We are now learning that there is a significant interplay between individual personality, school culture and student and staff well-being. Yet, the most common SEL initiatives for students and well-being programs for staff ignore personality. In this article, we argue that assessing and understanding both student and staff personality is essential to well-being.
The need to screen for well-being
It is estimated that every classroom contains between one and five students experiencing social-emotional challenges. Anxiety, depression, and suicidal behaviors are increasing among adolescents, especially girls.
Teacher well-being is also a concern. Attrition has increased by 50% over the past 15 years. This is attributed in large measure to increased stress. Significantly, teacher stress negatively affects students’ school experiences, motivation, and performance.
Understanding the significance of personality
- Personality is the enduring configuration of characteristics that comprises an individual’s unique adjustment to life, including drives, self-concept, and emotional patterns.
- An estimated 30%–40% of the population is shy. Shy individuals are very attuned to social judgement. While desiring to be social, they are frequently timid, especially in novel situations. Shy individuals tend to avoid direct eye contact in formal social settings or during presentations.
- Between 30%–50% of the population is introverted. Introverts are orientated toward their own inner thoughts and feelings; they are reserved, quiet, and deliberate. Introverts tend to mute expression of positive affect, adopt more skeptical views or positions, and prefer to work independently.
- While the relative role of culture and upbringing in determining personality is debated, personality traits are known to be stable over a person’s lifespan.
- The psychological trait that has received the most attention — grit — turns out not to be significant. Extensive research reviews show that grit is not a good predictor of performance in school, nor is it very responsive to interventions.
The need for personality-informed well-being assessments
Personality is key for understanding how individuals experience social situations in school. Well-being assessments should include personality so that educators can learn how it influences student and staff interactions, and thus well-being. Shyness, for example, is associated with less positive relationships among peers and with staff. Understanding shyness can break this cycle. High-value well-being assessments should also include opportunities for student and staff “voice” through open-ended questions. These help leaders better understand personality and how student and staff well-being can be fostered.
The road to well-being: building an inclusive school culture
As Susan Cain noted in her influential book “Quiet,” school cultures typically favor the extrovert. Despite our culture's valorization of this trait, we need the diversity of perspectives offered by introverted and shy individuals. As personality traits such as shyness and introversion are highly stable, well-being is fostered by understanding and differentiating school experiences by personality (and not working to turn introverts into extroverts or the shy into the outgoing). Not all individuals are engaged by group activities. Not all individuals should be expected to readily speak in front of large audiences. Shy individuals should not be shamed for their timidity, and introverts should not be deemed “anti-social” for wanting “alone time.” Leaders can foster the well-being of students and staff by understanding what conditions harness everyone’s potential.