“Sshh. Quiet please. Just for a minute. Some of us need time and space to think. Some of us hate the thought of having to speak to groups of people. Brainstorming? No…just NO!”
Welcome to the world of the introvert – a personality strength which many people stifle, hide, or are too embarrassed to admit to. It can be seen as a sign of weakness, but many of the traits of extroverts have become celebrated in many Western societies (mainly shout about and advocated by extroverts), with the behaviours and ideas witnessed in business dripping down into the educational stratosphere.
A lot of attention has been given to the subject of introverts, mainly thanks to the American writer Susan Cain, whose book “Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking” highlighted the vast divergence between the two personality attributes.
Why western societies celebrate the mannerisms of extroverts is not fully understood, especially when you look at successful and famous personalities who display introverted characteristics, such as: JK Rowling; Bill Gates; Christina Aguilera; Albert Einstein; Steve Wozniak; Emma Watson; Keanu Reeves, to name just a few.
Celebrating the qualities of introverts in education can be a challenge. Can a teacher be an introvert? When do the traits of introverts start to appear with children? What are the signs that educators should look out for to identify the extroverts/introverts in their classroom? Is it really possible to group/label students under such categories? Let’s take a closer look at these issues.
Looking at the table, as a teacher you need many of these attributes, but most colleagues go into ‘show’ mode when they are teaching, being a false representation of who they actually are. This is not a bad attribute, but a skill needed to engage, enthuse and energise pupils. There will be many of the attributes in the table, on both sides, which resonate with you. There are few people who are 100% extrovert or introvert, but you may identify some of the features in your own personality. Some teachers enjoy the peace and quiet of their own classroom at lunch time, rather than the noise and buzz of the staffroom – this is not a bad point, just recognition of a reflective, thoughtful colleague. Despite many beliefs, the traits of introverts are not, and should not be viewed as negative.
So, what about pupils? These personality traits are evident from a young age, but in the comfort and familiarity of a primary/elementary setting (with the same friends; same teacher; same classroom each day), it is not too easy to define children easily. Once children enter the secondary setting, the characteristics start to reveal themselves more noticeably. Moving from classroom to classroom; working with different sets of peers; different strategies of working; different teachers; new subjects.
One of the (many) challenges for teachers is to recognise the signs of introverts and extroverts, and adjust your teaching to suit both. Many teachers complain of pupils who appear to be non-responsive in their class – always the last to raise their hands – the quiet ones. This is more likely a sign of teacher affirmation than a sign of disengagement. Some pupils absorb your lesson, processing the information in their own private, reflective way – which may not always be on display within the confines of the lesson. There are different ways to check for understanding, and allowing pupils to do this in a way that is comfortable for them is significant. Some of the brightest, intelligent pupils are introverts… but they are very unlikely to tell you. Celebrate this in a quiet way – they are unlikely to enjoy being the centre of attention – remember; they are extremely self-aware.
Schools appear to be geared towards extroverts, while introverts are often undervalued or misunderstood. Speaking up in class, group work and “show and tells” is emphasised mainly in response to Assessment for Learning strategies, but Susan Cain cites studies which suggest that the majority of teachers think the ideal student is an extrovert, and more extroverts are groomed for leadership positions in the workplace – we refer you back to the list at the start of this article.
It is easy to criticise pupils for being ‘quiet’ – how often were you warned to watch out for the quiet ones? This mistrust is because it is difficult to know what they are thinking – but …