I first heard about Gretchen's Four Tendencies from her podcast, Happier, where she and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, talk about understanding habit building and being, well, happier. It's an excellent podcast – I highly recommend it! I started thinking about how these tendencies could look in the classroom, and I asked myself, "How would you accommodate for Upholders or Rebels?" I loved the idea so much that I went out and bought the book!
So, what are the Four Tendencies? The Four Tendencies is a framework that Gretchen developed to categorize people based on their responses to inner expectations – those we place upon ourselves – and outer expectations – those placed upon us by others. The tendencies are Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Each tendency has its own strengths and weakness, and I believe understanding them can help teachers better meet their students' needs!
The Upholder responds well to both inner and outer expectations.
I'm an Upholder – the kind of guy who puts "eat breakfast" on his Google calendar and makes arbitrary to-do lists just for the satisfaction of completing a task. Upholders are self-motivated, thorough, and enjoy completing tasks. The Upholder student respects and enforces classroom rules and routines and rarely takes issue with assignments. They aren't necessarily always "over-achievers," but they are likely enthusiastic about their work.
Upholders do have some important weaknesses, though. When in groups, they do not like to delegate work. They know what needs to be done, and they would prefer to do it themselves to ensure that it gets done properly. This could lead to hostility or resentment in the group or other group members taking advantage of the over-eager Upholder. Making sure to give each group member a distinct duty can help with this. Upholders can also be hard on themselves, as they don't like making mistakes, and sometimes don't take criticism well. It's important that we continue to reinforce the importance of making mistakes in the learning process!
The Questioner responds well to inner expectations but questions outer expectations unless they understand the reasoning.
The Questioner student can be very frustrating for teachers. Questioners question everything. Oftentimes, a Questioner can come across as undermining your authority or the importance of the subject, but it's important to understand that the Questioner is not trying to be undermining, they just need their questions answered for them to understand why they're doing something. It's in their nature. I remember a time when I was teaching a 4th-grade class a song and game that I was using to teach solfa and this student asked, quite abrasively, "Why are we doing this? What's the point?" As you can imagine, I was a bit taken aback, especially because the song and game were supposed to be the fun part of learning the solfa. In the moment, I thought the student was being defiant and took her questions as personal attacks, but I later realized that she was frustrated because, as a Questioner, she couldn't respond to my expectations because she couldn't understand why she should.
Questioners resist what they consider to be arbitrary or inefficient. Once they decide something is reasonable, they're happy to meet the expectations. When a Questioner student asks, "Why should I do this this way?" or "Why do we have to do this?" responding with, "Because I said so" does not fly with this student – as it shouldn't! So answer those questions, even if you feel like you may have already. I find this especially helpful to remember with rules. I once asked a 1st-grader, "Do you know why jumping off the risers is against the rules?" thinking of course they would know that it's dangerous. To my surprise, they didn't think of it that way. So now when I explain my classroom rules, I explain in detail why something is a rule and how it affects the student, the class, and me as a teacher.
Questioners can be great researchers because they often enjoy data and information that explains answers to questions they have. They're also great at pushing the class discussion forward. They like to think outside the box and are eager to ask "what-ifs."
The Obliger responds to outer expectations but struggles with inner expectations.
The Obliger needs outer expectations to complete tasks. They need consequences and deadlines because they don't respond to their own inner expectations. If they don't have consequences and they decide they don't want to do something, they won't do it. Relying on intrinsic motivation for this student is not the most helpful strategy for them. If we write a lesson that we think is fun enough that students will just want to participate without explicit expectations or consequences, we're risking losing an obliger who isn't into the activity. If you see a student in this scenario who has chosen not to participate, simply explaining your grading rubric for the activity or explaining how their grade is affected by participation may be enough to get them going.
Obligers make great classroom helpers because they will often do whatever is asked of them. They also do very well in group activities because they readily complete tasks they are assigned to and they generally get along with all other tendencies. One problem they may have in groups, however, is that they may be easily exploitable if other group members ask the Obliger to take on more than they were assigned.
The Rebel resists both inner and outer expectations.
The Rebel is an extreme tendency and one of the most challenging to navigate in the classroom. Simply put, the Rebel won't do what they don't want to do, but they can do whatever they do want to do. And sometimes even if a Rebel does want to do something, they may not do it simply because you asked them to. The assigning of a task, no matter how enjoyable, turns the Rebel off. Your goal is to make the Rebel think it's his or her idea and that they want to do it.
The Rebel can be an exciting student to have in class. Frustrating, yes, but exciting nonetheless. The Rebel is spontaneous and resists, well, everything – even themselves. They can be uncooperative and seem inconsiderate with a "but the rules don't apply to me" mentality. Gretchen offers some excellent advice for dealing with a Rebel; the magic sequence is information, natural consequence, choice. Choice is key here. One music example might be: "Solfa is a main part of music class that we use for just about every song in every grade (information), so we need to practice every year or we could fall way behind (consequence). Do you want to practice with Solfa Poison with the class or would you rather work on your own with a little solfa worksheet? (Choice)" It's not a perfect example, but every teacher will approach the situation and the sequence differently.
The Rebel thinks outside the box and keeps you on your toes. Routines are boring – change it up for the Rebel. Having a Rebel in class is a good reminder that novelty is essential to student engagement. Find new and exciting ways to do the same things you would normally do. Turn the lights off, sing a song in Pig Latin, have the students make the rules. Anything that gets the Rebel up and engaged with the rest of the class.
I hope this gives you some fresh ideas for your classroom! If you would like to find your own tendency, Gretchen offers a short quiz at www.happiercast.com/quiz. If you want to read the book, support your local library or you can get it on Amazon. Post your tendency and any other ideas you have in the comments below!
My name is Nick Dolan, and I'm an elementary music teacher and choir director. I'm here to talk about teaching music!