Personal Development as Professional Development

I am a 3 with a 2 Wing.

For those unfamiliar with the Enneagram, the previous sentence may sound like a foreign language or the beginning to an enigmatic riddle.

Let me explain.

I began studying the Enneagram after hearing an overview of it in a podcast interview. Essentially, the Enneagram is an ancient system of debatable origins used for determining one’s personality type: 1-The Reformer, 2-The Helper, 3-The Achiever, 4-The Individualist, 5-The Investigator, 6-The Loyalist, 7-The Enthusiast, 8-The Challenger, and 9-The Peacemaker (“How the Enneagram System Works”). Whatever your dominant personality type, you will share tendencies with the personality type one number above or below your own. For example, you can be a 3 with 2 tendencies (a 3 with a 2 wing, like me) or a 3 with 4 tendencies (a 3 with a 4 wing). Each personality type also has nine levels of health, broken down between healthy, average, and unhealthy levels. Therefore, depending on my current state, I can be a healthy 3, an average 3, or an unhealthy 3 (“How the Enneagram System Works”).

Many books and websites have examined the Enneagram in depth (my favorite by far, and the simplest entry point into the Enneagram, is The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile), so I will not attempt to do so here. Instead, I will explain why I think spending time to understand and know ourselves using systems like the Enneagram should be just as important to us as educators as the time we spend on professional development. Perhaps even more so.

Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram in their book Five Voices and in their podcast, The Liberator Podcast, regularly remind readers/listeners that they must know themselves before they can lead themselves and know their team before they can lead their team. In education, we tend to put more emphasis on getting to know our team (our students, in a classroom setting) than we do on getting to know ourselves. We attend conferences and seminars, read blogs and books, all devoted to helping us understand today’s students better. This is important for us to do. However, if we do not first have a good understanding of our own personality types, tendencies, and inherent motivations, as well as the impact those have on our students and those with whom we work, our professional development will always be limited.

So how does knowing my type have the potential to make me a better teacher and colleague, and better prepare me to receive traditional forms of professional development?

Most basically, knowing my personality type helps me to evaluate my level of health in the workplace. When 3s become too stressed, “driven Threes suddenly become disengaged and apathetic”; when 3s are moving to a healthier space, “vain, deceitful Threes become more cooperative and committed to others” (“The Achiever: Enneagram Type Three”). Knowing this encourages me to organize my time and tasks in such a way that I am not left feeling “disengaged and apathetic.” My students and colleagues will no doubt be affected negatively if I allow myself to enter this state. Likewise, knowing that I am healthiest when I am “cooperative and committed to others” encourages me to enter into those circumstances more willingly, for the mutual benefit of all.

The Enneagram Institute informs that at their best, 3s are “self-accepting, inner-directed, and authentic, everything they seem to be. Modest and charitable, self-deprecatory humor and a fullness of heart emerge. Gentle and benevolent” (“The Achiever: Enneagram Type Three”). Now I have a way to monitor myself. If I can recognize my healthy and unhealthy tendencies, I can take steps to minimize the damage I am likely to exact on my students, my colleagues, and my family, and I can work toward a place of health. When I know myself well enough to lead myself to a healthy space, I will have more emotional and mental space freed up to engage in meaningful professional development with my colleagues for the benefit of my students.

Most importantly, by knowing myself better, using tools like the Enneagram, I have a better understanding of who God created me to be. For while I am a 3 with a 2 wing, I am, first and foremost, one in whom Christ dwells. Knowing what healthy behavior looks like for me is to know who God designed me to be.

Until we become more confident in who we have been created to be, we will never be as effective as we could be as Christian educators, regardless of the conferences we attend or the continuing education courses we take.

Works Cited

“The Achiever: Enneagram Type Three.” The Enneagram Institute.

“How the Enneagram System Works.” The Enneagram Institute.

Kubicek, Jeremie, and Steve Cockram. Five Voices: How to Communicate Effectively with Everyone You Lead. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2016.

—. The Liberator Podcast. -liberator-podcast/id1080841525

Mark Brink teaches English at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, MI.