Sunday 12 February 2017

The Four Tendencies in More Depth: Upholder

This is my fourth post in my mini series about Gretchen Rubin's Four Tendencies. If you're new here, you may want to start with my first post on the topic.

Upholders are people who seek to fulfill both internal and external expectations. They do what they're told to do, even if they're not necessarily going to be checked up on (unlike Obligers) and they do what they want to do too. Hermione Grainger is your classic Upholder, as is Lisa Simpson. Both girls take rules very seriously and follow them strictly, but they also hold themselves to high internal standards: Lisa is a vegetarian and big on animal rights and environmental issues, and Hermione campaigns against House Elf exploitation. In other words, they follow the rules, but they don't just follow the rules, they also do what they think is right, whether or not someone is looking.

How do you know if you're an Upholder?

You wait until the green man before crossing the road, even if there are no cars coming.

You have had no trouble sticking to your twice-weekly yoga routine, even though you're getting bored of it.

When senior management say that this week, instead of the usual meeting, teachers should use the hour to fill in their progress reports, you actually do use that specific hour for filling in your progress reports, while all of your colleagues spend the time planning tomorrow's lessons or writing their blog.

How do you know if your student is an Upholder?

When a lazy/disorganised teacher says the homework for that lesson is to "just revise what you learnt today", she actually does go home and revise, even though she knows the teacher will not be checking they have done it.

He's on the football team, in the debate club, and taking part in Duke of Edinburgh. His parents say, "I think he should give something up, he's always so busy".

If she is off school one day, she will make sure she catches up on the classwork and homework before the next lesson, even if you're not the kind of teacher who would expect your students to do this.

How to support an Upholder student

Do nothing?

Upholders generally make model students. They follow the rules without much external pressure to do so. They do what they think is right, but unlike Questioners, the reason "because it's a the rule" is perfectly acceptable to them. Upholders tend to make a lot of progress in school, and be successful in life.

Help them take it easy

The only downside to being an Upholder is the immense pressure they put themselves under. If you have an Upholder student who is aiming for high grades, and is also taking part in lots of extra-curriculars, as well as taking care of their family, at some point that Upholder might start to crumble under the weight of their own expectations. You may need to help them realise that they don't need to do everything. If you need to, make it a rule. You could tell them that it is against the rules to be in more than two after-school clubs. You could make it a rule that no studying can be done after 9pm. You could make it a rule that they read for pleasure or watch TV or play a video game for half an hour every day. Of course, as a teacher, you won't be able to enforce these rules. But as an Upholder, they'll stick to the rules whether you would know or not.

Don't put them on a pedestal

It's tempting to say to the class, "why can't you be more like ---, he always does his homework and his work is always so neat and he always studies hard for each assessment". You want to encourage the rest of the class to be more like your favourite Upholder. This is bad for two reasons. One: the Questioners, Obligers and Rebels in the class cannot simply turn themselves into Upholders, even if they wanted to. You need to support them to be better within their own tendencies. Two: Upholders really don't need this extra pressure. Using the word "always" is particularly dangerous: it raises the stakes and means that the Upholder may become scared of making a single mistake in future.

This reminds me of one of my students who I taught for four years. He was the model student (and definitely an Upholder). One day, in the fourth year that I taught him, he told me he had not done his homework. It was obvious to him that he was annoyed with himself for breaking his three and a half year streak of perfection. The class was shocked (but took perverse pleasure in seeing his downfall). However, I then pointed out that he still had the three chances that I had given the class back in their first year, and hence was off the hook. I even encouraged him to make use of the remaining two chances before he left school the following year. I didn't just let him off "because he's usually so good", I let him off because that was the rule that had been established (albeit seveal years ago). This way, the class didn't think he was getting special treatment, and he didn't have to feel guilty: the rules were being followed.

Are you an Upholder? Does what I've said ring true for you? Please let me know in the comments section.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, in which I will talk about how to deal with Rebel students. I have definitely saved the most difficult for last!

Emma x x x


  1. I think I used to be an upholder. Not so sure now (I'm a bit more like you Emma).