If you’ve ever met me in person, this might catch you by surprise: I am an introvert.
That doesn’t mean I can’t stand in front of a group of people and deliver a good presentation. That also doesn’t mean that I can’t be playful and loud and gregarious. In fact, I’m pretty good at all of that stuff. Gimme an audience and a microphone and I’ll make someone laugh, that’s for sure. Need proof? Then ask me to sing The Canadian National Anthem or the Devil Went Down to Georgia someday. I’ll belt both out at the top of my lungs no matter where we happen to be standing.
But I learn best when I’m lost in my own thoughts.
Writing and reading aren’t just personal passions — they are the moments in my life when I’m left alone to reflect and recharge. Stop by the booth in the back of the dirty McDonalds where I spend entirely too much time and I’ll nod and smile from behind my screen, but please don’t sit down and start a conversation with me. It will feel like an interruption to me — and interruptions destroy my intellectual flow. That might come across as selfish, but it is the truth.
Now, I’m not saying that I CAN’T learn with others.
I actually dig moments where I can connect with thinkers that I enjoy and admire. I recognize their expertise and appreciate their feedback. They are a source of challenge and inspiration and they tend to drive my thinking in new directions. But those moments can also leave me feeling more than a little overwhelmed — not because I’m socially awkward or nervous or full of anxiety, but because I know that I will leave with tons of new ideas that I know that I’ll need to wrestle with before I can move forward.
What’s interesting about all of this to me is that despite seeing myself as an introvert, I’m pretty sure that my classroom prioritizes extroverts. There are constant opportunities for checking in with partners. Group conversations are the norm rather than the exception to the rule. Projects are always done in pairs — and they happen all the time. My lessons are fast-paced and full of energy and there’s few moments set aside for genuine introspection.
A part of that is my response to implicit suggestions that being “college and career ready” means being extroverted. Read through research and you are likely to see report after report about the importance of teamwork in the modern workplace. Rumor has it that companies aren’t looking for folks who learn best when they are buried inside their own minds. Instead, they are looking for folks who can collaborate on complex problems — driving innovation by building on and challenging the ideas of one another.
A part of that is my response to the notion that I’m trying to reach “the connected generation.” Sometimes I feel like I am competing with a thousand sources of enertainment that rest a few clicks away for today’s kids. If every lesson isn’t filled with heaping doses of whiz-bang, I figure I’m going to lose an audience that has learned to hit the reset button the moment something doesn’t go their way. Pauses are interruptions to the impatient, aren’t they?
And a part of that is my response to trying to teach a ridiculous curriculum. With a thousand objectives to get through in 180 days, I pack action into every moment of every single school day. That’s not because I don’t see any value in sitting with thoughts. Heck — I’m sitting with my own thoughts right now. It’s because I feel a very real pressure to cover everything that’s mentioned in North Carolina’s science standards — and that turns every school year into a full court press.
That’s all a failure for some of my students, isn’t it?
Michael Godsey — author of When Schools Overlook Introverts — certainly thinks so. He writes:
It seems that such efforts have, for the most part, struggled to effect much change in the educational world. The way in which certain instructional trends—education buzzwords like “collaborative learning” and “project-based learning” and “flipped classrooms”—are applied often neglect the needs of introverts.
In fact, these trends could mean that classroom environments that embrace extroverted behavior—through dynamic and social learning activities—are being promoted now more than ever. These can be appealing qualities in the classroom, of course, but overemphasizing them can undermine the learning of students who are inward-thinking and easily drained by constant interactions with others.
He also writes:
I used to think their ubiquitous earbuds were feeding their need for stimulation; now I wonder if they’re sometimes blocking out the noise.
So what’s the solution?
I’m not sure. The simple truth is that finding space for introspection in days that are straight slammed and in schools that prioritize action over reflection won’t be easy to do. But I can promise to stop judging the “quiet kids” in my classroom. Intead of seeing them as disengaged, I’m going to force myself to remember that learning doesn’t have to be loud and messy to be meaningful.