I am an introvert. I’m not shocked by this realization. It’s been a lifelong piece of my being. But, it’s interesting that when I reveal this fact to others I get a wide spectrum of responses from “No way” to “well yeah, duh”. Being an introvert is something that I’ve always known about myself but no one had ever explained to me how it impacts my personality, work, raising my two boys, interacting with my wife, and relaxing. It took reading Susan Cain’s Quiet last summer for all the unrelated memories, feelings, and episodes of my life to suddenly fit together in a harmonious whole. All parts of my being made sense. So while the immediacy of this realization for me was obvious, the application of Susan Cain’s findings took me a while to apply to my work, teaching.
To begin the process of applying these findings to my work I reflected on my experiences in the classroom as a student and teacher. As a student, group and partner work was excruciating to me. I dreaded having to rely on others to construct my learning. In my universe of experience, learning was an individual process that required me to think, imagine, propose, critique, and revise in my own head. I wasn’t ready to work or “learn” with other students until I had sufficient time to work through all of this on my own first. But typically, that wasn’t what happened when we were asked to “collaborate”. That process looked like a group of students receiving an assignment, pulling their desk into a circle, and figuring out what we “have” to do. The group work wasn’t engineered in such a way to guide the group through the process I mentioned above, but instead it became an exercise of divide and conquer. If the assignment had 4 parts and there were 4 people in the group, then each would just complete that one part. These types of assignments didn’t allow me to understand how everything fit together and didn’t focus on the introvert learning process because the goal of the assignment wasn’t learning, but was instead completion.
Fast forwarding to where I am now, the instruction I facilitated for students was primarily developed subconsciously to fit the learning process that suited my introverted nature. I probably neglected the extroverts in the room and allowing them to talk through with others the learning process that they needed. When I work with teachers as an Instructional Coach and attend many, many professional developments, I see the value placed on the extroverted learning process of talking, group work, and presentations dominate the professional learning landscape. I was falling into this pattern even when I facilitated professional learning for educators. Susan Cain’s work allowed me to see that wasn’t a best practice. It forced me to blend in the needs of the introverts in the room to my professional learning opportunities. I built in dedicated reflection time. I require several minutes of silence before groups are allowed to talk. I try to do a variety of experiences that are both individual but also require group dynamics to build upon the individual’s experience.
What’s most important about this work, and exciting to me, is that teachers also need these types of experiences modeled for them so that they may also deconstruct their own learning preferences in order to build instruction that meets the needs of all students, introverts, ambiverts, and extroverts. It’s extremely difficult to build experiences for learners that learn differently than you do. Realizing that very fact is also difficult, but it’s a start. As this introvert works through the pitfalls and valleys of professional learning that will impact student achievement, I welcome the feedback about this topic. If you are interested in more of Susan Cain’s work, check out her TedTalk about this issue. As always, thanks for reading and follow us at @kastidham (Kelly) and me @the_explicator.