Engaging introverts is a struggle in many classrooms, but these students have so much to offer their teachers, peers, and themselves.
In her TED talk on the power of introverts, Susan Cain recounts some of her personal stories growing up as an introvert in world that seems to favor extroverts.
“…I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert. And I always sensed deep down that this was wrong and that introverts were pretty excellent just as they were… Now this is what many introverts do, and it’s our loss for sure, but it is also our colleagues’ loss and our communities’ loss. And at the risk of sounding grandiose, it is the world’s loss. Because when it comes to creativity and to leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best.”
As a teacher, your job is to help every student do what they do best. While it might take increased awareness and more effort at times, your classroom has the potential to be a nurturing environment for every type of student – introverts and extroverts alike.
1. Know the difference.
Before making a plan to start engaging introverts, it is important to understand the definition of introversion. Introverts gain energy from being alone while extroverts gain energy form being with others. It is possible for an introvert to be very outgoing and social and for an extrovert to be shy. The labels define energy sources, not personality types.
2. Speak positively.
Being an introvert can often come with a stigma attached to it, so it is important that your voice is one of encouragement and approval. An introvert should never feel ashamed or less than their peers because of the way they interact with others or themselves. As Susan Cain mentions in her talk, many introverts feel the need to change who they are or force themselves to be more extroverted. Remind your students that there aren’t better or worse learning styles, and show them that there is a place for everyone in your classroom.
3. Keep them out of the spotlight.
In the Psychology Today article “Nine Signs You’re Really an Introvert,” the author mentions the desire to stay out of the center of attention. Calling on introverted students at random or making them go first in a group discussion or project can be stressful and limit their full potential in participating. It is not that introverts don’t have anything to offer or aren’t as intelligent, they just don’t enjoy being the center of attention in most cases. This doesn’t mean they should be participating less or doing less work than their peers, but give them space to answer questions on their own.
4. Give them time.
Introverts often need more time to process and think. While a school schedule doesn’t always allow for extra time, consider including more free time during your lessons to begin engaging introverts. Instead of lecturing the whole time or letting group discussions take up the entire day, allow your student to have time to tinker and think creatively. Introverts and extroverts will benefit from the space and time to work independently and explore.
5. Use social media and digital tools.
Going along with the need for time and space to process and the desire to stay out of the center of attention, social media can be a helpful tool for introverts to participate at their own pace. Use online forums and discussion posts to get feedback from your students without the pressure of raising hands or being called on. This can also be a way to incorporate extroverts while engaging introverts: social media inherently involves others but can also be used in solitude – making it the perfect tool for all learning styles.
Engaging introverts can be a difficult task at times, but can yield incredible results. Our society often favors extroverts and makes space for them to thrive, while neglecting the potential of introverts. As you plan content and think about your classroom, remember the potential and power of introverts.