What is the ​Personal Construct Theory?

This is from the work of George Kelly (1955). Personal construct theory looks at the differences in the way people attribute meaning. As every individual’s experience is different, all individuals will draw personal meaning to understand the environment around them. These meanings are referred to as personal constructs.

Leaders often make assumptions in questioning, in thinking their followers (from who they are gathering information from) have the same personal constructs (meaning).

While in secondary schools, I have been through lots of different data reporting cycles, to measure pupil progress and alongside this, there is often a box for attitude/behaviour with a numerical input of 1 to 4 (1 being the highest and 4 the lowest). I have always wondered how teachers make this judgement, I know how I make my judgement as a practitioner but as a whole how can a consistent approach be achieved through this?

Activity 1

What are the attributes of a great attitude (Grade 1) pupil?






Now Think of the opposites. Not the literary opposite the opposite meaning to you.


The opposite of a poor exercise regime could be a daily cardio workout equally it could be a rigorous 3 day a week weight lifting program.

Examples – Attributes

I placed these on Twitter earlier last week and asked for the opposites.

  1. Great in class
  2. Tries really hard
  3. Uniform is immaculate
  4. Achieves high grades
  5. Speaks articulate
Attributes Opposites
1.     Great In Class


Disruptive. Or so negative a presence they are like a human black hole sucking out the energy.


Disinterested in class




Doesn’t believe hard work can lead to success


Not great in exams



2.     Tries Really hard


Makes no effort



Needs more direction with task


Doesn’t try hard enough


3.     Appearance is Great



Scruffy, clothes alway test uniform regulations

Lack of personal hygiene

Uniform doesn’t conform to school ‘standards’…


4.     Achieves High Grades



Bums out in tests

Achieves expected or lower than ‘expected’.

Struggling academically

Achieves their target grades


5.     Is Articulate Monosyllabic, or mumbles nothing phrases, er like y’no worimean like eh

Not able to flip between dialects

Has any accent that isn’t recieved


Needs support with building confidence

Doesn’t write very well

We can see even from this small sample that these statements mean slightly different things to different people. People have different personal construct in answering.

The opposites of articulate ranges from the spoken word to the written word. I didn’t even think about the written word when writing this. Another example is the opposite of appearance is great which ranges from personal hygiene to uniform. This is because we have created a personal construct to create meaning around the experience of articulation and appearance.

These constructs are always are bipolar, to understand the meaning for each individual person that we need to identify those 2 poles and appreciate that meaning falls in between them for different people.  These constructs are built throughout our life and we place pupils on these spectrums unknowingly and this is often an unconscious act.

What actually happens is those judgements are made through choosing those the constructs that are meaningful to the individual. This does not only invite inconsistency, but it also invites bias.

How as school leaders can we make this more meaningful, after all, if the attitude/behaviour number doesn’t add consistent value,  what is the point?

How as school leaders can we make this more meaningful, after all, if the attitude/behaviour number doesn’t add consistent value, what is the point? Click To Tweet

I would think you are better off including the different categories with specific guidance or to possibly remove the number altogether.


That’s for another leadership blog

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