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Enneagram for Professional Learning Communities

Updated: 3 days ago

For the past several years, I've spent some time studying the Enneagram, a personality typing model with ancient origins. Though the Enneagram is believed to have existed for several thousand years, it wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that more modern conversations began around this personality typing.


A simple Google or Pinterest search will now take us to a plethora of resources and information related to the Enneagram. There are countless podcasts that describe it and many online courses and teachers as well. While there is now no shortage of information regarding the 9 types, I have yet to see anything about how these types may play out in educational settings or teams.




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I love learning about and studying people, and I especially love to learn about predictable dynamics between people. So when I think about two of my current passions--the Enneagram and teacher teams--I see a space for conversation.


The Enneagram, at it's core, is a tool for deeper understanding of ourselves. One of the ideas behind this typing is that we all possess each of the nine traits within us, but one trait in particular tends to be our dominant. I find this relevant to professional learning communities because often in team settings we shift into and out of our natural group tendencies. If teachers can know and share their type with their teammates, there is a high likelihood that with increased understanding there will be increased collaboration.



Enneagram and Professional Learning Communities
Enneagram Image



The Nine Types of the Enneagram Within a Professional Learning Community



In a PLC, a Type One may present as someone who initially needs a fair amount of clarity around exactly what is expected from the collaboration and work. It's not so much that they want to control or lead the work, they simply want to ensure they know what is expected so they can meet expectations.


A Type One's worst case scenario is not "pulling their weight" in the group or team. The next worst case scenario is having a teammate who does not pull their weight! Type Ones are open to collaboration and in fact appreciate it, when it is done well. They do not enjoy team projects where they have to monitor substandard work (which is almost always all work that is completed because if it is not perfect, the Type One experiences frustration).


Type Ones may enjoy making materials (so they can ensure quality control or correct font usage) and they also respect deadlines, agendas, and accountability. A Type One may appreciate a bit of oversight from the principal or district because they prefer to work in a system where everyone is held to high standards (including themselves).


The Type One's biggest critic is themselves, so remember that if your teammate seems to shut down, withhold ideas, or withdraw. It may not be that they don't want to collaborate; it may be that they are afraid or nervous to share their work out of fear of inadequacy.


Anything less than perfect can be a bit hard for a Type One, so looking at data could be triggering, or it could be liberating. Type Ones like to live in the reality of what is and then work to make it the best it can be. In some ways, the responding to data portion of a PLC may be where a Type One thrives--because they want to things to be good, better, best--so they are willing to try and try again.


 


In a PLC, the Type Two is everyone's best friend. This person is highly-relational and driven to find meaning through connection with others. A Type Two is very excited to have a collaborative team to work with, and they value the voices of every member of the group.


A Type Two's worst case scenario would look like a group that simply does not talk or collaborate. If the team does not share, smile, or connect, the Type Two may personalize this to be their fault (even though it isn't!) A Type Two wants to ensure connection between all members, so to be in a team that does not connect...well that's pretty terrible.


For a Type Two to thrive, there needs to be space for personal connection, feedback, and creation--together. People who lead Type Twos should ensure that all voices are heard, the team creates decisions together, and there is some time for personal connection to develop. A Type Two wants to accomplish the task--they just want to do it in connection with others.


Avoid dividing up tasks too soon with a Two in your group, and don't assume a Two can't do something on their own just because they prefer to do it with someone else. Ask a Two what they need as they may be the ones always volunteering to help or create what the team needs. A Two finds value in serving others, and they also need to know they are seen and cared for. So tell them often!


 


In a PLC, the Achiever may be the one to excite the team about success experienced through the process. The Achiever finds fulfillment out of appearing successful, so if results are strong in the data, this teammate may feel really good.


Type Three's worst case scenario would be a team that is complacent and content with doing what they've always done. A Three hates the idea of "good enough" in terms of student achievement, and they really can't stand it when people put limits on learning for students.


For a Type Three to thrive, there does need to be a consistent focus on data and results. Additionally, Threes may need the norm that it's good for the team to strive for continuous growth. At times, a Three may need to hear public praise (at least within the team) to acknowledge the impact they have on the process.


