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In today’s classrooms and meeting rooms, whether they are in Des Moines, Albuquerque, London, or Canberra, school teachers and administrators are under enormous pressures to improve math and science scores, hold teachers accountable for performance improvements, and for negotiating and interacting in good faith with their unions.  While teacher training universities and colleges typically provide the knowledge, skills, and tools that teachers and administrators need to start their careers, what is not learned during university or in-service training is how the dominant and shadow temperaments of each educational professional influence their everyday decisions and behaviors.

Teachers, administrators, and other educational professionals are responsible for achieving maximum effectiveness in their methods and techniques, office management leadership and supervision, the maintaining of classroom and office order and discipline, and enhancing community relations through parent-teacher conferences, special events, etc.  Administrators hire new professionals, promote high performers, and assemble special project teams and groups to address the ordinary – and extraordinary – events of the school year.  However, they typically do not realize how their dominant and shadow temperaments influence their decision-making, hiring practices, and personal relationships with their employees.

One of the lesser-known concepts for achieving enhanced teacher and administrator effectiveness in the classroom or office (and for having more effective relationships with each other) is temperament.  Temperament is primarily that aspect of our personality that is concerned with emotions and the speed and intensity of our reactions to them.  As Hippocrates found some 2,500 years ago, we are each born with four basic temperaments and develop our “dominant” temperament, that is, those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that feel MOST comfortable and natural to us.  We have described these “Basic Elements” of temperament in terms that honor the fact that we cannot survive if even one is missing:

Earth— reliable, traditional, organized, sensible, and trustworthy. 

Air— intelligent, analytical, curious, visionary, and logical.

Fire— spontaneous, playful, innovative, uninhibited, and fearless.

Water— compassionate, friendly, personal, and benevolent.

How do these four temperaments relate to enhancing the effectiveness of teachers and administrators in a school system?  We posit that the dominant temperament of a Teacher is a strong influence on their willingness – or unwillingness — to tolerate risks (e.g., student behavior, new materials, etc.) in the classroom.  We also posit that the dominant temperament of a School or College Administrator is a strong influence on their decision-making process for managing, hiring, and promoting other educational professionals.

Dominant Temperament

When we began to write about temperament in our book, “What Makes You Tick and What Ticks You Off” and lead temperament seminars for public, private and non-profit sector clients, we looked at temperament as a strong indicator of personality that has strong influences over us – usually without our understanding or even awareness!  How might this look in the behaviors of our teachers and administrators?

Earth Teachers/Administrators

Many, if not the majority, of teachers possess dominant Earth temperaments.  They have an inborn pre-disposition to protect the safety and security of home, neighborhood, community, school, and classroom.  They are highly dependable and extremely organized.  They use extensive lesson plans and have memorized checklists of safety procedures.  They are detail-oriented and stay precisely on schedule unless called upon to perform additional tasks.  Duties and responsibilities are taken very seriously.   They are formal rather than informal.  They are always well prepared.  They have a strong work ethic and value morality, justice and tradition and expect to see those traits in others’.

Air Teachers/Administrators

Educational professionals with an Air temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to be competent in their profession.  They are unemotional and may appear to be oblivious to the emotions of others.  They expect perfection in themselves and in everyone they work with or teach.  They are highly critical of their own capabilities—and the capabilities of others’.  They enjoy discussing the future of their school and specialty subject areas, in general.  They are logical and rational and are comfortable working alone.  They need to have all available data and information before making a decision.

Fire Teachers/Administrators

Educational professionals with a Fire temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to take action.  They are technically savvy and enjoy possessing the latest software, websites, books and research papers at their fingertips.  They are uninhibited and great troubleshooters.  Paperwork bores them.  They are informal rather than formal.  They hate to wait.  They will get the job done no matter the time and effort they must put in to do so.  They are innovative and great in a crisis.  They do not enjoy being told what to do.  They are self-confident and believe they can handle any situation.

Water Teachers/Administrators

Educational professionals with a Water temperament have an inborn pre-disposition to care for other people.  They are positive and optimistic.  They see the potential in others and enjoy developing their skills.  They strive for cooperation and harmony.  They view education as the best way of helping individuals, groups, and their communities realize their dreams.  They seek the opinions of others’.  They have difficulty in saying no to requests.  They tell the truth no matter the cost.  They hate lying.  They value integrity in themselves, in other professionals, and in their schools.

The Dominant Temperament—So What?

