The Power of Introverts

[This post originally featured on He’s the Weird Teacher blog, as part of the #WeirdEd chat on 10/5/16. Here’s the chat storify.]

Trends in education focus on buzzword categories of students: English Learners, special education, homeless/foster youth, gifted, etc. If we’re not analyzing data, then we’re busy talking about getting students to collaborate and work together more. What happens when a student doesn’t prefer to work with a group? What happens when a student is an introvert?

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, discusses how western culture has made a shift from the “culture of character” to the “culture of personality” where extroversion is dominant, and introversion is considered inferior. She names this the Extrovert Ideal, defined as “the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight.” These are the values we intentionally and unintentionally translate to our classrooms, schools, and workplaces.

The biggest misconception about introverts is they have less to say. In reality, the major difference between introverts and extroverts is that extroverts prefer to process the world externally via social interactions, while introverts process the world internally via quiet thinking. Introverts have just as much to say as extroverts, but won’t readily speak it out loud.

In social situations, there may be extroverts who will not wait for others to speak, and overpower the quieter voices. We call these steamrollers. In any sort of collaborative grouping, an overpowering person can be dangerous for the group’s process and rapport. Helping these extroverts identify when they tend to steamroll is just as important as empowering the introverts to advocate for their own needs.

Many introverts, such as myself, can be “functional extroverts” for short periods of time. If you’ve met me in real life, you might not automatically know I’m an introvert–especially if I’m at an edtech conference. However, after I get home, I need plenty of time to decompress. This is a learned skill that took time to develop.

In our classrooms, we value students who are collaborative and vocal. It seems that we’re condemned as “bad teachers” (gasp) if we don’t have our students constantly working together. After auditing my own classroom, I see how many of my lessons that the voices of my extroverts, and leave my introverts quiet and alone. I’ve been more intentional to build in opportunities for both introverts and extroverts to shine.

So with this being said, how do we provide our introverts with an authentic voice in our classroom and world?

PS. Not sure where you lie on the introvert-extrovert continuum? Take this free Myers-Briggs Type Indicator quiz to find out.

8 thoughts on “The Power of Introverts”

  1. I'm with you–a “functional extrovert”–I recharge my batteries alone or with 1 or 2 others. Large groups suck my energy! So, yes, how DO we redefine what we value in our classes? Modeling is a place to start. Giving language to these different ways of engaging and being.


  2. I saw bits of this popping up on my twitter feed during the #WeirdEd chat, but I have been thrilled to see some of my more introverted students interacting consistently on Google Classroom. I'm always looking for new ideas to get students – extroverts and introverts alike – connected!


  3. Mari, I love the way you wrote this up. As educators, it's vital that we acknowledge and value all personality types. In the past, extroverts tended to be more valued in class, but now with technology, introverts are provided a space for their voices to be heard. As an extrovert, I have to slow down and be intentional about listening. Thank you for placing this important topic in our minds.


  4. That book was very transformational for me. I had a lot of a-ha's in reading it! I hear you with the functional extrovert thing! This is me to a T…and yes I agree, the skill was hard won. I'm an INFJ on the Meyer's Briggs.


  5. Such an important question Mari. Although I think giving students opportunities to work in groups is important for developing different skills it does lead to a problem. How do we support introverts who feel overwhelmed by a group? Maybe by giving them the option of working with one other person rather than a larger group. I also think tech helps – collaborating online rather than in person can be less stressful. And when holding class discussions strategies like think, pair, share, and the use of post-it notes can give introverts the space they need to contribute. I'm also a functional extrovert, but even so, it's easy for me to forget how draining the hustle-bustle of a classroom can be for some students. Thank you for reminding us.


  6. Thanks for this post, Mari. I too am a functional extrovert. Susan Cain's book was so affirming for me, helping me to embrace who I am, rather than accepting the guilt our extrovert-heavy society tends to place upon us. We need to get the word out for the benefit of introverts everywhere; especially those in our classrooms. I ran a fairly active, noisy classroom, which I think benefited the majority of my students. But after reading Cain's book, I was reminded to seek a little more balance for the sake of my young fellow introverts. In doing so, I believe I also added value for the more extroverted students as well; balance is a good thing. Late in my career I also became a big fan of making time for student reflection pieces at the conclusion of key lessons/activities. These quiet times are so useful for solidifying learning, as well as allowing the introverts to flourish and the extroverts to be stretched in an important area.


  7. Using tech like Padlet, TodaysMeet, or Verso can open up group discussions without necessarily forcing introverts into face to face conversations with their classmates.


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