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How personality frameworks improve your teaching

How personality frameworks improve your teaching

Personality frameworks have been around for several decades, though personalities since the dawn of time. Developed by psychologists, thinkers, and writers, these frameworks can help us understand ourselves better. While no individual framework can define you completely, each highlights a section of our personalities that we can use to live, work, and study better. Here, we’ll look at how the Enneagram and Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies can be used by teachers to better understand their students.

Why consider personality frameworks at all?

As teachers, we’re in constant contact with dozens of students, each with their own learning style, strengths, and challenges. Considering a student’s “type” can be an effective tool to help identify their learning style, pinpoint the origin of problems, and design strategies for academic success.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a nine-type framework that contemplates individuals based on a basic question: “What motivates us at our core?”

The nine types are:

  1. The Reformer

  2. The Helper

  3. The Achiever

  4. The Individualist

  5. The Investigator

  6. The Loyalist

  7. The Enthusiast

  8. The Challenger

  9. The Peacemaker

For teachers, the types in the classroom can be reimagined as:

  1. The Serious Hard Worker

  2. The People Pleasing Mentor

  3. The Star of the Class

  4. The Misunderstood Creative

  5. The Intellectual Outsider

  6. The Questioning Friend

  7. The Joyful Enthusiast

  8. The Protective Challenger

  9. The Accommodating Companion

Perhaps you’re already starting to mentally identify certain students?

Enneagram scholar, Rob Fizel, elaborates: “As teachers, our personality type makes us more comfortable with certain teaching styles over others. As students, our personality type makes us prefer certain ways of learning.” Science teacher, Jane Still, describes the Enneagram as a series of lenses that shape not only a student’s learning, but their entire being. When teachers are able to empathize and connect with their students’ motivators, students are far more likely to experience satisfaction and success in their learning.

Each type has different strengths and challenges in the classroom. For example, while a Serious Hard Worker is earnest, self-disciplined, conscientious, and attentive, they can have problems with their own high standards and desire for perfectionism. Still gives several pointers for teachers.

For example, to support Serious Hard Workers (Type 1), she suggests:

  • Helping them learn to pace themselves

  • Showing them they are valued not just for what they do, but who they are

  • Showing them that anger, openness, and honesty are ok; and that they are allowed to relax, have fun, make mistakes and be spontaneous

While too complex a framework to completely summarize here, the Enneagram is well-worth your time if you’re struggling to support particular students, or wish to develop multiple approaches to classroom management.

The Four Tendencies

Happiness and habits researcher Gretchen Rubin developed the Four Tendencies, a four-part framework that focuses on an important aspect of human behavior: How we respond to expectations. Rubin explains that the expectations upon us are outer (such as next week’s report cards or the playground duty schedule) and inner (like your own desire to learn Japanese or join a start a teacher’s podcast).

The Four Tendencies are:

  • Upholders – who easily respond to outer and inner expectations.

Assignment done ahead of time. Corrections neatly incorporated. Semester study plan adhered to in detail.

  • Questioners – who question all expectations.

Questioner students aren’t trying to b__e impertinent, but rather, identify whether or not an expectation makes sense to them. They hate muddy waters and unclear reasoning.

  • Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

An Obliger will never have to reschedule a group study session but will have trouble finishing a book for pleasure.

  • Rebels resist both outer and inner expectations.

The opposite of Upholders. Outer expectations (“Your homework is due Friday,”) and inner expectations alike (“I want to do my homework tonight to get it out of the way,”) fall on deaf ears.

(You can find out what you are here. Tip: Consider creating a reading and speaking activity by having your class complete the quiz.)

How to use the Four Tendencies to improve your teaching

Just as auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners take in information differently, so do the Tendencies. You’ll have noticed certain students diligently ticking off course requirements, while others pepper you with queries, work better partnered rather than alone, or struggle to organize their school life. These could be signs of the Tendencies on show.

According to Rubin, help people (in this case, your students), by assisting them to build strategies to change their habits or promote growth. For example:


  • Hermione Granger-like Upholders can be so efficient that they border on frustrating. Upholders can demand a lot of themselves – and others! Allow Upholder students to see that not everyone works in the same way and that it’s ok to relax the rules at times.


  • Understand the intention behind the questions you receive from these students by helping them by identifying why certain things are being studied (“This will be on the exam,”) or why you need a certain task completed (“I need you to redo this essay because you didn’t quite answer the question – here’s where the thread got lost,”).


  • Obligers students respond well to accountability. Show them how to utilize the concept of outer accountability by suggesting they form a book group, find a language exchange partner, or share observations about a podcast or film with a study partner.


  • Rebels can be very difficult to teach due to their resistance, but when they do decide to commit they usually shine bright. Rubin explains that Rebels have a strong sense of self, which is a characteristic teachers can use to great effect. Is your Rebel student proud of being creative? Try incorporating creative projects into class (build a website, start a class podcast, write fiction, etc). Do they consider themselves a leader? Maybe they could lead an activity or partner with a struggling student.

Every day, students with distinct personalities come together to learn in your class. If you’re interested in using personality frameworks as a tool in your teaching, with practice you’ll soon notice your students’ “types” or “tendencies”, and develop ways to utilize their strengths for better academic outcomes.

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