The dominant temperaments of each teacher or administrator can influence their behavior in many ways.  Temperament could influence an Earth teacher to “go by the book” when dealing with upset parents and appear cold, unfeeling, and unapproachable to them.  Temperament could influence an Air administrator to hire more professionals whose background and behaviors appear to be just like him/her.  Temperament could influence a Fire teacher to take more risks in the classroom and not use or heavily modify required lesson plans, Temperament could influence a Water administrator to be so empathetic to the plight of individual teachers that favoritism occurs and overall teacher and office morale suffers.

The power of the dominant temperament on decision-making should be acknowledged as a major source of influence and its study considered an integral part of any basic or in-service instruction.

Shadow Temperament

Research also revealed that we all possess a shadow temperament, that is, those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that feel LEAST comfortable, even unnatural, to us.  So, if we take our four Basic Elements and prioritize them, the temperament that is our dominant preference would come first.  Our second and third preferences (i.e., secondary and tertiary) would come next and our fourth preference would be called our shadow temperament – those behaviors, attitudes and emotions that we relate to the least and typically cause us to become angry and upset with others (e.g., spouses, our children, administrators, co-workers, students, etc.).

We posit that Teachers/Administrators who can identify and understand their shadow temperaments are more likely to resist becoming emotionally upset and angry when faced with behaviors from that shadow temperament than can those Teachers/Administrators who cannot.

While most Teachers/Administrators can acknowledge the existence of their dominant temperament fairly easily, many will be surprised that the cause of sudden emotional discomfort (even rage) is linked directly to their shadow temperament.  So how might the shadow temperament get us into trouble?

Teacher/Administrator with a Shadow Temperament of Earth

Educational professionals with an Earth shadow may view the behaviors of dominant Earth Teachers/Administrators as rigid and parental.  They may see a dominant Earth administrator as inflexible and constantly judging their performance against a set of rules, regulations, processes, and procedures that they had no input in creating and may think are not as relevant today as they were in years past.  The Teacher/Administrator with an Earth shadow may view classroom and administrative requirements more as guidelines for them to use in navigating their way through the school year.

Teacher/Administrator with a Shadow Temperament of Air

Educational professionals with an Air shadow may see dominant Air Teachers/Administrators as condescending and patronizing.  They may perceive a dominant Air teacher as a “know it all” who professes to be expert in every aspect of his/her subject area and, at the drop of a hat, provide you with an unrequested tutorial to demonstrate superiority.  Teachers/Administrators with an Air shadow may be shunted off to participate in activities that do not require interaction with parents, students or other school staff.

Teacher/Administrator with a Shadow Temperament of Fire

Educational professionals with a Fire shadow may view dominant Fire Teachers/Administrators as “cowboys” who do their own thing and are unprofessional in how they get their work done.  They may see a dominant Fire administrator as a boorish thrill seeker who is reckless with school funds, equipment and material.  Teachers/Administrators with a Fire shadow may group dominant Fire’s with more experienced staff that will be able to more easily “handle” them in meetings or special events.

Teacher/Administrator with a Shadow Temperament of Water

Educational professionals with a Water shadow may view dominant Water Teachers/Administrators as highly emotional and overly sensitive.  They may see a dominant Water administrator as too easy on individual teachers who break the rules and may perceive them as too nosy and too interested in the private affairs of employees.  They may believe that such an administrator wastes time on “people issues” rather than obtaining the funding, equipment, supplies and materials needed to keep the school operating in an effective manner.

The Shadow Temperament – So What?

The shadow temperament is typically the one that causes trouble for most people.  The shadow may drive a teacher with responsibilities for communicating with parents away from them because he/she is uncomfortable dealing with people.  The shadow may cause an administrator to hate the way his/her office staff operates because there are too many rules to follow.  The shadow may influence an administrator not to promote a qualified teacher in a timely fashion because he/she doesn’t follow the administrator’s instructions the way he/she thinks they should.  The shadow may cause a teacher to complain unjustly to their union.  The shadow may undermine the espirit de corps of a school office.

Our ability to identify, acknowledge, and learn to develop our shadow temperament is critical to achieving an effective level of emotional intelligence.  It is the emotionally intelligent educator that is capable of handling any and all situations with diplomacy, leadership and discipline, if and when necessary.  This requires our Teachers/Administrators to view the development of all four temperaments as a powerful tool that will enable them to successfully achieve their critical mission of educating our children in the most effective manner possible.

Temperament and Organizations

Organizations can have a temperament, too.  The Boy Scouts is an example of an Earth organization that prides itself on being trustworthy, loyal, thrifty and brave.  NASA is an Air organization that is nationally recognized as a leader in scientific research.  Apple is a Fire company that designs and manufactures a variety of innovative and creative personal computer-related products and services.  Disney is a Water company that focuses on family values through its theme parks, movies, resorts and other products and services.

