Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Being an Introvert in an Education System Built for Extroverts


I recently read Susan Cain's book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking and felt like I finally understood myself. I had always thought that I was an extrovert. I love public speaking. I'm always the first on the dance floor. I'm not at all shy in front of a camera and will happily post videos of myself on the internet. Clearly an extrovert, right? Well it turns out I was wrong. Let me explain why.

Introversion and extroversion are not about being shy and being outgoing. They are about where you get your energy from. An introvert recharges their batteries by spending time alone, in an environment with little external stimulation. Their batteries get drained by being around lots of people, with lots of external stimulation. For extroverts, it's the other way round.

I love public speaking, but that's because I'm standing by myself on a stage, not interacting with people. I'm always the first on the dance floor, because that's when it's at its emptiest and I can dance as a means of escaping social interactions. I always leave the dance floor when it becomes too crowded. I'm not shy in front of a camera, because I'm alone, and I'm sort of just talking to myself. Posting it on the internet doesn't bother me, because I don't have to be around people in real life. I don't mind attention (in fact I love it), I just don't like being physically surrounded by lots of people in a loud, stimulating environment.

Realising I was an introvert made me understand myself a lot better. It made me realise that I need a certain amount of alone time everyday in order to recharge my batteries. My job is not particularly well-suited to introverts; I spend most of my working day surrounded by 30 hyperactive children. That's why I walk to and from school everyday: that 40 minutes of quiet reflection helps me recharge my depleted energy stores.

Unfortunately for me, the way our society is built favours extroverts. That's because those in positions of power are quite obviously more likely to be extroverts. Managers and leaders are more likely to be extroverts, but that's not because extroverts make better managers, they're just more likely to apply for the job, perform well in the interview, and enjoy many of the aspects of the job.

But this is a blog about teaching and learning, not office politics, so let me get to the point. Our education system favours extroverted students. Here's why:


  • Students are taught in groups, usually between 10 and 35 students in each group. Thus students spend the majority of their day surrounded by a crowd.
  • Group work is encouraged, and is seen as good pedagogy. Students get told off for not contributing.
  • Students who put their hands up to answer questions are the ones who receive the most teacher attention. They also receive the most praise.
  • Classrooms are designed to be visually stimulating, with brightly coloured, busy wall displays and fluorescent lights.
  • At lunchtime and break time, students do not generally have the option of seeking out a quiet spot they can call their own. In most schools, they either have to sit in the canteen or go out to the playground. Both of which are crowded and noisy. 
  • The new "thing" in education is using technology to make every aspect of the lesson "interactive". Some of us don't like interacting. 
  • Most of the new teaching techniques I've been introduced to during teaching and learning meetings at my school seem to cater to extroverts: speed dating, relays, walking talking mocks, hot seating, role playing... Maybe teaching and learning leaders in schools are more likely to be extroverts themselves?


In my next post, I will talk about how we can redress the balance a little by using techniques that can support introverted students.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert and do you think it affected your education at all? Do you disagree that our school system favours extroverts? Let me know in the comments.

Emma x x x

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