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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Jul 18, 2021

How to use the Enneagram with students to build class culture

By Samantha Heil

ELA Teacher

How to use the Enneagram with students to build class culture

By Samantha Heil

Building a classroom is so much more than desk formations and pretty bulletin boards.

It is cultivating strong relationships with your students and learning the nuances of their personalities to help them learn and grow. The Enneagram is a helpful way to get to know your students so that you can create the best learning environment possible.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a theory based on nine different personality types that describe how people interpret the world around them. It also explains how people react and handle their emotions during different levels of development. This information is valuable to you as a teacher because it can help to show you what will motivate your students, what might cause them to react in certain ways towards different methods of teaching, and it can help you to understand why your students see things in a particular light. Not to mention, the Enneagram can help them learn to better understand themselves, too!

So, how does it work?

The Enneagram is represented by a model that is composed of three parts: an outer circle with the numbers 1 through 9 around it; an inner, equilateral triangle (which connects the numbers 3, 6, and 9) and an irregular hexagon (which connects the remaining numbers). The Enneagram model gives a perfect visual representation of how each type interacts with the other dimensions.

Here is a brief overview of the nine Enneagram types:

  1.   The Reformer (organized, meticulous, moral)
  2.   The Helper (amiable, emotional, people-pleaser)
  3.   The Achiever (determined, go-getter, goal-oriented)
  4.   The Individualist (creative, artistic, unique)
  5.   The Investigator (inventive, innovative, intellectual)
  6.   The Loyalist (loyal, committed, skeptical)
  7.   The Enthusiast (enthusiastic, adventurous, bubbly)
  8.   The Challenger (self-confident, protective, stubborn)
  9.   The Peacemaker (mediator, optimistic, supportive)

In Enneagram theory, each person’s personality is said to fall under one of these nine types. Although it is normal to see pieces of yourself in each type, most people have one core type. In addition to your core number, people have a driving force for their personality based on the two adjacent numbers of their core. These neighboring numbers (also known as “Wings”) help reveal the multiple sides of a personality and how they influence the core number type.

The inner lines of the Enneagram figure connect the core numbers in a triangular and hexagonal pattern. These inner lines show how each type interacts with the other, and how our personalities sometimes shift to resemble the other ones. Depending on how your student is developing, he or she may act or respond differently to situations than what you might typically expect of them. It’s important to remember that we are all always our core type. However, whether a student is heading on a healthy path towards their best selves, or if they are struggling with their emotions and exhibiting troublesome behaviors, the Enneagram can help the two of you understand how to adjust accordingly.

Personalities are tricky, so it isn’t surprising that there is even more when it comes to puzzling them out. The Enneagram is also split into three centers, which can be thought of as the main emotion that drives each person’s personality type. All of the types experience each one of these motivating emotions, but are mostly influenced by their main emotion. Understanding this can guide you and your students to better understand what makes them engaged in their lessons, and what makes them want to succeed.

Lastly, the Enneagram explains that we have certain instincts that make up each of our personalities, and are based on our biological needs. There is a two-way connection between these instincts and our personalities, because as they influence our personalities, our personalities determine which one we think is more important.

Why study the Enneagram?

The Enneagram is a fun, creative way to allow your students to explore their own personalities while getting to know each other and you. Businesses are starting to use the Enneagram during professional developments to help employees work on interpersonal relationships. This can also be very beneficial in a classroom setting where interpersonal relationships are key, and explains why more and more studies are being conducted about applying this tool in the education system. Using the Enneagram in your classroom will help you to build a strong foundation with your students to help them grow into confident learners. Plus, they get to better understand how to communicate their needs to you. And as we all know, the better your students communicate with you and each other, the better the experience is for everyone.

How to implement the Enneagram

The first thing you should do when considering how to implement the Enneagram in your classroom is find a test for students to take. Your Enneagram Coach and Truity Enneagram Test are two free options your students could utilize. There is an official Enneagram test, called the RHETI, but it costs $12 to take through The Enneagram Institute. That is not always in the budget, so any of the free tests will work just as well. Sometimes it is a good idea to have your students take multiple tests, time permitting. It is good to compare different quiz formats and descriptions to agree upon the correct number.

Once you and your students know their core number, here are some ideas to use that information in your classroom:

  • Have students create a presentation on their core type and character traits to present to the class. You could  easily group students by type to create 9 presentations only.
  • Try a “speed dating” format where students spend an allotted amount of time meeting with a partner and research how their types are “supposed” to interact. They should discuss their findings within each pair.
  • Students create presentations on the best groupings on Enneagram types. Test these groupings in class and examine the findings.
  • Discuss which Enneagram types would belong to fictional characters. This could be exceptionally useful in ELA, but can be done in any class.
  • Later in the year, research Enneagram wings and discuss how certain moods can affect personality. This can be very helpful when dealing with difficult relationships.

Revisit throughout the year

Reflecting on the Enneagram process throughout the year can be a useful exercise on interpersonal dynamics. The more students learn about their Enneagram type and their corresponding wings, the more they can identify their own strengths and areas of growth. Using this information to build a strong culture of self-aware individuals will inevitably lead to a richer classroom experience.

If you are interested in implementing the Enneagram in your own classroom, but don’t know where to start, click here to see my completed Enneagram project that I use with my own students. This project teaches students about the Enneagram using a high-interest reading passage paired with related comprehension questions. The project then provides instructions and examples for a personal Enneagram profile students can create and present to the class. This is a great way to build classroom culture any time of the year.

Are you ready to try the Enneagram in your classroom? I would love to hear about it! Please tag me @samanthainsecondary on Instagram and share your Enneagram experience.

Samantha Heil

ELA Teacher

Samantha Heil is an English Language Arts teacher in Maryland. She is passionate about literacy and loves to find creative ways to engage readers and writers. Through her blog, Samantha in Secondary, Samantha has found a network of ELA teachers...
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