Schools are typically Earth organizations that boast long-held traditions of structured policies, practices, and procedures that have been developed over time to ensure the success of its students.   Successful education professionals are the ones who can recognize and understand the value that all four of the Basic Elements of Temperament bring to their organizations.  School systems that can embrace temperament will be able to save time and money as enhanced personal tolerance and greater understanding among teachers and administrators result in fewer conflicts, lawsuits, conferences, meetings, and union complaints.

How Can Teachers/Administrators Develop their Four Temperaments?

Learning any new skill takes time and practice.  In fact, research shows that while it takes 300 repetitions to produce the correct movement or technique from memory, it takes 3,000 repetitions to do the same activity without thinking about it.  Practice does, in fact, make perfect.  We know now that we each have all four temperaments within us and that our dominant temperament has received all the attention to date.  So what can we do to develop our other temperaments?

Step One:  Become aware that personal temperament has a direct influence on how individuals, and organizations, behave and make decisions.  Get smart on the subject of temperament!  There are a number of books to read and workshops to attend that will provide a common language and understanding of temperament.  Our workshops are custom-tailored to meet the unique requirements of our clients.  We are resource-sensitive (time and money) and can design, develop and conduct workshops rapidly with effective results that typically leave our participants excited about their newly found skills.

Step Two:  Identify your own dominant and shadow temperaments (remember, each of us is different) and analyze how they impact you.  Recognize that your dominant temperament influences how you prepare, interact, and communicate with everyone you know, without your ever realizing it.  It even influences your decision to avoid some individuals!  Review some of your recent successes and failures in dealing with people.  Think back to what you did and what you said when faced with a possible conflict situation.  How were you influenced by your dominant temperament?  Were you negatively influenced by the reactions and behaviors of the other person or group of people that reflected your shadow temperament?  Could a supervisor or co-worker’s negative reaction to you be related to their believing your actions and conversations reflected their shadow temperaments?

Step Three:  Make your dominant temperament work more effectively for you.  Look for opportunities to meet with colleagues or friends whose personalities appear different than your own.  See if you can discern their dominant temperaments.  Analyze their conversations and behaviors and try to identify the strengths they bring to bear.  List the strengths that your dominant temperament brings to your educational efforts.  Consider how you can build upon each of those strengths and how they can enhance your professionalism.  For example, if you are a dominant Air, consider how your preference for data and information can be reflected and incorporated more effectively into your classroom or office.

Step Four:  Make your shadow temperament work for you! Meet with colleagues or acquaintances whose personalities typically tick you off!  These people probably represent your shadow temperament.  Try to ascertain what behaviors they exhibit that make you feel so emotionally uncomfortable or even angry.  These may also be the behaviors that your colleagues, supervisors, or members of the general public exhibit that elicits an unconscious negative reaction from you.  This is potentially your greatest learning opportunity since you will now become more aware of the causes for your reactions to the behaviors of others.

Step Five:  Apply your newfound expertise in temperament in “safe” learning environments.  At first, find opportunities to use your temperament skills in situations where you feel most comfortable.  This might be with a fellow teacher or co-worker you know well or with an acquaintance that you have had a positive relationship with over the years.  Prepare yourself by identifying the dominant temperament of your co-worker, friend, supervisor, etc., and explore how you can achieve a greater understanding and deeper relationship with them by virtue of your understanding their temperament.  Finally, apply your new temperament skills in a school setting with more difficult people who most likely represent your shadow temperament.  Modify your interpersonal approaches to acknowledge and build upon the strengths you now realize are possessed by others whose dominant temperaments are actually your shadow.

You will find that as you develop your shadow temperament (i.e., understand, analyze, apply) you will notice a reduction in personal conflict, enhanced tolerance for others, fewer emotional reactions to the behaviors of others, and a greater understanding of the people with whom you live and work.

Utilizing temperament as a tool to make teachers and school administrators more effective in their work is challenging and will take time and effort.  Sometimes a little help is needed.  Our interactive workshops focus on understanding temperament theory, identifying personal strengths and continuing challenges, and developing practical strategies for applying key temperament principles, especially dealing with your shadow, on-the-job.  Our workshops generate a variety of personal breakthroughs and professional discoveries concerning how temperament can result in more effective classrooms and school administration offices and the enhanced personal awareness of each Teacher/Administrator participant.

A better understanding of temperament becomes yet another learning tool in your never-ending journey to make your career in education more enjoyable, rewarding – and successful!

Brad Dude and Jim Harden are the co-authors of, “What Makes You Tick and What Ticks You Off – How the Basic Elements of Temperament Will Lead You to a Happier Life.”

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