An interesting exchange on Twitter today made me think about whether schools are set up to favour introverts or extroverts. First, it’s important to be clear exactly what is meant by introvert and extrovert. It’s nothing to do with how shy, or compliant you are, as many people assume. The following infographic, created by Officevibe helps to describe some of the key differences. Of course, people are more complex than this simple description allows for, and some people are fairly evenly balanced between the two. But it can help us to identify some broad generalisations and what implications these might have for the classroom. (And in the interests full disclosure, I’m an introvert).
At first glance, it can seem like schools might be set up to favour introverts. After all, if you like talking and you’re easily distracted, you might end up in more trouble than someone who can focus for longer periods and maybe doesn’t talk as much.
But think about what else happens in schools. The children have been working hard all morning and are now sent out to lunch. For extroverts, who recharge their batteries by being social, it’s perfect. But for introverts, who would prefer some time alone to recharge, a big playground or noisy dining hall, where lots of social interaction is required, can leave them feeling even more drained. And if they try to carve out some space, or don’t want to play with a big group, other children often view them as being antisocial, boring or a bit snobby. It’s another level of social interaction to navigate, adding to the effort required to survive it.
Now imagine the children are back in a lesson. If you love getting attention and don’t mind speaking up, you will have no problem letting the teacher know when you ‘don’t get it,’ as some of my extrovert children happily proclaim! But if you don’t necessarily enjoy speaking in front of a big group, then you’re less likely to call attention to yourself by announcing that you don’t understand. You’re much more likely to quietly copy from your neighbour, which feels more comfortable emotionally, but isn’t so great for your learning. (Trust me, I was that child!) Furthermore, if you generally wait to share ideas until you’re asked, you’re much more reliant on the teacher to notice you. And any teacher who is honest will acknowledge that there can be those quiet, ‘middley’ children who are frustrating because they just won’t ‘speak up’ and always seem to get lost in amongst the classroom fray. Of course, once you’re experienced, you know to look out for this, and to compensate accordingly. You know to seek those children out, ask them if they need help, or if they had a good playtime, because you know they won’t volunteer that information. But the very fact you have to do this at all shows that perhaps the classroom is not so biased towards introverts as it may seem.
So what’s the best way forward for schools?
I believe it’s important to be aware that children have different ways of interacting with the world, and that this is okay. Neither introvert or extrovert is better, but introverts can be more in danger of being overlooked. To ensure the needs of all the children are met, teachers need to reflect on their own practice and be prepared to use a range of different strategies. In my class, for example, we have had the seating in rows, in groups, with carpet space, with no carpet space, depending on the needs of the children at the time. Sometimes we work in teams, sometimes in pairs and sometimes individually. Sometimes we’re silent and sometimes we’re not. It also helps that I have good leadership who trust me to make professional decisions in the best interests of my children rather than imposing their own way. In fact, my Head has helped me rearrange my tables on several occasions!
Another thing we have done is to make provision for children who find lunchtimes more challenging. So there are lunchtime clubs, toys to play with in smaller groups or on your own and even little tents to escape into! This was done with our ASC children in mind, but works well for introverts too. And for the extroverts, there are lots of big games and opportunities to socialise as well!
So as teachers, we need to stay flexible and open to doing things in different ways, making sure that we’re providing for those who don’t demand our attention, as much as those who do.
For more information:
Find out if you’re in introvert or extrovert here.
For more about the brain science behind introverts and extroverts, start here.