My students don’t always believe it, but I am an introvert at heart. They’re often fooled by my goofy jokes, awkward dances, and ridiculous antics. I genuinely enjoy teaching, but if I am overstimulated, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. For a while, I just assumed it was just the stressful profession draining me of my energy. While teaching is stressful, I’ve recognized that I need to rest and recharge after a long, social day of teaching because I’m an introvert. Not because I’m a bad or burnt-out teacher, but because of the way I am wired and always will be.
As I’ve grown older and into my personality, I’ve embraced my introversion. But it wasn’t until I recently read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, that I began to see my introversion as a strength. I had never considered that maybe our overstimulated and hyper-socialized society just didn’t appreciate the gifts my personality had to offer.
THE “EXTROVERT IDEAL”
In Quiet, Cain highlights what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal,” or our society’s “omni-present belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight” (4). It’s this belief that can cause so many introverts to feel less than their more outgoing, talkative counterparts. It’s what makes introverts wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” especially when extroverts label them “shy” or “antisocial.”
As a reflective introvert, Cain’s description of this pervasive “Extrovert Ideal” simultaneously fascinated me and validated so many of my life experiences. I felt seen and heard. Quiet empowered me, and in true introvert fashion, I took a few quiet moments to reflect. If it took me this long to know and celebrate my true self, how could I help the budding introverts in my classroom embrace their strengths now?
As an introvert myself, you might think that I’d be a natural expert at this, but I’m afraid the “Extrovert Ideal” has been alive and well in education and my mind. I have been supporting introverts in my own unique ways, but I want to do more and be deliberate about it. Since reading, I’ve been examining my practices, reflecting on my pedagogy, and making small shifts to my teaching. I’m officially on a mission to make my classroom a more introvert-friendly space.
Here’s what I learned from Quiet and what I’m doing to help my introverts thrive in my classroom:
1. Be even more intentional about building relationships with introverted students.
It’s often easier to build relationships with the extroverts in my room, because they’re the ones talking to me! These kids are much more likely to strike up conversations, joke with me, and approach me. I’ve found that relationships with these students happen naturally. Their extroversion complements my introversion. But when it comes to my relationships with fellow introverts, I have to work harder. I have to make a more deliberate effort to approach them and nurture the relationship.
While I am aware of this now, it took me a few years into my career to make the connection. My strongest relationships were always with the loudest kids. I felt like I had quiet bonds and mutual respect for my introverted students, but I often found myself wishing I knew them better. After this realization, I’ve worked harder to reach out to the introverts in my room and let them know they are appreciated just as much as the others. As an introvert, this is something I’ll probably always be working on, and that’s okay.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS WITH INTROVERTED STUDENTS
Here are some ways I make sure my introverted kiddos feel seen & heard:
- I approach these students and strike up conversation, even if it’s as simple as “How are you doing today?” The point is to seek out the introverts. My extroverts will find me and chat my ears off about their day, but I have to make the first step in my conversations with introverts.
- I leave my introverts some extra love via written feedback. Extroverts receive more verbal feedback from speaking up in class, so I make sure to balance this with written compliments on student work. Of course, I give this kind of feedback to all students, but I am especially mindful when it comes to my introverts.
- I bond with my introverts over books! Not all introverts are bibliophiles, but many of my students are. Books give us a connection, something we have in common that makes a conversation a little less daunting. Sometimes I even plan a “buddy read” where I read the same book as one (or more) of my students. Both introverts and extroverts are welcome to participate, but the former seem to appreciate it the most.
- Every so often, I try to write all of my students little notes. I make sure to praise my introverts for their quiet gifts that may go unnoticed: their independence, insight, awareness, thoughtfulness, focus, creativity, curiosity, etc.
2. Structure “restorative niches” into your class periods.
In Quiet, Cain discusses the power of “restorative niches,” which are spaces, moments, and choices that allow you to “return to your true self” (219). For introverts, these are often pockets of time where they can recharge as their introverted self. If you’re a fellow introverted teacher who has ever gone to the bathroom just for 3 minutes of peace and quiet in between class periods, then you know what I mean. Restorative niches are those moments where you feel calm and safe, protected from the pressure of the extroverted world. According to Cain, these niches can be physical spaces, pockets of quiet time, or even choices/boundaries (such as canceling plans).