Provide ample time to explore, analyze, and celebrate results for the Three. Encourage the Three to ask, "What else can we do" and also provide them with a boundary to return to previously successful strategies (rather than always seeking something new and innovative). Just because an idea may appear to be impactful does not in fact mean it will be.


 


In a PLC, the Creative may play a much needed role in helping the team to consider unique points of view or creative approaches to solving problems. The Type Four often feels the most misunderstood of the nine types, so it's possible that this person may need you to draw the ideas out of them during the meeting.


Type Four's worst case scenario would be hastily made decisions that do not allow for any unique or individualized approaches for students or staff. A Four can appreciate the team's ability to unite in a common understanding and plan (they seek deep acceptance and belonging) but they also need to know that the plan involves room for their creative approaches and perspectives.


For a Type Four to thrive, allow for brainstorming and curiosity in your planning. When reviewing existing documents, assessments, or plans, create a structured activity for the team to critique or reimagine a lesson or resource. This allows the Type Four to connect and plan with the team, as well as offer and receive creative feedback on shared ideas.


Clarify what decisions are tight and which are loose after the planning is over. Mirror what is shared by a Type Four to affirm their place in the team. Seek creative approaches from them, and praise their unique perspectives as a needed element of the team.


 


In a PLC, the Investigator likes to question decisions before, during, and after they are made. Their questioning is not disrespectful; it's discerning, and they seek to understand (and support) the decisions and steps made by the team. While they may not be the most talkative on the team, when they do speak--others tend to listen.


Type Five's worse case scenario would be a poorly planned meeting that's all talk and no substance. A Five needs time to ask questions, take apart a plan, then put it back together again with clarity and precision. Working on a team that never questions or thinks critically would be frustrating for an Investigator.


For a Type Five to thrive, visual documents are incredibly helpful. Reviewing standards, pacing guides, lesson ideas, and assessments as a team allows an Investigator a physical activity to capture their ideas and questions. Mapping out the connection between the lesson, formative, and summative assessment would be a great PLC meeting for a Type Five.


Lean in to the Type Five's strength to question, analyze, and connect the dots. Encourage the Five to question the teams' decisions to find holes or uncover strengths. Remember that the Five is always thinking, so don't assume they are disengaged simply because they are quiet. Rather, intentionally invite their perspective to the table.


 


In a PLC, the Type Six functions as a risk-management assessor. Sixes seek to keep the team, their students, and themselves safe. Sometimes they create safety through organization, precision, and preparation. Other times they create safety by anticipating potential pitfalls and struggles for the team or students.


Type Six's worst case scenario would be a team without an agenda, curriculum map, pacing guide, assessment, data sheet, deadlines...


Essentially, Sixes really like having a plan.


For a Type Six to thrive, dedicate time to creating (and organizing) the needed documents for efficiency on your team. The Six may even want to take the lead in organizing your documents, sharing deadline reminders, and clarifying next steps. As the protector, a Type Six views consistency and clarity as safety, and they want all of their team members to be safe (and meet said deadlines!)


When teams can use consistent curriculum and assessments, then they can proactively anticipate questions or tasks where students will need additional scaffolding. Build in time for this anticipating struggles conversation, and watch your Protector light up to share potential scenarios and misconceptions.


 

Type Seven: Optimist


In a PLC, the Type Seven is the one who generates collective excitement. Whether it's celebrating a success, brainstorming a new idea, or creating a positive outlook around some disappointing data, the Optimist loves to lift your spirits. In a team, someone has to be the black hat thinker--but that someone is never a Seven!


Type Seven's worst case scenario would be a team with fixed, negative mindsets around student and teacher ability. A Seven can handle a teammate who is stubborn; what they can't handle is a teammate who is perpetually stuck in boring, ineffective practices that disengage students. To have to implement boring, ineffective practices would stifle (and slowly kill) a Seven.


