“You’re so quiet. You need to participate more in class.”
“You need to sit down and stop talking.”
Children in classrooms everywhere hear these words everyday from well-meaning teachers who are trying to create productive learning environments. (Susan heard the former statements in her school years and Johnny heard the latter!) How often do these words actually change a child’s behavior long-term? Hardly ever! Why not? The answer probably lies less with behavior management and more with human dispositions that are very hard to repress.
If you’ve spent any time in classrooms as a student or as a teacher, you know that teachers spend much of their day working as an orchestra conductor, trying to bring out perfect contributions from each child. But some kids seem to blend into the background and if not careful, we might not even notice them for large chunks of the day. Other students are talking and moving around much of the day. We try hard to tamp down their constant interactions. And truthfully, the students are probably trying hard too. As a child (and still as an adult), Susan had a constant internal struggle with speaking to the group, trying to think of something to say to join in, but really wanting to think alone. And Johnny worked hard to remain focused through class lectures and tried not to be too loud, get distracted, or be redirected because of active behaviors.
But fighting against the traits of introversion and extroversion is not only frustrating , it’s probably not in anyone’s best interest. Do we really want to send Johnny the message that it’s wrong to use talk as a way to flesh out ideas, especially when that’s how he develops his best ideas? Do we really want to lose Susan’s best thinking by not allowing her the time and space she needs?
We feel that if teachers had an awareness and a better understanding of these dispositions, schools could be more comfortable and more conducive to learning for everyone. So in this post, we’ll touch briefly on what it means to be introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between.
What is Introversion / Extroversion?
Medical Definition of introversion
- the act of directing one’s attention toward or getting gratification from one’s own interests, thoughts, and feelings
- the state or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life—compare extroversion
Medical Definition of extroversion
- the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self—compare introversion
What it is NOT……
What it IS……
From the Introvert: Susan’s Perspective
I’ve lived in the world of education my whole life. From my earliest days in elementary school to my years as a teacher, I’ve had a love/hate ( mostly love) relationship with my time spent in schools. On the one hand, I look forward every August to going back to school, to getting a fresh start, to feeling part of a new community (because school communities are new every single year!) On the other hand, every time I’ve missed a day of school over the last 40+ years, I’ve struggled to go back the next day. As a child I would fake sick, to get one more day of being at home. As an adult, I would “worry about being contagious” to get one more precious day of solitude at home. What is it about school that can cause a school-lover to try to avoid it??
I’ve taken inventory of the loves and the hates. What makes me comfortable: reading books, writing in notebooks, daily routines, seeing friends each day, helping other people, learning, feeling a sense of daily accomplishment, and feeling that I belong. What makes me uncomfortable: the noise, the organized chaos of playgrounds and cafeterias, required group work, presentations, constant togetherness, the need to think on my feet in front of others, participation grades, and gym class (the worst!)
So many of those school activities seem to deplete my energy and cause me stress. Worse than that, though, are the many times that I haven’t felt able to contribute my talents or ideas because I can’t think as well in front of others. Now obviously, my positive experiences have outweighed my negatives or I wouldn’t have become a teacher. But throughout all my school years, I have struggled to find my place of comfort in the classroom.
A few years ago I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. That book was a game changer for me. It was the first time I felt understood and the first time I understood that there are a whole lot of people out there who operate the same way I do. And they are sitting in our classrooms, next to their extroverted friends. As teachers, how do we bring out the strengths and talents of both our introverted and our extroverted students?
You’ll meet my good friend and partner Johnny below. Through our years of friendship and partnership, we have come to understand each other and our different learning needs. He gets it when I need to be alone to think and I get it when he needs to move around and talk things out. We think that together, we can help teachers create learning environments that lift up both the Johnnys and the Susans in our classrooms. In each blog post, we will address a different aspect of classroom instruction and explore how teachers can provide opportunities for introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between to reach their full potential.
From the Extrovert: Johnny’s Perspective
I consider myself to be an extrovert. I like to be loud, have conversation, and I am very animated when I am passionate about the work I am doing. I don’t believe there is a single person who knows me that would say I am introverted in the least. I was a cheerleader and am now a cheerleading coach. Cheerleading is the epitome of extroverts, by standing in front of thousands of college fans, yelling, jumping, tumbling around, and getting everyone around you amped up for the game!
When I think of myself as a teacher, I think the same thoughts. I have to, sometimes, jump around, yell, and scream to get my students excited about something they are learning. Teachers are on stage about 7 hours a day, and when they are not on stage, they are thinking and planning of ways to get back on that stage for the sake of their students. At the end of the day, it’s all about the students, right?
I have a lofty hope for this blog. I hope that throughout my own journeys I can help teachers better understand how they can touch the soul of each and every extroverted student. They may appear to be “bossy” or have ADD/ADHD, but they are our students and it is our responsibility to help them progress in this ever changing world. Asking an extrovert to sit and be quiet can kill their love for the topic being introduced, but by allowing them to be themselves the whole day can drain the entire class. I hope to find ways to find balance in allowing every student to live to their personality potential and stretch them out of their comfort zone to help learn the importance of working with others.
“extroversion.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2017.https://www.merriam-webster.com (21 August 2017).
“introversion.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2017. https://www.merriam-webster.com (21 August 2017).