As an introverted teacher, some of my restorative niches include the solitude I enjoy before/after school, my lunch and prep period, and even closing my classroom door to signal to my colleagues that I’m working independently. These restorative niches are crucial to my well-being as a teacher. If I need them, then it only makes sense that my introverted students do, too. During a class period, what’s a restorative niche or break for me is probably one for them, too.
Here are a few ways I am working on making sure my introverts have enough “restorative niches” in my classroom:
10 MINUTES OF QUIET INDEPENDENT READING TIME AT THE BEGINNING OF EACH CLASS
This is a restorative niche for me and my fellow introverts, and it certainly doesn’t hurt my extroverts, either! These 10 minutes are a great way for introverts to reset after any overstimulation from the previous class or the passing period.
ALTERNATING INTERVALS OF QUIET WORK TIME AND TALKING WORK TIME
I like peace and quiet. I also like collaboration and the joyful “noise” of learning. If my class is silent for the entire period, I get bored and feel weirdly guilty. But if they’re too loud and talkative, I am entirely overstimulated by the end of the day. I suspect my fellow introverts feel the same, so I’ve started trying to balance my class periods with intervals of quiet work time and talking work time. Every class period is different, but when I use this approach, I might set a timer and instruct students to work independently for 5 minutes, then give them 5 minutes to “talk and work.” This gives introverts the quiet time they need, but it also helps students who enjoy processing their learning with their peers.
FLEXIBLE SEATING CHOICES
Something as simple as choosing where to sit can be a restorative niche for an introvert. While I don’t have flexible seating choices or the option to let students sit wherever, due to COVID-19, this is something I’ll keep in mind for the future. A cozy book corner could mean the world to an introvert who just needs some space and quiet in their day.
THE OPTION TO WORK ALONE
There’s a lot of pressure to involve students in small-group learning, but working independently can be a relief for introverts. More on this one below…because it’s just that important!
3. Plan balanced lessons with introverts and extroverts in mind.
Because of the “Extrovert Ideal,” you might naturally default to planning a lesson for extroverts. Even as an introvert, I lean toward this, so I have to remind myself to plan lessons with a healthy blend of introvert- and extrovert-friendly activities. Of course, you can’t please everyone every day, so the goal here is balance.
In addition to what I listed above for “restorative niches,” here are a few other introvert-friendly strategies that I employ in my classroom:
“TURN AND TALK” STRATEGY:
Introverts may find it difficult to raise their hand and jump into whole-class discussions, but I still want to hear from them. I’ve found the “turn and talk” strategy offers a low-risk, comfortable opportunity for my introverts to discuss. Before or during class discussions, I’ll simply ask my students to “turn and talk” to a peer about a question. After turning and talking, introverts are more likely to share their thoughts with the whole class. Even if they don’t, I know they still had a chance to speak to a peer. Win-win!
“SPEED DATING” DISCUSSIONS:
Like the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” strategies, speed dating discussions are introvert-friendly because they involve rounds of mini one-on-one discussions. Admittedly, this kind of environment can be stimulating (read: loud), but I’ve personally witnessed quiet introverts come alive during the rounds of speed discussions! The strategy is low risk, but high-engagement: a teacher’s (and introvert’s) dream. For more information on speed dating, check out this blog post full of ideas or my speed dating resources HERE.
ONLINE DISCUSSION TOOLS LIKE PADLET & JAMBOARD:
Online discussion tools offer the perfect opportunity to give everyone a voice, especially the introverts who are less likely to raise their hand during a whole-class discussion. Many introverts would rather articulate their thoughts in writing, whether that’s through Padlet, Jamboard, or a Google Classroom discussion board. For more info on Padlet and Jamboard, head to this blog post. To learn my favorite hack for creating a discussion board on Classroom (even though that feature ~doesn’t exist~), check out this blog post.
