Friday Institute Partnership with A.B. Combs, CAPT Studies Impact of Psychological Type Awareness on School Communities

It’s Sunday night and your child asks, “Do we have any poster board?” for a project that’s due the next morning. Or maybe you’ve asked a similar question of your parents. The reasons behind these procrastinations might not be laziness. It could be that you or your children favor a perceiving personality type that prefers to stay open to new information and options until the last possible moment. The solution? Acknowledge this personality type and plan accordingly. Maybe you should keep some extra poster board at your house.

The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation has partnered with A.B. Combs Magnet Elementary School (Combs) and the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), an organization that publishes and distributes materials related to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) instrument, to build a model for how psychological type awareness can be used in school communities. Using the Murphy-Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children (MMTIC®), this partnership hopes to help students self-manage their lifelong learning and value differences in others.

“This is the start of a bigger initiative of building a model for what it looks like to introduce personality type awareness into a school setting,” said Allison Black-Maier, Ph.D., Friday Institute research associate and one of the evaluators on the project. “Myers-Briggs is most frequently used in business settings. It’s very common for a whole team to get typed and then they do activities and people bond. It’s used sometimes in education but more at the college level, given to the students for figuring out career paths.”

Background

The MBTI® instrument was built to access type theory, based on psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of psychological types. These types show people’s preferences for how they experience the world or make decisions, in an effort to improve human understanding for themselves and each other. The four dichotomies are extraversion (E) or introversion (I), sensing (S) or intuition (N), thinking (T) or feeling (F), and judging (J) or perceiving (P). The theory indicates that each person has a natural preference for one end of the dichotomy over the other.

Sharing the same theoretical approach but designed for a younger audience, the MMTIC® tool was developed in 1987 by Elizabeth Murphy, Ed.D., and Charles Meisgeier, Ph.D., to assess personality type in children in grades two through 12. They found that type preferences could strongly influence learning success and that understanding these preferences for learning and receiving information could help students understand how they learn best. It could also make them open thinkers and collaborators — two important traits for future workers.

 “[MMTIC®] needed to come into schools for two reasons: the more we can know ourselves and manage ourselves, the more we can increase our learning and our study skills that are going to match us,” said Murphy. “These are also tools that [students] will take with them through every aspect of their life. It is a skill in the sense of being able to manage your own energy flow. If we use all four functions, we have greater flexibility when situations come so we can respond and adapt appropriately.” 

Murphy is a psychologist, a former educator and a former administrator who is leading the professional learning sessions for this project. Over the last year and a half, she has guided Combs’ third and fourth grade teachers through the process of implementing the MMTIC® tool into their classroom instruction.

Bringing MMTIC® to Combs

Raleigh philanthropist Gordon Smith saw the value in the MMTIC® and had a vision of bringing it into North Carolina schools. He shared this vision in 2016 with Muriel Summers, principal at Combs, who he knew would be open to trying something innovative in her school. Smith saw an alignment between Combs’ leadership model that utilized Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® and MMTIC®. He funded the project that included certifying a few staff members to conduct the MBTI® and MMTIC®, hiring CAPT to train Combs teachers, and hiring the Friday Institute to measure the strategies employed in the initiative and the resulting outcomes. 

In order to launch this initiative, Summers needed to get buy-in from her staff to see that the MMTIC® could align with their current leadership model. First, she asked all staff to take the MBTI®. Then she asked them to share their results. All results went up on a wall so everyone could view them. Once they could see everyone’s type preferences, it explained so much and shifted their perspectives of each other. 

“When we all did, as a staff, our types, and were able to work more effectively because of that, it was great,” said Traci Totherow, Combs’ magnet coordinator. “The way that [teachers] work together now is just unbelievable. They’re able to pull from each other’s strengths, and they know the stretches that each person on the team has, and they support one another in that. They’re able to work smarter in designing lesson plans and activities by pulling from each other’s strengths too.”

After seeing the impact the MBTI® had on their staff, Combs administrators were excited to introduce type awareness into their school culture. Most importantly, it was clear that type awareness aligned well with the Covey leadership model, especially Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood®, and would enhance it. 

“It’s very universal,” said Totherow. “It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, your hometown, how many siblings you have, what school you went to. Every single human that enters this building has all of these preferences, so it levels the playing field for teachers, students [and the] community. It just brings us together. It’s a unifying kind of work.”

This project started in 2018 at Combs with third graders and expanded to fourth graders in the 2019-2020 school year. CAPT plans on expanding it to other schools including Moore Square Middle School, Longleaf School of the Arts and St. Augustine University.

The Process

Allison Black-Maier, Ph.D., conducts a personal development training for Combs' 3rd and 4th grade teachers.
Allison Black-Maier, Ph.D., conducts a personal development training for Combs’ 3rd and 4th grade teachers.

The Friday Institute team led the research in this research-practice partnership, and CAPT and Combs drove the research questions. The partners determined that the purpose of their research was to “understand how a school integrates type awareness into its community and the impacts that type awareness has on teachers, students and parents” with the ultimate goal of a “school community embracing personality types to self-manage lifelong learning and value differences in others to form interdependent communities of leaders.” They also emphasized the importance of this model to not only improve instruction but also students’ social, emotional and academic decision-making.

