Compass Points

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The Compass Points exercise, designed by the National School Reform Faculty, is an activity used to better understand preferences in group work. Each year, we use this activity with the American School of Brasilia’s new teachers as a means to better understand the group and for the group to better understand the representatives of the school. In summary, the activity asks each participant to select one of four compass points which, in turn, represent personality characteristics similar to the Myers-Brigss Personality Inventory. The National School Reform Faculty defines the compass points as follows:

  • NORTH: Acting – “Let’s do it;” Likes to act, try things, plunge in.
  • EAST: Speculating – likes to look at the big picture and the possibilities before acting.
  • SOUTH: Caring – likes to know that everyone’s feelings have been taken into consideration and that their voices have been heard before acting.
  • WEST: Paying attention to detail – likes to know the who, what, when, where, and why before acting.

While it is recognized that we are not defined by one compass point only, it is likely that each of us tends more towards one compass point than others. To ensure teams work well together, it is helpful to know the tendencies of each team member. Ideally, teams should be represented by a balance of each of the four compass points. A healthy mix of people who like to act, who need to see the big picture, who see to the details, and ensure all voices are heard will increase the likelihood of the team’s success.

One of the benefits of the activity is that the compass points vocabulary has become a part of the culture of the school. I have heard teachers making comments such as, “You are being very north right now” or “We need a west to help us with this project!”. This vocabulary has helped us to identify and articulate differences among group and team members. In summary, the Compass Points activity has served our school well in terms of building teams and ensuring effective levels of collaboration and success.

Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC ND 2.0 ) flickr photo by Ian Kelsall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/inkybob/122476156/

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