Don’t Forget the Introverts

I left our fortnightly staff meeting this afternoon feeling completely exhausted. I tried to look back on my day to get some insight into what may have led to this feeling. A quiet, reflective drive home got me thinking about extroverts, introverts and their responses to schooling. I think our education system favours extroversion. This includes our students and teachers. For many introverts, schools can be a daunting and exhausting experience. As I look back on today’s meeting, a few observations spring to mind.

The education profession, by its very nature, attracts extroverted people as teachers. Let’s face it, teaching is very much a performance and that is much more appealing for those with tendencies toward extroversion. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great teachers out there who are introverts. It’s just that schools can be a very tiring and confronting place for a teacher with a predisposition toward introversion.

In today’s staff meeting, we were met with an outstanding presentation about Connecting with Community. The presenters had the audience creating radio shows, acting out and responding quickly to prompts. Two of our team performed an inpromptu, 3 minute radio show based on upcoming events in our school. No scripts; no preparation; just live performance. My skin crawled when they asked for volunteers and I made every effort not to make any eye contact with the facilitators. Following this, we had to move into small groups to create and record a similar radio show. The extroverts in the room shone through this experience. As an introvert, I found much of the meeting confronting and overwhelming. As facilitators called for volunteers I was aware of myself trying desperately to be invisible. I left this meeting feeling like I would struggle to stay away for the drive home. At the same time, many of my colleagues bounced out of the event, laughing and commenting on the energy they had taken from the experience

Secondly, I noted one of the facilitators had a big, sparkly birthday message for a student in their class. I heard a number of my colleagues commenting positively about the teacher’s dedication and caring nature, with further comments about how special this child must have felt after having this message displayed on the IWB during class. At the same time, I felt sympathy for the student and imagined how uncomfortable they may have felt. Neither feeling is right or wrong; just different.

My son won a spelling bee competition at his school today. He is something of an extrovert and thrives on performing to an audience. The video of the final round also shows a shy (and possibly introverted) young girl looking extremely uncomfortable standing on a stage with an audience of 350 students and teachers. Without taking anything away from my son’s performance, I wonder if the young girl would have performed better without a large audience.

Extroverted students are seemingly better suited to many instances of traditional and modern schooling. Consider the questioning techniques in any classroom. Students are praised for contributing responses quickly. Our schools recognise the achievements of those who put themselves forward and at times the ‘quiet achievers’ float along in the background struggling to cope with the energy required to match the ‘performances’ of those with a more obvious disposition toward extraversion.

A couple of messages come to mind for our schools. First, and foremost, teachers need to be aware of their own preferences toward extroversion/introversion and ensure that they take into account the needs and feelings of those with a different disposition. Allow opportunities for students to delay responding to questions. Give extroverts an opportunity to perform, but don’t pressure introverts into feeling they need to conform to this. Be careful of how and what you highlight about students. Having your birthday broadcast to a large group can lead to feelings of discomfort for come of your students.

Take time to develop an awareness of your own preferences for introversion or extraversion. It is only through awareness of our own perceptions and filters that we are able to acknowledge the impact of our actions on those around us. Most importantly, respect difference and cater for diversity.

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