We are re-evaluating standards, curriculum, and assessment. We are attempting to raise or revise standards, energize and update curriculum, and be sure that assessment of is wise, well developed, and appropriate. We are, after all, in the 21st century. The manner in which we teach, in part, may not mirror the world, or prepare our students well enough for the world in which they live and will live as adults. Of course, science, math, engineering, and math are the fields of this century, but so are the arts, social sciences, music, physical education, and through all of them literacy and literature. We are paying attention to it all.
We must also pay attention to human nature, in our students, in our faculty, staff, and in ourselves. Yet, we may be running headlong into the current changes in education without consideration for the personalities of those adults with whom we work, and the children in their classrooms. Not to say this is done because we don’t care, or we don’t have time, maybe it is simply a matter of not knowing. So let’s take a look at the realities for introverts and extroverts for a moment, if only to open our minds to another consideration - one that may affect the outcome of all of the changes we are working toward.
Introvert. Extrovert. Immediately as those words are read, it is highly likely the reader has associations that color their meaning. Most think of introverts as shy and withdrawn, and extroverts as happy and outgoing. In her book Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, says, “Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race” (p.2). Extroverts are admired. Susan Cain traces this back to the Greeks whose “oratory was an exalted skill, and to the Romans, for whom the worst possible punishment was banishment from the city, with its teeming social life"( pp. 29-10). We value extroverts. They have big personalities. We interpret their actions as outgoing, friendly, inviting, and interesting. Introverts are more quiet and introspective. Here is a summary of some of the comparisons made by Cain:
Energized by meeting new people, being is a large social situation
Need less stimulation, prefer a drink with a close friend, or reading a book
Make decisions quickly, are comfortable multi-tasking
Work slowly and deliberately
Add life to the party, assertive, dominant, in need of company. Not comfortable with solitude
May have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while need their solitude.
Think out loud
Listen more than they speak
Comfortable with conflict
Tackle problems quickly
Work more slowly and deliberately
Cain explains “A few things introverts are not: “The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly...Nor are introverts necessarily shy...” (p. 12).
Cain’s work caused us to pause and think about our classrooms and faculty meetings. We raise some questions. As we ask teachers to open their doors and share their work, and create problem and project based learning experiences for our students, are we thinking about the potential for a new gap being created? Or will this shift solve a gap that we didn’t even think about before? Will we be creating environments in which extroverts flourish and introverts flounder or is that where we have been? We live in a society in which extroverts are celebrated and admired. So if we don’t confront that bias in ourselves, and come to understand these differences and how they influence our interactions, we may not be prepared to create safe environments where all people, big and small, realize their fullest potential and make their fullest contributions.
What does it take for a typical introvert to begin sharing their thoughts and their work with their colleagues? Have you ever noticed the student who never raised her or his hand but always knew the answer when called upon? Haven’t you wondered why the teacher who has the most to offer is so silent in a contentious meeting? We need to consider how it will feel for a child, whose personality is rooted in introversion, to have to solve a problem with a group of children, some of whom are “out loud” thinkers, or who think faster than she. Is it there, in those interactions, that the extrovert will finally realize all that the introvert has to offer? What do we have to know and be able to do with our selves, our faculty, staff, and our students, in order to purposefully create the environment in which both introvert and extrovert can share and benefit from each new experience?
The properties of 21st century learning most certainly embrace the skills for collective thought. The polarities of our opinions are strong. The requirements for people to be able to work together to solve problems are heightened. In our schools, we can impact the way introverts and extroverts develop as teammates and grow into young adults. Perhaps, we will even learn how to leave a bit of silence that invites those who think before they speak into the conversation. That simple change might really be transforming.
Cain, Susan. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. New York: Crown Publishers
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.