For a Type Seven to thrive, utilize their bursts of energy, their bold ideas, their excitement and enthusiasm. If allowed, a Type Seven can turn any task into a fun game or project--so ask them to do just that! It is possible to teach a common curriculum and have fun with your students, and Type Sevens know how to bring the magic.


Remind your Type Sevens that teaching in alignment does not have to mean teaching in boring alignment. In fact, part of the PLC process is to give them space to share their awesome, exciting ideas for everyone to use. Still, there may be times when their big ideas are too big, or there isn't enough time to put them into action. Assure your Seven that their energy and sparkle is needed--even if it cannot be acted upon at that moment by the team.


 

Type Eight: Challenger


In a PLC, the Type Eight may be the appointed or unappointed leader, but make no mistake--they provide leadership to this team. A Type Eight is called to lead, not for personal gain, but for collective justice and action--particularly for their students. When a Type Eight determines a clear path of success for all, that is the path that will be taken. Rather than judge an Eight's decisiveness and confidence, you might want to lean in and trust it!


Type Eight's worst case scenario is a scattered, circling, indecisive team. It's not that Eights don't value discussion and collaboration, they just only need so much of it before synthesizing the next steps to take. To overly discuss, overly plan, overly committee, overly manage decisions that involve an Eight is to stifle their ability to provide some of their greatest strengths to their team. If Type Eights had a mantra it might be something like, "I see it--now let's go!"


For a Type Eight to thrive, remind the team of their clear goals and steps to accomplish the tasks. Frequently connect team decisions to student impact, and clarify the purpose behind team processes, documents, assessments, etc. Eights refuse to jump through hoops--so don't make them. If they challenge a current process or action, it's probably for good reason.


Remember, though Type Eights do love control, they are not motivated to control for their own sake. Their motivation comes from a desire to create just, equitable learning experiences for all students. If they question the team or another leader's decisions, it's to uncover a truth that will lead to justice and/or improved experiences.


 

Type Nine: Peacekeeper


In a PLC, the Type Nine is the person who affirms everyone's point of view and seeks to find truth in all perspectives. A Type Nine is known as the Peacekeeper because they are motivated to keep harmony and homeostasis for themselves and those they care about. While a Nine is typically the easiest to get along with in the beginning, their lack of knowing what they actually think or believe can sometimes grind decision-making to a halt.


Type Nine's worst case scenario is a team of colleagues who actually love to argue (or just seek to create drama). While some people (Type Eights) may enjoy continuous rounds of debate, for a Nine--that is exhausting. Nines are usually managing the balance of emotions between people, so to constantly manage those emotions will leave a Nine with little space to connect with their own feelings. Eventually, Nines will disengage and shut down to preserve their inner peace.


To thrive in a PLC, structured discourse is helpful. Using a predictable agenda with inquiry-based questions allows for structured brainstorming and dissenting opinions. And various opinions are needed on the team--but Nines just need to know they aren't responsible for creating peace in the team; the agenda can do that for them. Type Nines also need permission to speak up for the topics they do feel strongly about, and they need to know their honesty is not disrupting harmony.


In low-stakes situations, encourage your Type Nine teammates to make decisions. Since they are usually happy with "whatever you want," it's important that they are offered (aka forced) to name their opinions and make decisions, too. Create opportunities for Type Nines to write down their opinions and share with the team to encourage honest feedback from the Peacekeepers.


 

How the Nine Types Influence Our PLCs


Like most personality typing systems, the Enneagram is a tool that allows us to better understand ourselves and those around us. When we better understand why we do what we do and why we need what we need, we can show up as our authentic selves and share these aspects with our colleagues. Likewise, when we better understand our teammates, we have a deeper appreciation for their strengths and actual empathy for perceived weaknesses or frustrations.


Understanding the Enneagram typing within your own professional learning community can help you better prepare for meetings, discussions, and processes that create cohesion among all members.


 

Helpful Resources


Curious about exploring more about the Enneagram? Unsure which Type may fit you best? There are many websites and books available to further your study or understanding of the Enneagram, and here are a few of my favorite:


Websites:


Books:


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