Should We Be More Accommodating to Education’s Introverts?

By Deanna Miller

A little over a month ago, a colleague who has heard me describe myself as an introvert sent me a great article she found at one of those business leadership websites. It’s about why introverts are sometimes more successful in “extrovert” jobs.

What the author shared really made me think. And being the “mull it over” type of person I am, I thought about it for a long time, working through the details in my head, trying to analyze how they apply to my own introverted style.

Listening at school

Then I began to think about students and teachers. The first thing that writer Nina Semczuk mentions (that I analyzed over and over again) is the introvert’s innate ability to really listen. She cites the best-selling book by Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, to support this contention. (Cain also co-authored the 2016 book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids.)

Although ours is a decidedly extroverted profession, education requires a great deal of listening, so this capacity can definitely come in handy.

The introvert’s ability to really listen to students, parents, colleagues, and others invested in schools can help build relationships. It can help build a culture of trust that is so needed in today’s classes. That’s not to say that extroverted teachers won’t build those same relationships or cultures within their classrooms, but it may be a little slower.

In Jim Knight’s book Better Conversations, listening is one of his top 10 habits to achieve better dialogue with others. No matter who we are, introvert or extrovert, practicing a little more listening can go a very long way.

Introverts must recharge

Another topic that Semczuk touches on in her article is that introverts need to recharge, especially after being in extremely extroverted situations. I can absolutely relate to this. Although I may be good at listening, listening to too many voices for too long can leave me exhausted mentally and physically.

That got me thinking again. How many of our students and teachers are completely spent by the end of a school day because they have had to interact with people all day long without a chance for recharging? Of course, teachers have it a little easier than students as they can take a planning period to recharge, but that’s only if the planning time is not spent in meetings, professional development, parent conferences, etc. And I know that all of these activities are part of the job, part of our responsibilities as educators, but how much more effective would those meetings be if we allowed our introverted teachers a little recharge time?

And how much better would some students behave or perform, if we also gave them a time and place to recharge their batteries? I know for me, one of my favorite times of the day in high school was Study Hall. Not because I didn’t have a class, but because I could go to the quiet library, find a secluded spot, and refocus my thoughts.

Some may see that behavior as anti-social, but it wasn’t. It was necessary so I could be social. How many of our students and teachers are really suffering because they don’t have a quiet place or time to replenish their social selves?

It’s an extrovert world

In Susan Cain’s wonderful book Quiet, she briefly touches on the ramifications that too much interacting may be having on our introverted students. She also tells us that our world is made up of 50% extroverts and 50% introverts, yet 98% of jobs, especially those in leadership, are offered to those who exhibit extrovert tendencies. Another view about this: some other experts say that many people fall in the middle and are ambiverts who have some of both tendencies.

Reading Semczuk’s article brought that back to my mind and made me begin to ask myself more questions.

  • How much of our learning, in the classroom or in the PD space, is geared toward an extroverted ideal?
  • And when we do include activities that appeal to introverts, do we allow extroverts to dictate the length of those activities?

Probably one of the best protocols I’ve learned during my relationship with ABPC’s Instructional Partner’s Network is “wait time.” Wait time is not just for my students, or teachers during a professional learning experience, but also for me, the instructional partner. It helps balance my need to stop and think things over, and my extroverted colleagues’ need to discuss everything right way.

And to me, that is the main point. It doesn’t matter if introverts can be successful in extroverted positions or vice-versa, what matters is finding the balance so that all of our various needs in this regard are accommodated in some way. Without balance, someone is bound to get left out.

DeAnna Miller has worked in education for 12 years. She currently lives in Enterprise and works as an Instructional Partner at Dauphin Junior HIgh School. “I enjoy running, reading, writing and being an advocate for our introverted students and teachers. I dream of one day putting my love of reading and writing to the ultimate test by becoming a published author.”