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Introverts Unite!

22/05/14

Emma is a Teaching Assistant who works for Protocol Education in Wolverhampton. Have you considered extroverted and introverted learners in your classroom. In her latest blog Emma discusses the introvert. 

Introverts Unite! -separately.

"I was born in a forest, but feel overwhelmed by all the trees".  I found this quote online.  It perfectly sums me up.  I am an introvert in an extrovert world and it is challenging and can be overwhelming.  For many years I thought there was something wrong with me.  School reports would often begin with "Emma is a quiet child". Teachers would tell my parents that although academically I'm flourishing, socially I was lacking.  I was never the popular child, I had one or two very close friends, right up until I let the pressure to conform get to me and forced myself to open up.  Then I made friends with the "misfits", the bullied, the poorer students, the bright students who, like me just didn't fit in. 

I always found it difficult to work collaboratively and to feedback to large groups. It wasn't because I didn't have any creative or unique ideas, I had those in abundance, it was because I was an introvert.  I still am and proud of it too.  Introverts have very rich, deep inner worlds and what comes out of their mouths is but a small percentage of what's inside their heads. But, the education system is geared up to the extrovert majority; with large classes, emphasis on verbal communication and group work and pressures to fit in and make friends.  And that didn't work well for me.  Give me an essay to write, locked away in my room with no one to disturb me and I'd give you a top graded paper.  Ask me to work with others though and my creativity was dampened.  It's not that I don't like other people, or that I think their ideas are better, it's that I just don't function that way and that's ok.

I suppose with my introvert tendencies it seems odd that I went into the education profession (spending several years teaching).  As an NQT I once had to take an assembly.  The 200 or so pairs of young eyes fixed on my every word didn't faze me one bit, it was the two pairs of adult eyes on the sides that really scared me! One thing introverts don't take well is criticism. If you've ever had a quiet child burst into tears because you've suggested 'improvements' to their work then you'd understand. As it turned out my one and only assembly was a great success.

So, what is the difference between an introvert and an extrovert? For starters, let me point out that it's not a case of extrovert good, introvert bad. Society needs a balance of the two. Being introverted isn't the same as being simply shy or socially awkward, while extroversion isn't the same as being loud and opinionated.  In its simplest form introverts gain their energy from inside and extroverts from outside.  Introverts have deep thoughts and think before they speak, sometimes even practicing what they want to say before they say it.  Extroverts confidently share whatever is on their minds.  Introverts have deep and meaningful friendships with just one or two people.  Extroverts have many friends and enjoy social gatherings. Introverts relish in deep and meaningful conversations and find small talk to be draining.  Extroverts relish in making small talk and will happily strike up conversations to avoid silence.

As an introvert a trip to the hairdressers is emotionally taxing. It begins with a phone call to a stranger whom I can't see.  Introverts are more comfortable with written communication and using observational skills to read others with face to face contact.  Then there's the small talk.  Just once I'd like a hair dresser to ask "so, what are your opinions on the current crisis in.." rather than "are you going anywhere nice on your holidays?" Introverts can talk with great enthusiasm about topics of interest, when given that chance.

In the classroom the introverts will be the ones you suspect are harbouring some fantastic insights, but frustratingly when given the chance to speak will pass.  But trying to force an introvert into being an extrovert is like forcing a square peg into a round hole. Instead of forcing change, embrace the difference. When planning group work please consider your introvert children!

  • Put them in smaller groups with close friends. 
  • Give them different methods to feed back with, could they write it down? Or tell an extrovert who can share for them? 
  • Give them the support they need to gently find their introvert voice in an extrovert class.  Introverts think before they speak so please do not put them on the spot, they may well know the answer, but if they weren't expecting to be asked they will need time to think about what to say.  Introverts concentrate deeply on subjects that interest them; use this to your advantage when planning projects and watch them blossom. I promise, it will be a wonder to behold, these children have so very much to give.

And remember this; silent people have the loudest minds!

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