Primary Musings

thoughts of an every day teacher

Do schools favour introverts?

4 Comments

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).

The Key Differences Between Introverts And Extroverts

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.

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4 thoughts on “Do schools favour introverts?

  1. Very interesting! And far more illuminating than suggesting it’s a social/antisocial thing. I’d add an introvert skill of being able to stand back and see the bigger picture!

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    • Thanks! And yes, there’s a lot more nuance to people’s personalities than I had space to go into here. I find the whole Myers Briggs thing really helpful and interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Its a really interesting perspective. But one that really doesn’t take into account that difficulties faced by so called extroverted children in schools. I’ll try to blog . But in essence

    Lessons require you to be quiet – or put up your hand. If you are keen, you get told off for putting up your hand too much or struggling not to cal out. Often lesson do not require children to put up their hands – as teachers know that this favours some children – so you lose your chance to be involved.

    Out of a 6.5 hr school day less than an hour is for break or play. the other 5+ hours require you not to talk to anyone – unless within a tightly controlled framework. group work, paired work is all but disappearing from our classrooms, especially in secondary schools. the school day now consists of mainly individual listening, writing, responding when asked – opportunity to collaborate is minimised as this is more difficult for teachers to manage, especially with the increased knowledge load of the curriculum.

    And the chances are if your are really extroverted and got into trouble, that you will lose some of your break / lunch as punishment. the school day is very difficult to navigate for these children. The social rules of engagement and the social rejection by introverts can be very hurtful, making them feel like no-one likes them, that they are not clever or sensible enough enough to be part of the ‘club’. Lots of extrovert children wish dearly they could be like the quiet ones who just get on with it.

    5 hours of working in a way that goes against your nature and 1 hour of time to ‘run & shout’ is not remotely geared towards extrovert.

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    • I personally have never told off a child for putting up their hand too much, and I think not calling out and interrupting others is more to do with being polite rather than an introvert or extrovert trait. Kagan structures can work really well for helping everyone to feel engaged, as even though everyone can’t have the teacher’s attention all the time, they can at least discuss with their peers. I can’t speak for secondary schools as I have no expertise or experience with those, but I don’t think group work or paired work is disappearing from primary schools. My lessons often involve explaining things to a partner, retelling a story to someone, or discussing something as a group. But they also involve silence sometimes because all children need that sometimes, even extroverts.
      I’m sure any kind of social rejection can be hurtful, but this can happen for both groups of people. It’s very hurtful for introverts when people assume they are antisocial or snobby. I think you also have to be careful not to assume that the introverted kids are ‘clever’ and the extroverted kids aren’t. And if a child is getting into a lot of trouble, I would suggest that something else is going on rather than just extroversion as their personality trait. e.g. extroversion isn’t an excuse to be rude. Exuberance and enthusiasm are much less likely to be punished, in my experience.
      In terms of school, we can’t do everything in a way that suits one group all the time, so as I argued, I think we need a range of strategies so that we can hopefully do things in a way that suits most people at least some of the times.

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