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Teachers are warm, generous, compassionate, patient and spectacular individuals. Well so we hope – the fact is we don’t have a whole lot of research to support this and despite many a motivational blog post it would be nice to back this up with some hard figures!

In short there are lots of assumptions about teachers’ personalities, much spoken about in motivational literature, but little concrete research. Some of the research that does exist is very limited in scope but our trialing and piloting of a new assessment tool for development of teachers and leadership roles has given us a much more refined first glimpse of what makes teachers special. Read on…


So, what are the assumptions about teachers’ personalities?

The CERC reports that great teachers are humble, patient, and show respect. This all seems to be sound and good and something all of us would like to aspire to, but despite this there is no overlooking the fact that this is an opinion more based on intuition than based on solid evidence on what actually happens in the classroom. These traits are positive traits – and that is another interesting point because our research has shown that not all traits of the best teachers are necessarily positive!

TES reports in a study that the most inspirational teachers were “encouraging”, “risk-taking” and “shared their wider passion about the world”. This was based on a small piece of research with undergraduates so has some evidence but is a small sample and focused on impressions. Similarly, a survey by YouGov showed that students value teachers most that are kind and humorous. This is obviously focusing on the human relationship side and not the learning outcome side. Though we know there would logically be a correlation between both of these.

Actual research into multiple personality traits and student learning outcomes are, surprisingly, limited – in fact it is hard to find anything at all. And this is where we have begun collecting more extensive data – the preliminary results I will outline below. Our research has collected data on multiple traits in different schools and countries.

HBF a New Scientific Framework

The Human Behavioural Framework is a new assessment tool which draws on evolutionary neuroscience as a framework. This means that personality is mapped based on how the brain develops and how behaviours evolve in ever more complex organisms. The long and short of this is that this effectively ends up consolidating all personality assessments and maps them to one single coherent framework. Without going into the details here, this means that more traits can be measured, and there is a clear logic as to why they are measured and their impact on behaviour.

In the pilot phase and first roll out we delivered this to a total of 212 teachers in secondary private education in different locations globally. 

The findings were partly obvious, interesting, intriguing, and sometimes surprising.

Teachers’ Personalities

So, what can we say about teachers? Their top ten traits (self-rated) are:

  1. Justice
  2. Meaning
  3. Learning
  4. Dutifulness
  5. Greater Good
  6. Industriousness
  7. Curiosity
  8. Awareness
  9. Cooperation
  10. Optimism

We can then contrast this to their bottom ten self-rated traits:

  1. Conflict
  2. Mind wandering
  3. Sensitivity
  4. Risk
  5. Superiority
  6. Dominance
  7. Achievement
  8. Shyness
  9. Boredom
  10. Detail focused

These are interesting. The top ten seem to make sense. Teachers, we would hope, care about Justice, Meaning, Learning and are curious individuals. They also rate themselves high on Industriousness, Cooperation, and Awareness. When we look at the lowest rated traits, we start to see some even more interesting things. Lowest rated is Conflict showing teachers in general to be conflict avoidant – they are also low on Risk. Bearing in mind that the TES research we quoted in the introduction said that inspirational teachers are risk-taking. We can also see from our data that teachers are also low on Achievement and surprisingly, maybe, on Detail.

This is an average and could already provide a lot of speculation of why this is the case, but we need to contrast this to other population groups and also specifically between great teachers and those that are not performing to standard. Fortunately, we were able to collect some data on this also. We were able to identify a group of model teachers from anonymous data in schools and through award-winning teachers. On the other side we received some anonymous data from underperforming teachers in schools. Similarly, we have collected data in the corporate and startup space so can make some interesting comparisons to other professions and success in these professions also – this will be the content for another blog post or academic paper.

