Today, as I was taking my weekly browse around the Chapters website in search of more books for my ever-growing collection of engaging novels and information, I happened upon a rather intriguing title: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. As surprising as it may to some people I know, I am, in fact, an introvert myself, and wanted to learn more about this book and this author.
It took me many years to come to an understanding of my own personality and realize that my so-called “shyness” and aversion for being in large groups, being forced to do group projects, and generally be amidst a lot of people was not really shyness at all, but rather introversion. As a kid I loved sitting in my room and working on art or craft projects, spending hours tediously fine-tuning rather insignificant school projects, and reading books. I disliked being the center of attention or having to collaborate with classmates, but was often just told I was shy and I would grow out of it. As a result, I did not speak my mind in class and felt awkward when I had to work on group projects, though I still was able to obtain very good marks in school. Needless to say, I did not grow out of this, and many of these traits have remained with me, though they may come through in slightly different ways as I have learned to work with them and have learned how to interact with the seemingly extroverted world.
In re-visiting these ideas and memories about introversion it made me wonder what teachers think about introverted students in classrooms today. Does technology have an influence in this aspect of the classroom also? Is technology creating more introverts? Is that even possible?
Susan Cain, the author of the book also hosted a TED Talk on introversion, and I found it quite enlightening. She speaks about how introverts are not just shy, but do not seek the stimulation of busy social environments. They do best when they can find solitude to be with their own thoughts and ideas. This is not to say that introverts prefer to sit in a little room forever, but just that the type of stimulation they require is different from extroverts. This certainly rings true for me, as I prefer to work at my own desk in my home even over a large table in a library where there are other people around. Even though a library is quiet, there are still often other people mingling about, putting their own energy into the space. If this is how I still feel as an adult, how does that impact children in the classroom where there can be an additional 30 people moving and shifting around?
I found several articles about the topic and started reading.
Most articles that I read discouraged the idea that introverts are just shy, and noted that introverted students often seek someone to talk to, but may not know how. Some suggested strategies like placing an introverted child’s desk near the edge of the class or providing cozy reading nooks or using technology to aid in student responses. One post talked about how an introverted teacher had to leave her job because it was just too much, yet another gave some ideas for how introverted teachers can thrive in a classroom.
Some articles led me to consider the Myers-Briggs personality model. I recall doing this with a counsellor before I got married, and was categorized as an INFJ. I found a free version of this test, and took it again, and I got the exact same result. Here’s a little bit of what it said about me:
“The INFJ personality type is very rare, making up less than one percent of the population, but they nonetheless leave their mark on the world. As Diplomats (NF), they have an inborn sense of idealism and morality, but what sets them apart is the accompanying Judging (J) trait – INFJs are not idle dreamers, but people capable of taking concrete steps to realize their goals and make a lasting positive impact. INFJs tend to see helping others as their purpose in life, but while people with this personality type can be found engaging rescue efforts and doing charity work, their real passion is to get to the heart of the issue so that people need not be rescued at all. INFJs indeed share a very unique combination of traits: though soft-spoken, they have very strong opinions and will fight tirelessly for an idea they believe in. They are decisive and strong-willed, but will rarely use that energy for personal gain – INFJs will act with creativity, imagination, conviction and sensitivity not to create advantage, but to create balance.”
I thought that was a really interesting view on my personality, and actually a fairly accurate one. While being very much an introvert I often appear to be an extrovert as I enjoy working towards goals and fighting for what I believe in. I do all of this always with an end goal in mind though, often for the benefit of the gymnasts I coach or my family.
But how will this impact and influence my role as a teacher, and how does technology impact or affect these differing personality types?
In the last few years there has been a lot of hype around extroverts and introverts on the internet. For a while I can recall there being something on my Facebook feed every week with an article, quiz, or meme post about introverts or extroverts. In many ways I think that all this talk aided the introverts in just making their personality type more understood, but it also sort of commercialized the idea of being a “nerd” by making book-lovers cool, but also anyone who was overly zealous about any particular subject. There are websites like Think Geek that capitalize on this, and yes I’ve shopped on them because they have some cool stuff that my husband loves. But is my husband an introverted nerd? Well, no, not really. In fact, he’s probably what any person or test would classify as an extrovert. So what’s the big deal with defining these personalities? Well, I found this fun video:
I like that the video examines ties to technology, but it didn’t address one aspect that I repeatedly saw in some articles I read. While it suggested that some see introverts as being either sided with technology as they may be participants in its creation and continued evolution, and others on the opposite side of it with more thoughts and ideas, it neglected to speak about how many introverts can sometimes find a “safe place” on the internet to express their thoughts without the draining social interaction required of “real life” interactions. One article suggests that the internet and technology is, in fact, creating more introverts by providing outlets to do pretty much everything online and requiring people to post about their lives in order to verify that it actually happened. I’m sure that most people have heard or even used the term “Facebook official,” and we’ve all surely walked into a waiting room of people sitting side by side engaged only in the screen in front of them, but does that mean everyone is just anti-social and introverted? Another article (by the same Susan Cain, author of “Quiet.” who was referenced in many of the previous articles) suggests that these little screens truly allow introverts to speak out in a comfortable way.
In the end, it’s all about balance and recognition that not only are there different learning styles within a classroom, but different personalities too. I think that technology opens up a wide variety of ways to interact and engage with students in ways that are most comfortable for them. Apps like ClassKick, which I’ve spoken about before, provide students the opportunity to work alone, yet allow student collaboration in a safe setting. Google apps like Classroom and Drive also provide this opportunity for group collaboration on a single project. As teachers we must realize that some students will love living in the spotlight or working as big teams to create projects, but others will prefer to do solo work, and it is our job to find a balance and support the needs and learning opportunities of all students. Extroverts need to learn how to work on solo thoughts, and introverts need to be introduced to teamwork, but neither should feel like they are being told that they have to conform.
As a teacher, I hope that I can use my special introverted traits to the advantage of my teaching style and my students’ learning. I trust that I will be able to understand the struggles of the introvert, but also give the extroverts the attention and support that they need also. I realize that the stimulation level of the classroom may be high at times, but am looking forward to discovering ways to survive and find balance in my teaching style that can also aid my own needs for those quiet times. While the internet may have made being an introvert hip and trendy, I know that I am not just following a trend here. I have always been this way, but it has only been in the last five years or so that I have truly come to accept this and be content with my own being. I hope to continue along this path and use my introverted ways for the good of others in my teaching career.
So what kind of personality are you? How will you work with both introverted and extroverted students in your classroom? And bottom line, what will your message be to students about embracing who they are?