space of immediate interaction and interplay between the instructors’ espoused pedagogical messages and the students’ actual learning experiences may be termed the “pedagogy in practice” (Hadar & Hotam, 2010). Applying this concept to the discrepancies between teacher candidates’ learning and teaching experiences as described in the book, this pedagogy in practice is the actual pedagogy which acts on the hearts and minds of the teacher candidates and thus influences their teaching practices.

Teaching as a Moral Practice provides a window into seven teacher education programs that identified this gap between rhetoric and practice and examined their colleges’ pedagogies in practice in order to develop the desired teaching dispositions. These institutional case studies represent a rich journey of inquiry into practice and thus offer a valuable resource for teacher educators concerned with preparing teachers to act morally and ethically in their profession. As highlighted by the editors, these cases represent broad diversity in the colleges’ size, mission, approach, and stage of development. Some colleges represented in the book have already implemented programs and thus revisit their work retrospectively to examine impacts and give suggestions for improvement. Other colleges have recently made or are in the process of making changes in their programs, thereby exploring prospectively where those changes will take them. Some colleges present their cases by sharing stories of teacher candidates from various perspectives. These stories provide a basis for analysis and common understanding of teaching dispositions as well as approaches to nurturing professional dispositions. Others focus their cases on the institutional search for a unifying vision of teaching professional dispositions.    

The book starts with an introduction and a brief history of the notion of teacher dispositions in teacher education, followed by a chapter discussing the points that guided the editors’ thinking about teaching dispositions. After presenting the stories of the seven colleges of education in the next seven chapters, the book concludes with a cross case analysis of the institutional narratives. This analysis centers around several major questions: What is the meaning of teaching dispositions as presented in the seven cases? What are the leading dispositions that the colleges of education try to foster among their candidates and what is the justification for these dispositions? How do teacher candidates develop particular dispositions and how do teacher educators enable that learning?

As summarized by the editors, dispositions include a reference to actions or behaviors and skills. “Dispositions entail what teachers have the ability to put into practice” (p. 179). This ability is connected with knowledge and skills. Dispositions are accompanied by behavior and thus assume the requisite ability to carry out that behavior. This assumption calls for a greater emphasis on field experience during teacher training. To complete explicit instruction, one must also have the opportunity for practice and reinforcement of desired dispositions within meaningful contexts (Ritchhart, 2002). It should be noted that the seven cases relate less to the way dispositions can be developed and more to defining and exploring the teaching disposition as seen in action. As for the leading dispositions, across all seven cases there is an emphasis on cultural sensitivity, the belief in the potential of all students, and a commitment to high expectations for all students. Those leading dispositions invoke a general class of responses rather than specific actions, thus requiring teacher candidates to develop a unified professional practice.   

By providing well-documented data that exposes the thought and action that naturally come into play in many teacher preparation programs, this book adds to the professional literature in several ways. First, it addresses the gap that often emerges between what is taught and what is actually implemented by teacher candidates in the education field. This direct approach brings to the fore the connection between espoused pedagogy and how it reaches or does not reach pre-service teachers. Moreover, the book raises new questions regarding teacher candidates’ training and provides data to inform some aspects of these questions. Thus, it calls for a careful evaluation of teacher education programs and teacher candidates’ performance according to in-field implementation and not according to success in knowledge based tests. Second, it opens an extremely important discussion concerning dispositions, relating to both the definition of the term and to ways in which these dispositions can be fostered. Third, this book provides knowledge about the particular dispositions that teacher education programs throughout the US currently wish to develop. Due to the unique nature of different teaching and learning contexts, the availability of multiple cases provides better and more detailed understanding of that complex interplay of factors addressing professional teaching dispositions. By deepening and expanding our consideration of professional teaching dispositions, this book offers much-needed wisdom to current and future efforts to define criteria for the success of teacher education programs against the backdrop of high-stakes testing.


Bernstein, B. (1990). Class, codes and control (Vol. 4). London: Routledge.

Hadar, L., & Hotam, Y. (2010). Pedagogy in practice: The schools’ pedagogy from the students’ perspective. Research Papers in Education, 25(1), 1-22.

Ritchhart, R. (2002). Intellectual character: What it is, why it matters and how to get it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 14, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16384, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 1:15:09 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Linor Hadar
    University of Haifa Beit Berl College of Education
    E-mail Author
    LINOR LEA HADAR teaches at the Department of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education at University of Haifa and at the Beit Berl College of Education. Her research interests include the intersection of professional development and school pedagogical reform. She defines professional development as developing a disposition. In order to understand school pedagogic changes, she also explores students' voices, through which she investigates pedagogy in practice. She also works with teacher educators to develop thinking dispositions among teacher candidates. She recently published "Pedagogy in Practice: The Schools' Pedagogy from the Students' Perspective" (in Research Papers in Education, 2010) and "From Isolation to Symphonic Harmony: Building a Community of Learners among Teacher Educators" (in Teaching and Teacher Education, 2011).
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue