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30 July

Birth order matters for teachers & principals

Submitted by:
Michael Grose
It’s tricky working with people because we are all so different. 
 
Fortunately, your brain is on your side.  
 
When you meet someone for the first time your brain sub consciously sifts through hundreds of cues, assessing them in an instant before sending you a quick summary of what this person may be like. 
 
As a result, you’ll address that person accordingly. 
 
If you are socially skilled, you’ll address a professionally dressed middle-aged male far differently than a fifteen-year-old girl dressed as a Goth! You’ll then adjust your communication and your thinking when you become more familiar.
 
Your brain is wired to take in cues from other people. Most of these cues are visual. A person’s race, age and gender all have visual dimensions making it easy dealing with those cues.
 
But a person’s family background is very different as there are no visual cues available.  And the most significant piece of information about family background is their position in their family, commonly known as BIRTH ORDER.  This data then needs to be collected either informally through conversation, or in formal ways such as being collected at interviews.
 
Birth order information about students, and, if possible, parents and your colleagues, will make your life as a teacher and school leader easier. Here’s how:
 
1. Birth order gives you greater understanding of children
 
Got a class full of risk-takers? Maybe you’ve got too many perfectionists for your liking?
 
If so, there is a good chance that you have a large proportion of first born children in your class.  Eldest children, by nature are generally risk-adverse when it comes to learning and going into new situations.  They are also more likely to perfectionists as this cohort generally 
 
Similarly, they are more likely to be anxious, particularly if their parents are anxious about raising them, as they are more likely to be influenced by their parents than children in any other birth order position.
 
What does it mean if you have a preponderance of youngests, or middle children in your class or year? Youngest children are often more creative, and more likely to take risks as learners. Those middle children may well be the social glue that holds the class together as middle children usually have more friends and are more sociable than eldest children.
 
2. Birth order tells you how much assistance parents need
 
Parents of eldest children need a lot more handholding by teachers than parents of youngest children who have had some previous school experience. Everything is new for a parents of first borns – school is new; each year level is new; each developmental stage is new.  Also parents are stricter and give first borns less freedom than youngest children, which has ramifications for you as a teacher. 
 
As a rule of thumb, parents of first borns will take more teacher attention and energy than parents of children in other position. This is not something taken into account when allocating children to classes at the start of the year.  Be aware also that parents of youngest children have more experience of the school system, and can sometimes take less interest in their children’s education.
 
 
3. Birth order explains why kids are different in a family
 
Ever had a parent come to you scratching her head in dismay that her children are so different? They may have two children that share the same gender; have grown up in the same family and go to the same school but they are different as chalk and cheese. 
 
That’s the birth order factor. 
 
Children, like niche marketers, play to their differences to be noticed. If the first born has responsibility sewn up, then there is a good chance the second will be a pest. At least his parents know he is around. It makes sense when you put yourself in children’s shoes.
 
Birth order tells you a lot about children’s differences within a family.
 
4. Birth order gives you a clearer picture of your personal drivers
 
Ever wondered why you are motivated by different forces than your sibling? Maybe you are easy going, but your closest sibling is hard-driven and focused. 
 
Perhaps, you’re a perfectionist who dots every i and cross every t, but your closest sibling is laidback, perhaps even lazy compared to you. It’s not necessarily genetics or parenting – it’s more than likely the birth order effect. Generally, the longer that first borns and second live together the more diverse they become.
 
 
5. Birth order knowledge makes you more effective with your colleagues
 
Are you wondering why the person at the front desk of your school is so affable and so good with people? What’s her secret? My guess is that she is a middle or second born child. Those born in this position are more sociable than those in other positions. They have wider friendship groups than children born in other birth order positions and are often the social glue of any group.  Wondering what youngests are like? Well, for start they are more likely to take risks and be less control-oriented in their thinking.
 
There’s no doubt that an understanding of your colleagues’ birth order positions will give vital information to help you be more effective when interacting with them. Similarly, collecting data about children’s birth order will provide you with vital data to help you more effective as a teacher and administrator.
 
Birth order knowledge is powerful, yet often under-estimated, particularly by teachers who work so closely with children, colleagues and parents every day.
 
You can get pore information about birth order in my book Why First Borns Rule the World and Last Borns Want to Change It. You can get it now at the Parentingideas Bookshop.
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