ROLES IN GROUP WORK, SUCH AS LIT CIRCLES & MOCK TRIALS:
Introverts thrive when they can quietly observe, think, and reflect. When you structure group work, such as lit circles or mock trials, create roles that allow them to do just that! For example, an introvert might prefer to be the note-taker during lit circles. When I facilitate mock trials, I give students a choice of the prosecution, defense, or jury. Guess who ends up doing a fabulous job on the jury? All of my lovely introverts! For more info on mock trials, you can read my blog post HERE or find all of my resources HERE.
A HEALTHY BALANCE OF GROUP WORK & INDEPENDENT WORK:
As Cain points out in her book, introverts can and should learn to work in groups. But it’s important to make sure that you are balancing group work with independent work. This one is tricky for me, because I’ve been conditioned to think that collaboration is always best for kids. It’s what my admin wants, what I want, and what my students want, right? Well, maybe not my introverts. And who said collaboration is the end-all, be-all, anyways? I’ve been questioning these assumptions lately, so up next is working alone!
4. Allow introverts to work independently when possible.
My style of teaching is very much student-centered and collaborative. It involves lots of discussion, small group work, and peer learning. In fact, when I think of students “working alone,” I imagine a teacher lecturing to students in rows and then demanding silence as students complete independent work for an entire period. While I don’t want to be that teacher, Quiet challenged my thinking. Of course, I already integrate some independent work…just not a lot of it. While I do give students the option to work alone sometimes, I often require that students work together. Collaboration is best practice, right?
Well, it’s complicated, and Quiet challenged my assumptions. Cain insightfully links the push for cooperative learning to the Extrovert Ideal of the corporate world, something she questions throughout the book. She also reviews research that suggests “more creative people [tend] to be introverts]” (Cain 74). “Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation,” she explains before citing examples of creative innovators who did their best work alone (Cain 74).
While Cain does not cite evidence that directly illustrates the impact of independent learning in K-12 classrooms, she does make a strong case for considering the unique needs of introvert learners. I hope to research independent learning more, but in the meantime, here’s my plan: When introverts want to work alone, let them!
5. Share your experiences, challenge your thinking, and celebrate your students’ unique gifts.
I had always been aware of my introversion, but I hadn’t ever seen it as anything more than being a little “shy” or “slow to warm up.” After all, it was what earned me the nickname “Mute” when I was a quiet freshman on the school soccer team. I was at practice to play, not socialize, okay?!
It wasn’t until I started using personality tests in the classroom that I became more mindful of my own introversion. To model the process of self-reflection, I would talk to students about my introversion and other traits and how my personality impacts the way I see the world. I would smile in solidarity at my fellow introverts and let them know that I understood them and appreciated their independence. And I would chat and laugh with my extroverted students, who often didn’t believe that I was really an introvert underneath it all.
The personality test lesson has always offered a rewarding opportunity to share my experiences and bond with my students. (You can read more about it HERE). But now that I’ve read Quiet and learned to fully appreciate my introversion, I am better equipped to celebrate and empower my students.
SHARING, VALIDATING, AND CELEBRATING
While reading Quiet, I began talking more about my introversion to my students. Even though I’ve finished the book, I plan to continue to share my experiences. I want my introverts to have a role model. I want them to feel seen, heard, and appreciated…even if they don’t say a word.
My introversion may have earned me a nickname and a reputation as a “quiet nerd,” but it’s given me so much more than that. My introversion is what makes me an insightful, introspective thinker, an attentive listener, and an empathetic human being. It’s what makes it so easy to get lost in a good book, and then get lost in a blog post about that book. It’s what makes me a warm, understanding, and reflective teacher. And it’s what makes me want to see my introverted students shine just as much as their extroverted counterparts.
Whether you’re a fellow introvert or an extrovert trying to reach your most quiet students, I hope that you celebrate your students for their unique gifts. You may have to work a little harder to reach your introverts, but I promise you that it’s worth the extra effort! 🙂
If you stuck around for all my reflective ramblings, you’re either a fellow introvert or a really cool extrovert who cares about your introverted students. Either way, thanks for reading! 🙂 In the comments, I would love to hear about your experience as an introvert or what you do to support your quiet, introverted students!