Nurturing Low Agreeableness Students: Strategies for Effective Support

This article is based on chapter in my upcoming book, Becoming a More Assertive Teacher: Maximizing Strengths, Establishing Boundaries, and Amplifying Your Voice

In the realm of education, it’s common to attribute challenging student behavior to underlying trauma or a means of expressing emotions. While this perspective holds merit, there’s another dimension that’s worth considering: the personality trait of low agreeableness. This characteristic, often overshadowed by trauma-related explanations, sheds light on a student’s tendency to be competitive, forthright, and prone to arguments. While these behaviors can sometimes align with communication of feelings, they also reflect a distinct personality trait.

Low agreeableness encompasses a unique set of qualities that might not immediately align with traditional expectations. Students exhibiting this trait often center their actions around themselves and challenge authority figures. This is not to negate the influence of trauma or emotional expression, but rather to acknowledge that low agreeableness can be a contributing factor or even the main factor. Educators and support staff stand to gain valuable insights by recognizing this aspect of a student’s personality.

When it comes to classroom dynamics, students with low agreeableness might encounter challenges in collaborative activities or group settings. Their inclination toward independence might lead them to prefer working alone rather than participating in group efforts. Conforming to rules and following authority could pose difficulties for them, as they tend to be more focused on their individual thoughts and convictions. It’s important to note that low agreeableness is not inherently negative; it represents an alternative way of engaging with the world, which can hold its own set of strengths. It is also important to point out that between 15-20% of the population are considered to be low in agreeableness, which means in a classroom, 3 to 5 students could potentially be low in agreeableness. 

In a comprehensive approach to education, understanding the multifaceted nature of student behavior is essential. While trauma and emotional expression certainly play roles, acknowledging personality traits like low agreeableness brings a more holistic perspective. By embracing this awareness, educators can tailor their support strategies to effectively address the diverse needs of students, fostering an inclusive and empathetic learning environment.

Characteristics of low agreeableness students

Students with low agreeableness exhibit distinct traits that influence their educational journey. Often marked by their competitiveness, these students possess a keen drive to succeed and excel. Their communication style tends to be forthright and candid, a trait that occasionally raises concerns of being interpreted as confrontational or impolite. The intense focus on their personal needs and aspirations can occasionally overshadow considerations for others.

Challenging authority and questioning established norms are common behaviors among low agreeableness students. Their independence of thought is a defining feature, accompanied by a robust desire for autonomy. This strong inclination towards self-determination may present challenges when it comes to group dynamics or adhering to instructions they perceive as arbitrary or superfluous. It’s vital to note that these characteristics are not inherently negative, but rather a distinctive reflection of the student’s individual personality.

Understanding these characteristics enables educators to approach low agreeableness students with empathy and tailored strategies. By recognizing the strengths and challenges tied to this trait, teachers can create an environment that harnesses the potential of each student’s unique disposition, fostering both personal growth and collaborative learning.

Challenges faced by low agreeableness students

Low agreeableness students encounter distinct challenges within the educational context. Their competitive drive, while fostering motivation, can also lead to interpersonal conflicts with both peers and teachers. The inclination to assert their ideas and beliefs strongly can make accepting feedback or criticism a struggle, and they might exhibit resistance to authority figures.

Working collaboratively can pose difficulties for these students as well. Their intense focus on personal goals and ideas can sometimes hinder effective teamwork, potentially creating challenges in group projects or cooperative learning scenarios. Moreover, adhering to established rules and regulations might not align with their independent thinking. This can lead to questioning authority and the necessity of certain rules, occasionally giving rise to classroom tensions.

Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial for educators and support staff. By understanding the unique hurdles faced by low agreeableness students, teachers can provide targeted guidance and support to help them navigate and succeed within the educational environment. Tailoring teaching approaches and fostering an environment that respects individual perspectives can contribute to a more harmonious and enriching learning experience for all students.

Effective strategies for supporting low agreeableness students

  1. Building rapport and trust with low agreeableness students

Building a positive relationship with low agreeableness students is crucial for effective support. Take the time to get to know these students individually and understand their unique needs and goals. Show genuine interest in their ideas and opinions, and be respectful of their competitive nature. Establishing trust and rapport will create a safe and supportive learning environment for these students. 