Using a mixed-methods design of collecting qualitative and quantitative data, researchers gathered data from various sources including surveys, focus groups, observations and classroom artifacts such as literacy packets and math assessments.

Teachers received ongoing professional development on personality type from CAPT through Murphy as well as coaching and research support. They also gathered in planning groups to integrate personality type into instruction. A Combs administrator became certified to administer the MMTIC® to the students and served as the liaison between CAPT and Combs. 

According to the Friday Institute’s 2019 end-of-year report, in the fall of 2018, teachers began implementing MMTIC® practices by “modifying their language to be respectful of all personality types”. In January of 2019, third grade students “took the MMTIC® and were introduced to the four dichotomies inherent to personality type.” Even though this was a new initiative, these methods were not completely foreign to the teachers.

“There’s plenty of things lots of teachers do anyway, like offering choices,” Black-Maier said. “In this framing, they saw a new value to doing that and did so more intentionally and often. And other things, like writing test questions so that they appeal to different preferences, was definitely something they had never thought about before.”

Using a problem solving tool used in everyday decision making called the Z-model, teachers encouraged students to use not just their preference but consider both sides of the personality types, known as a stretch, as they were making a decision.

“The whole idea of personality type is not that ‘I am only an introvert’,” Black-Maier said. “It’s that I prefer introversion but I also extravert when I need to. It’s like handedness. I prefer to write with my right hand, but I can write with my left hand. It’s just not as comfortable. It doesn’t look as good, but I can do it. It’s the same idea with type that this is my preference. This is what feels natural. This is what I like to do, but I can do the other. There’s value in practicing that other side too.”

Lastly, the partnership team held parent education sessions to introduce type and the Z-model to the parents of student participants.

Impact

After a year of the program, both students and teachers saw the impact the awareness of personality type had on their learning and teaching. Researchers found that students:

  • Developed an awareness and appreciation of type
  • Were more likely to advocate for themselves and their choices
  • Enhanced and increased their self-management, engagement and motivation
  • Challenged themselves to improve their stretches
  • Improved classroom community

“I’ve never heard 8-year-olds think so critically or so thoughtfully,” Summers said. “They were all articulate in ways that I have never heard children be so articulate because they understand themselves. It was happiness in that third grade last year. No discipline problems — nothing. And we’re like ‘Okay. There’s gotta be something to do this.’ No other children, not even our fifth graders, were able to express their thoughts as deeply or as confidently as these third graders, and the only thing we could conclude was  — it’s this work.” 

Students not only advocated for themselves but also understood their peers better too. Teachers noticed that prior to the study, students who opted to work alone could be viewed as “not wanting to be friends with other students”, but after learning about personality type, this changed. 

“Since they got their types and he saw that he was an introvert and can explain it, that has brought maybe a little bit more community around his decision to work by himself,” a Combs teacher said about a student in the Friday Institute’s 2019 end-of-year report. “So he’s got a spot that he likes to work in; he’s got his stuff ready. Everybody loves him. They don’t give him a hard time.”

Another student felt more excited about going to school because he knew he would be understood.

“I think it makes me want to go to school because I feel like my teacher might know my personality type and then that will make it so it’s more fun for me to learn because my teacher knows how I would like to learn,” a Combs student said in the 2019 end-of-year report.

Not only did students grow, but so did their teachers. Researchers found that teachers:

  • Increased their knowledge of personalities and self awareness
  • Enhanced instructional content and strategies
  • Improved communication
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills and decision making

“I think this has helped me in better understanding how to interact with my students,” another Combs teacher said in the 2019 end-of-year report. “It also helped me to understand why my students act in ways that they act.” 

Teachers started to make changes in the way they provided instructions, both in classwork and assessments. They learned language to respect and value students’ preferences and give them choices when appropriate.

Next Steps

Dr. Elizabeth Murphy conducts a training with Combs teachers.
Elizabeth Murphy, Ed.D., conducts a training with Combs teachers.

Now, third grade teachers, with a year head start on this program, mentor and train the fourth grade teachers and assign required implementation strategies throughout the year. Every two weeks, Murphy sends them a lesson plan and together, teachers refine them and their assessments in terms of type choices. 

Researchers will observe as much as they can and are especially interested in the new mentor model this school year. They look forward to seeing the project scaled in the future and are positive that Combs is the best place to cultivate this work.

“When you start a scaling project, you want to implement your new initiative in greenhouse settings where you have all the resources that you need and where it’s a fertile ground for implementation,” Black-Maier said. “That’s what Combs is. They have fantastic leadership. They’re just the right place to be trying something like this.”

Combs staff are also optimistic about the future of the MMTIC® project and see its larger impact on the world.

“I think this is what schools should really be about, and that is finding things that can make a difference for other children,” Summers said. “I do think that that’s what this work is about and what I see it being about. If we do anything with this, it’s [to] help our children be more empathetic and more understanding of one another, and when that can happen, that’s what changes the world.”