Voices for Introverts: A 1:1 Success

Being an introvert is not a bad thing.  Recently there is a wave of writing discussing how schools are failing to meet the needs of introverts by creating classrooms that demand that students become extroverts in order to succeed.

These are the student who will share a great idea with you privately after class when the crowd has dissipated.  These are the students who write the most amazing and insightful papers but during debates keep that insight to themselves.  I have spent my entire career trying to find ways to make them feel comfortable enough to risk sharing in my class.   In reality I have never found a way to hear from regularly.  So they sit silently, all of their talents and gifts, their thoughts and ideas, present but unheard.

from "Calvin and Hobbes" by Bill Watterson
from “Calvin and Hobbes” by Bill Watterson

Today, if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them.

One student, who I will call Ellis, (pseudonym) has never once voluntarily spoken in my class.  Were this another year I would think that she had nothing to say. I would not even have pegged her as someone who is interested in politics, but because my class used a Today’s Meet room to discuss the Presidential debates I got to hear her share opinions and interact with her classmates.  With electronic communication a person has the chance to see their words in writing before they share them. They can hone their thoughts more effectively then when put on the spot in class.  And share she did, more effectively than any other student who joined the chat that night.

Unfortunately she is not in a 1:1 class.  It is hard to replicate that moment and the conditions that let her find her voice and support her convictions.

If I take a good look at my 1:1 classes I can name many students who I would call leaders. Some are extroverts but more than a few are like Ellis; intelligent and inspiring introverts who under the right conditions have something to offer to the whole class.  They raise questions about films and leave me stunned with their thoughtful advice to classmates on blogs.  I can think back to past students who could have offered similar contributions, but lacked the tools and opportunities to do so. They had voices too.

You probably know a student like Ellis. Can you give them a voice? Can you help them speak louder or let more people hear them? We should strive to raise their voices above a whisper.

13 thoughts on “Voices for Introverts: A 1:1 Success

  1. I am an introvert. I sometimes have trouble speaking up in a group setting. For a start I have a soft voice, and people oftne just can’t hear me so it gets frustrating. Sometimes I don’t speak up because the conversation moves quickly and it takes a few moments for me to pull my thoughts together. Sometimes it is because I don’t really like everyone looking at me. It might help to tell the class what you will be discussing next week so the interovert can read up on it and be prepared. Put a suggestion box in the class and allow students to comment anonymously. Then allow a period at the beginning of each class to go over those comments. Stop students from punishing or mocking those who do speak up. I remember as a kid if I made a comment there would always be this little mocking voice in the background making fun of what I had said. This is quite discouraging. Did the teacher even hear that from the front of the class? Try sitting in the centre of the students to be more aware of what they are experiencing.
    I remember a local politician once came to our school. He was talking about the environment and he wanted our ideas. He started off by saying, and insisting, that there were no BAD ideas. All our ideas were valid. I found that very inspiring.


  2. Reblogged this on mpnENGAGED and commented:
    Love this. ” ” if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them. “


  3. Thank you so much for writing this. You articulated so well my own experiences as an introvert attending school. Your students are so lucky to have such a kind, insightful teacher. Giving a voice to introverts is my life’s work (I coach introverted professionals how to develop and use their own unique voices) because adult introverts want and need to be heard too.

    The good news is that there is a real momentum about educating the masses about introversion thanks to wonderful writers like Susan Cain, author of Quiet, The Power of Introverts and Martin Laney Olsen, author of The Introvert Advantage. We still have a ways to go but I am encouraged.

    What you touched on is so deeply important. You created connection with your introverted student. This is an investment in her that will reap tremendous benefits for her. I sure wish I had someone like you as a teacher when I was growing up. 🙂

    Thank you for the work you do.


  4. My early career was with Bell Laboratories, a bastion of brilliant introverts. Over time I found introverts, can learn to speak confidently before large groups, and often times what they share is thoughtful and insightful. Extroverts gain energy from the crowd, not so introverts, but they can have a voice.I remember one colleague telling me how draining it was to teach a class. I’m often surprised by my second son who is quite shy, but powerful in email. Like all things, practice makes perfect.


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