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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Three-Headed Principal

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The Three-Headed Principal

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

Standing arm-and-arm, connected figuratively at the hip with Jerome Lefeuvre from France and Rainer Musselmann from Germany, I was a Three-Headed Principal.

If you have my sense of humor and share my taste in network television, you probably remember Drew Carey’s show, Whose Line Is It Anyway?  This presentation was similar to one of Carey’s skits, yet based on a serious topic addressing worldwide communication issues in education.   It wasn’t comedy, as that was not the intent, yet it was fun.

Our Improvisational Presentation:  A building principal’s new school orientation speech for a group of incoming high school students.

Our Purpose: To demonstrate the need for shifting our communication styles to better connect with students who are diverse learners.

In the early 1970’s, Clinical Psychologist Dr. Taibi Kahler theorized that human beings are comprised of six, distinct personalities that influence our perceptions, communication, psychological needs, environmental preferences, and distress patterns (Kahler, 2008). These theories have since been applied to education. Educators who understand Kahler’s theories report they are better able to connect with students, keep them out of distress, and enhance instruction (Bradley, Pauley, & Pauley, 2006; Pauley, Bradley, & Pauley, 2002).

The individual personalities or personality energies that comprise Kahler’s overall personality structure, are as follows:

The Believer – This personality processes the world through its beliefs and has the qualities of being dedicated, conscientious, and observant.
The Thinker – This personality processes the world through its thoughts and has the qualities of being logical, responsible, and organized.
The Harmonizer – This personality processes the world through its emotions and has the qualities of being compassionate, sensitive, and warm.
The Funster – This personality processes the world through its reactions and has the qualities of being spontaneous, creative, and playful.
The Promoter – This personality processes the world through its actions and has the qualities of being charming, persuasive, and adaptable.
The Imaginer – This personality processes the world through its inactions and has the qualities of being calm, reflective, and imaginative. (Kahler, 2008)

Research in the 1970’s demonstrated that all six of these personality energies reside within us and are measurable with the Personality Pattern Inventory (Kahler, 2008). Current research has supported the validity of this instrument (Ampaw, Gilbert, & Donlan, 2012).

Each of the six personalities has unique words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions that it uses often in communication. The six blend together to make each of us who we are in our entirety.  Yet we DO predominate in one or two of these energies and can more readily process information from certain, corresponding perceptual frames. 

This is where a mismatch exists between teachers and their students, or even between leaders and their staffs.

Back to the Three-Headed Principal:

Professor of educational leadership and author Michael Gilbert would show us a card depicting one of the six personalities in Kahler’s model.  We would then access the particularized language of that personality energy through our words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions.  In short, it was research-informed “IMPROV.”

While in the first personality, I communicated using the English language. Within seconds, Michael rang a bell and Jerome continued presenting where I left off, but in French.  Seconds later, another bell rang, and Rainer continued in German.  Even in speaking the different languages of national origin, the three of us maintained the common language of personality (which was comprised of our word choices, as well as our tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions).

Thus, we spoke the same language, while we spoke different languages.  It was challenging, but fascinating.

Michael then held-up another card, depicting another personality. I continued in English, yet used the words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions of the new personality energy depicted.  We continued in our respective native tongues, yet while sharing the same language of personality, as a Three-Headed Principal speaking to his or her students while moving for personality to personality in the school orientation.

Experts and trainers in Kahler’s model from around the world, as well as Kahler, himself, were on hand, intrigued at our application of theory in practice.

We attempted to demonstrate that the six personalities within each of us, if used to communicate to persons who do not understand them, are as indiscernible as the words of different spoken languages among persons who are not multi-lingual. In short, we proposed through demonstration that the overall language of personality (words, tones, gestures, postures, and facial expressions) may be as important, or even more important, than the words of one's native language alone.

Said a different way, if we communicate in a personality language that our students do not understand, it will create communication barriers and over time … distress.

As leaders and educators, we must shift our communication styles to the personality energies predominant in our students, so that they are better able to connect with what we are saying.  This does not mean using their slang terms, of course; it is more sophisticated and subtle, as we initiate this “shift.”  Doing so over time better allows students to build efficacy in their less-developed personality energies, especially those that connect more effectively to the adults teaching them and the academic tasks expected of them.

Next week, I’ll build on these points as I share Bradley’s, A Unique Tool for Closing the Gap (2007).  I’ll address our nation’s achievement gap in a way that is often not discussed.

Until then, ask yourself, “When I talk with colleagues or students, am I using a different personality language than the one they understand?”

If so, ask next, “How’s it working for me?”


Ampaw, F. D., Gilbert, M. B., & Donlan, R. A. (2012, August). Verifying the validity and reliability of the Personality Pattern Inventory. Paper presented at the 4th International Congress on Process Communication, Vienna, Austria.

Bradley, D., Pauley, J., & Pauley, J. (2006). Effective classroom management: Six keys to success. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Kahler, T. (2008). The process therapy model. Little Rock, AR: Taibi Kahler Associates.

Pauley, J., Bradley, D., & Pauley, J. (2002). Here’s how to reach me: Matching instruction to personality types in your classroom. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Co, Inc.


Dr. Ryan Donlan encourages you to SHIFT when you communicate with others and find out more about the Three-Headed Principal or Whose PHASE Is It Anyway? by contacting him at (812) 237-8624 or at

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