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What I Learned About Education From The Movies

How the communication model used by Pixar, can help teachers better communicate with, and motivate, their students

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This is the third in a series of blogs that explore how career advice from different sectors and companies can be highly relevant to education.   

A company that I admire a lot, and that I think can teach us a lot in education, is the movie studio Pixar. Pixar’s movies including the recent Soul, along with Brave, Inside Out, Cars, Toy Story, and many more are beloved by families worldwide. 

What sets Pixar movies apart is that they utilize a system called the Braintrust, which fosters open, honest, and non-judgmental communication, which in turn results in better collaboration. So how do they foster such communication skills? They adopt a Process Communication Model (PCM). They do so both inwardly facing and also externally facing – meaning, they train their teams in the PCM so that it affects how they interact with each other, and then also leverage it in the development of their films, with PCM leading story and character development. The result is a film that is more relatable to a wider audience, created on time by happier production teams.

What is the Process Communication Model?

PCM was created by psychologist Dr. Taibi Kahler nearly fifty years ago. Kahler saw a pattern and sequence in the way humans interacted with one another and figured out a formula that identifies behavior objectively.

Initially, PCM was used by NASA to hire their astronauts for more than two decades. It was also used by Presidents including Bill Clinton and many Fortune 500 companies to improve communication and motivate employees. 

PCM has many applications for education since it is vital that students feel safe and comfortable to use their voices, collaborate, and most importantly to fail. This is how we learn! So, like Pixar, we should also foster open, honest, and non-judgmental communication.

Unfortunately, PCM isn’t widely known or used in education… yet. But here are the basics to get you started.

The PCM Personality Types

According to PCM, each of us represents a unique combination of six different personality types. They all exist in each of us but they are organized like floors in a building with our “base” or bottom floor representing our core. Each floor of the building represents different attributes including motivational needs, character strengths, communication styles, and environmental preferences, and how we respond to stress. The six personality types are:

Thinker
Thinkers are logical, data-driven decision-makers. They are responsible and organized. They are motivated by recognition of their efficient work and structure. They prefer to work on their own or one on one.

Harmonizer/Feeler
Harmonizers are compassionate, sensitive, and warm. They make “gut” decisions driven by emotion and prefer a pleasing sensory environment/experience. They are nurturing and prefer to work with others.

Persister / Advisor
Persisters are dedicated, conscientious, and organized. They are excellent observers and have strong ethics. Persisters make values-based decisions and prefer to work alone or one on one. 

Dreamer / Imaginer
Dreamers are reflective, calm, and imaginative. They are introspective and prefer to work alone with time to reflect. 

Promoter / Doer
Promoters are adaptive, charming, and resourceful. They are described as action-oriented and quick to make decisions. Promoters are big picture thinkers who don’t focus on details. They prefer dynamic environments and exciting challenges.

Funster / Rebel
Funsters are spontaneous, playful, and creative. They make decisions based on “having fun.” Funsters prefer to work in groups, often with an exchange of humor and spontaneity.

How To Apply PCM to Education 

When teachers know the six PCM personality types, it helps them determine, what motivates this student to learn? Why should they care? How can I make them care? 

Teachers trained in PCM develop lesson plans with these personality types in mind. For example, a thinker likes to tackle math equations alone, while a funster responds best when a teacher makes math learning collaborative and fun through a game played by a group.

According to Dianne Bradley and Kathryn Smith, there are six questions that teachers can ask themselves when planning a lesson:

  1. How can I build recognition for work and time structure into this lesson (for the Thinker)
  2. How can I ensure the task is meaningful (and also perceived as meaningful)? (for the Persister)
  3. How can I make this fun? (for the Funster)
  4. How can I make it active? (for the Do-er)
  5. How can I provide reflection time? (for the Dreamer)
  6. How can I provide personal recognition and opportunities to interact with others? (for the Feeler)

Importantly – I want to reiterate that all of these personality types are within us, but some are more dominant than others. So while we are all programmed to learn in the same way (on a cognitive level), we have different motivations and different knowledge bases that we bring into the classroom. 

Lessons that satisfy all of the needs above (make it active, allow for reflection, keep it fun, reward and recognize work, and allow for opportunities to collaborate with others as well as allowing for independent work) will find students more motivated and responsive. 

By sharing your knowledge of PCM with your students, you will also find your students relate to each other better and have greater empathy, which in turn makes them feel more secure in their own space within the classroom.

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