How to help a 'Be Perfect' or 'Try Hard' pupil

How to help a 'Be Perfect' or 'Try Hard' pupil

It can feel as if perfectionists are everywhere. "I'm a bit of a perfectionist" is often given as the answer to the question about your "worst trait" in an interview, or dropped in as a humblebrag – but is this always an accurate self-description?

Are those who call themselves perfectionists actually perfectionists? Or are perfectionists, or "Be Perfects", often muddled up with "Try Hards" – a very different beast?

For busy teachers, spotting the difference between the two can be beneficial – for both the teacher and the student.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t give a thought to what drivers lay behind my students’ behaviours; I was just determined to keep them behaving well and on track to meet their targets.

Then, as I moved from the classroom into leadership, I realised that in order to get the best out of people, we need to understand what motivates them.

I read about the work of American psychologist Taibi Kahler, in which he identified five drivers of behaviour that he believed we all have in differing amounts.

Each driver is associated with a personality type: Be Perfect, Be Strong, Try Hard, Please People, Hurry Up. These are all influenced by our environment from early childhood; messages given to us by the adults in our lives about what they perceived as appropriate behaviour.

As a teacher, I felt I benefited from applying this theory to my students – especially those with Be Perfect and Try Hard tendancies.

Knowing who your Be Perfects are or your Try Hards means you are able to put in place the right strategies to get the best out of your students, and also help them to overcome the barriers that their dominant driver presents in order to benefit their sense of self-worth.

The personality traits of most of the five drivers are very different. However, many of the traits seen in a Be Perfect are also found in a Try Hard, making it a challenge to correctly identify them among the students in front of you.

The Try Hards, like the Be Perfects, will beat themselves up for days over an 8/10 on a spelling test or an 80 per cent mark in an assessment because they believe they can do better, but the same approach to feedback will not work with both types of student.

So, how do we spot the difference?

We don't really know. Perhaps it was due to their parents' attitudes towards mistakes when they were younger or some over influence.

Try Hards enjoy the trying but are not always concerned with the achieving, which can be frustrating for their teachers who see them working hard but not completing tasks.

Like the Be Positives, it's impossible to say for certain. It might be that their influential adults have and still are giving them messages that their best efforts are not good enough – they should be able to do better.

Giving some thought to why our students behave in the way they do and altering our approaches to them will help us to get the best out of them and better prepare them for the world of work. Employers want socially and emotionally intelligent employees and where better to start developing these than in the classroom?

Mandy Lancy is CEO of the west London region for Aspirations Academies Trust and she is also a certified business and personal coach