Eileen Depka, PhD, has a background in assessment, common assessment design, rubric development, standards-based assessment, question design, classroom questioning practices, positive practices in grading and reporting, and the implementation of standards-based grading and reporting.

Adult Leadership Skills and Student Dispositions

I was on a plane a few weeks ago and picked up the in-flight magazine. There was an interesting article about leadership and the dispositions needed to succeed written by Gary Kelly, the president of Southwest Airlines. The article concentrated on the following:

  • Leaders Must Care.
  • Leaders Must Communicate.
  • Leaders Must Have Character.
  • Leaders Must Be Competent.
  • Leaders Must Have Courage.

It occurred to me quite quickly that these are the skills we also want our students to have. We know that success in schools is beyond the academics. These characteristics could be the key to a bright and prosperous future. Let’s say that’s the case. How then, can we successfully provide students multiple opportunities to learn, practice, and begin to solidify these abilities through the academic opportunities we provide them?

Let’s look at the components: to care, to communicate, to build character, to prove competence, and to have courage. Let’s break it down. To me, four of the characteristics are directly linked to dispositions and life skills. One of them emphasizes the importance of the learning skills associated with verbal, written, and nonverbal communication. The latter is already a large part of the standards we teach. Let’s think about those characteristics that relate to the classroom and coincide with the leadership dispositions listed above.

Caring in the article refers to caring for people. In school, the ability to work successfully with those around us is tied closely to learning and working in groups, on teams, in school organizations, and daily in classroom activities and work. Students show they care when they are conscientious, patient, kind, good listeners, etc.

Identifying, teaching, and evaluating student dispositions

The point is, we can identify examples of the disposition. It is possible to choose a disposition important to success in our classrooms and create examples of what it looks like when in action. I would suggest following a few steps.

  1. Determine which dispositions are important to the success of students in your situation.
  2. Concentrate on identifying behaviors associated with each of the characteristics.
  3. Intentionally share them with students and give them examples of what they look like in action.
  4. Provide feedback on the competence with which students are exhibiting the components.

Let’s say we determine that we want to concentrate on competence as a disposition. We then determine at our grade level or school, the behaviors that students need to exhibit competence. The following provide an example of behaviors that can promote competence.

  • Attends to and follows directions
  • Initiates and completes tasks on time
  • Strives for accuracy and quality
  • Works well independently
  • Seeks help when needed

After the behaviors are identified, decide what ‘good’ looks like. This will provide students with a common understanding of expectations. For example, we could ask that students consistently demonstrate the identified behaviors associated with the dispositions and that they independently exhibit them within the classroom. Provide specific examples to your students so you are sure they understand each behavior.

The use of data will assist in tracking performance and growth in each identified area. Below is an example taken from Raising the Rigor, published by Solution Tree. The readiness template can be found on the books’ resources page. A pre-assessment will provide a useful baseline of the current status of each student. The criteria within the template can also be used by teachers to assess performance over time. Students can be given the survey 4 or more times per year so their perspective can be evaluated and growth tracked.

There is no doubt that identifying, teaching, and evaluating dispositions will take a concerted effort. Concentrating on one or two to start with will help with a smooth transition when time is an issue. When students begin to grow in these skills, it will benefit their classroom performance.

Over time, these practices could result in adults who are better able to thrive in a world where leadership is crucial to individual and organizational success. We have the ability to help our students learn and grow in their leadership skills thereby influencing their long-term success. The thought of that is exciting!



Depka, E. (2017). Raising the Rigor. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press

Kelly, G. Leadership is About People. Period. Accessed at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/five-principles-leadership-gary-kelly on August 6, 2017.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)