Model Teachers vs. Low Performers

So, what is it that model teachers have more or less of in their personality traits? Some of this may be surprising and we can speculate as to the reasons:

  1. Higher achievement + Lower Inhibition + Lower Safety
    Firstly model teachers had a noticeably higher drive for Achievement and lower Inhibition levels. This makes them more willing to go with something new and less worried about making mistakes. They also had a lower desire for Safety – Safety being a desire to be safe and secure in the workplace. Job security in short.
  2. Higher conflict
    Model teachers were considerably higher on Conflict than the lowest-rated teachers. They were, not, conflictual but teachers on average, as we noted, score low on Conflict and the best teachers had a healthy conflict level. This means they will be willing to approach conflict and deal with problems without seeking conflict or being aggressive.
  3. Less cognitive
    The best teachers also rated their cognitive abilities as lower than the lowest-rated teachers while rating themselves slightly higher on the intuition level. They didn’t rate low on Cognition but most noticeable was that their Cognition seems to balance nicely with their Intuition. They are hence more likely to go with gut feeling than those teachers rated as low performers. Combined with point 1 and we can see that this could have a positive effect in the classroom with a willingness to try new things and not worry about mistakes when intuition calls.
  4. Less detail oriented + more mind wandering
    Though Detail was not ranked high amongst teachers the best teachers ranked very low in this – seems like it is more important to get the big stuff right and not worry too much about the details (your intuition will guide you there). Similarly, and interestingly, they score a lot higher on Mind Wandering, that means daydreaming – their minds are wandering more. This may sound like a bad thing until we understand that this is what other research also shows makes a curious and creative mind!
  5. Extraverted and talkative
    This was one of the biggest predictors and seems a bit of a dilemma. Teachers should be encouraging students to be doing the talking and engaging them without being the centre piece, as good practice would dictate, but the best teachers rated themselves high on all extraversion traits – especially talkativeness! Obviously, extraversion is a good thing if your job is be with other people all day and to engage them, and the talkativeness seems to generate openness, and if in pleasant ways encourage students to also open up (yes, teachers and the best teachers were rated as agreeable people also).

So those are the top five, and they provide plenty of food for thought for teachers and educators. There are numerous considerations and questions that these raise also. For example, in the case of mind wandering is it the case that the best teachers daydream more or is it the case that they are just more willing to answer this honestly in a personality questionnaire? There are also other interesting points as well which we won’t go into here, for reason of space, such as that the best teachers are less orderly and organized than the lowest-rated teachers! This incidentally may also make them less suitable to roles that require planning and organization such as a supervisory or school leadership role.

Sweet spots and outliers

What we also observed in this data set, and what also makes the HBF unique, is that there also appeared to be sweet spots – traits that have an optimal range. Higher rated doesn’t necessarily mean better. Similarly, there are some ratios that seem to be particularly important. With Achievement and Inhibition, we noticed that the ratio of these two is more important than the single rating from either trait. Similarly, with Cognition and Intuition it is not one more the other but whether these two were closely balanced. The best teachers seem to have high Cognition but slightly higher Intuition. Conflict is another one with a clear sweet spot, too low and one becomes conflict avoidant, not having those difficult discussions one should have, and too high and one becomes conflictual and threatening.

Now, you may ask and wonder, particularly if you are teacher and, for example, more introverted, is it still possible to be a great teacher with your personality? 

First, we are more than aware that a great teacher can be defined in many different ways and, of course, these are averages. But we did also note outliers – some that were more introverted, for example, or more cognitive. However, what we also saw when we crunched some figures was that there are a set of core traits that on average will be very predictive of quality teachers – you don’t have to be high on all of them, but you will need enough to be able to compensate and build your teaching. 

We found with 29 items we would predict with 100% accuracy whether a teacher fell into the model teaching group or the low-rated groups. However, we couldn’t predict the exact quality. Some teachers seem to perform excellently without having the absolute perfect ratings – we assume these teachers are best able to tap into their strengths and apply these in the classroom in their own individualised ways. This is also why we report on strengths in our personality assessments and encourage all teachers (and students for our student assessments) to consider how using your strengths can best impact your performance. Everyone has strengths and using these well will have a major impact on your performance.

Interested in trying an assessment? Go here and you can take a trial version for a limited period of time.


In summary, teachers exhibited many of the traits we would hope in teachers, scoring high on social traits such as Attachment, Empathy and the Greater Good. These were complemented by traits such as Extraversion, but the most predictive traits were related to traits to do with Achievement and Risk and using multiple traits well such as Intuition and Cognition. So, the human traits may get you into teaching but to be exceptional you should look to developing other traits such as Conflict and Risk. And remember the sweet spot – you can also have too much of a good thing!

More importantly, remember to work to your strengths!

Learn more about the HBF and our assessments here.

Contact Andy if you have any questions or queries on this blog (at) leading-brains.com

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