Example: Imagine a student named Alex who is known for being competitive and direct. As a teacher, you take the time to engage in one-on-one conversations with Alex, showing a genuine interest in his opinions and acknowledging his competitive spirit. By valuing his input and understanding his unique needs, you establish a strong rapport and a safe space for him to express himself openly.

2. Offering choice and autonomy in learning 

Empower low agreeableness students by providing choices and autonomy in their learning. Allow them to choose topics for projects or assignments and encourage them to explore their interests. This gives them a sense of ownership over their education and enhances engagement.

Example: Emily had a passion for creative writing. The teacher allowed her to select her own writing prompts for assignments, giving her the autonomy to express herself. This approach ignited Emily’s enthusiasm, allowing her competitive spirit to thrive in her chosen field while developing her writing skills.

    3. Celebrating their achievements and strengths 

    Recognize and celebrate the achievements and strengths of low agreeableness students. Acknowledge their competitive nature and their ability to think critically and independently. Highlighting these qualities can boost their confidence and motivation.

    Example: Mark consistently produced thought-provoking essays that challenged conventional viewpoints. The teacher commended Mark’s independent thinking and showcased his work to the class, encouraging them to embrace diverse perspectives. Mark’s pride in his achievements grew, motivating him to continue pushing his boundaries.

    1. Fostering a competitive and challenging learning environment

    Low agreeableness students are highly competitive and thrive in challenging environments. Provide opportunities for these students to engage in competitive activities and set high expectations for their performance. This will motivate them to excel and push themselves to their full potential. However, it is important to strike a balance and ensure that the competitive environment remains supportive and inclusive.

    Example: Consider a classroom where a named Brad stands out for his competitive spirit. You introduce a debate-style activity where students need to defend their viewpoints with strong arguments. Brad eagerly participates, and his enthusiasm inspires healthy competition among peers. By providing this challenging yet supportive atmosphere, you allow Brad to channel his  competitive energy into meaningful academic growth.

    Handling conflicts and arguments with low agreeableness students

    Navigating conflicts and disagreements with low agreeableness students requires a thoughtful approach that promotes understanding and cooperation. Here, we present five effective strategies that can help you manage conflicts and arguments in a constructive manner. By staying composed, actively listening, validating emotions, fostering collaborative problem-solving, and maintaining clear communication, you can create a positive environment that encourages resolution and supports the growth of both the student and the classroom as a whole. These strategies provide valuable tools for addressing conflicts with empathy and effectiveness.

    • Stay Calm and Patient: Approach conflicts with a composed and patient demeanor. Keeping your emotions in check sets a positive tone for resolving the situation and encourages the student to engage constructively.
    • Active Listening: Give the student your full attention and listen actively to their perspective. This shows that you value their viewpoint and helps you gain insight into their concerns.
    • Empathize and Validate: Acknowledge the student’s feelings and show empathy. Validating their emotions, even if you don’t agree, can defuse tension and create an atmosphere of understanding.
    • Collaborative Problem-Solving: Involve the student in finding a solution. Encourage them to suggest ways to address the conflict, empowering them to take ownership of the resolution process.
    • Clear Communication: Explain rules, consequences, and decisions clearly and logically. This helps the student grasp the situation and encourages compliance while minimizing misunderstandings.


    Supporting low agreeableness students calls for a nuanced approach that acknowledges their distinct traits and obstacles. By establishing strong connections, defining transparent guidelines, nurturing independent thought, and cultivating a stimulating academic atmosphere, educators can effectively empower these students to excel. Addressing conflicts through empathetic communication and enlisting supplementary assistance as required can amplify the positive impact on their educational journey. Prepared with tailored strategies and a supportive environment, low agreeableness students can thrive and make valuable contributions to their educational pursuits.

    2 thoughts on “Nurturing Low Agreeableness Students: Strategies for Effective Support”

    1. Another amazing article. Never thought about students simply having a low agreeableness personality. No wonder we do a poor job of dealing with some of the issues in the classroom. This is game changing.

    2. Great insight! We seem to be getting a lot more 5th graders with a developing disagreeableness. Thank you for the intervention strategies. Relationships will always be at the forefront of having growth in academia.

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