Tuesday 4 April 2017

Why Introverted Teachers are Overlooked and Underrated

Teaching 30 students at a time, 4 or 5 hours a day, with your free time spent with the hustle and bustle of 2000 students in the near vicinity, can really drain an introvert's battery. Despite this, introverts make great teachers: they are excellent listeners and observers, so they can pick up on students' needs easily. When they plan lessons they think about the thinking that the students will be doing on the inside (and focus less on what activities the students will be doing on the outside). They think before they speak, so that explanations come out well-formed and carefully considered, instead of stream-of-consciousness style, that can be hard for students to follow.

Extroverts also make great teachers. They are enthusiastic, energised by large groups, good at expressing themselves, good at improvising and making stuff up on the spot (all teachers know how often that skill comes in handy), good at encouraging collaboration and discussion and they're more likely to take risks and make snappy decisions.

So both types of people make great teachers. I would argue, however, that extroverted teachers are seen as being better teachers by senior leaders and observers. I think introverted teachers probably get overlooked, are possibly underappreciated, and are less likely to be promoted to a teaching and learning responsibility. In the following paragraphs I will try to explain why. Please bear in mind that this is only based on my observations and experiences, and not on any real research.

When a teacher in your school stands up in front of all the other teachers in a teaching and learning meeting or hotspot or tweak of the week or whatever you call it at your school, what kind of T&L technique do they share? Chances are, it's something that appeals to extroverts. That's because that's the kind of thing that is easy to demonstrate in front of everyone. People demonstrate active learning activities, group work activities, ways of engaging students using competitions, ways of facilitating discussions, etc. I can only think of a handful of examples from whole-school T&L meetings that appeal to introverts, and that's after thinking long and hard about it. This bias means that we associate good T&L with extroversion.

How is teaching judged? Lesson observations. A member of the senior leadership team comes to a lesson, watches for half an hour, then decides how good the teaching is based on what they see. This is a flawed system for many reasons, but particularly relevant to this blog post is the fact that the observer can only really pick up on external signs of learning. Extroverted teachers tend to elicit external signs of learning. Introverted teachers tend not to. For example, an extroverted teacher may do more whole-class questioning, where students answer out loud or on mini whiteboards in front of the class (and hence, in front of the observer), whereas an introverted teacher may do more individual work where students complete a task in their books by themselves, with very skillful teacher questioning taking place on a one-to-one or two basis. The observer may not be able to see the very real and significant learning that is taking place within a student's mind as they work through a very carefully structured individual task. Therefore, the introverted teacher is rated lower than the extroverted teacher, even though the same amount of learning may be taking place. This leads to one of two things: either the introverted teacher gets poor lesson observation results every time, and they are passed over when it comes to teaching and learning responsibilities and promotions, or the introverted teacher is made to go and watch that amazing teacher who has all-singing all-dancing lessons and are told to try and use some of their techniques in future observations. The introvert may do this, but only when being observed, thus perpetuating the myth that good teaching must involve external signs of learning, and also making lesson observations particularly stressful for these teachers who are forced out of their comfort zone unnecessarily.

I would hazard a guess that at most schools the teaching and learning specialists are mostly extroverts. And I would also guess that when they get together to have teaching and learning meetings, the extroverts dominate the discussions (as extroverts tend to do). This again leads to a bias towards extroverted teaching.

The maths department at my school is not particularly well known within my school as having amazing teaching and learning. We don't do particularly well in lesson observations (compared to the rest of the school) and we are very under-represented in terms of T&L specialists (we have one in the maths department, compared to 4 in English). As a department, I reckon we probably have the most introverts. This kind of makes sense, as I think maths as a subject suits introverts (classic joke: how can you tell if a mathematician is an extrovert? He's looking at someone else's shoes). So if T&L is biased towards extroverts, then the maths department has suffered the most. We know we're good teachers because we get really good results. But maths teachers almost never do teaching and learning hotspots in front of the rest of the staff. Teachers rarely get directed towards maths teachers to go and watch good practice. Think of all the amazing teaching that is going on that is being overlooked and underappreciated.

So where are all the amazing introverted teachers? How can we encourage introverted teachers to share their amazing introverted teaching techniques? I don't actually know the answer to that. If you have any ideas, please let me know. I, personally, like to write about these things on my blog. In a blog, you can sit alone (not stand in front of a crowd), you can carefully consider your words (instead of having to speak on the spot) and if anyone questions you, this will be in the form of written comments, which you can address in your own time and space. Of course, not every introvert is like me, and not everyone would enjoy writing a blog. If I was in charge of T&L across a school, I would be tempted to split T&L meetings into two groups: introverts and extroverts. Let the extroverts talk about their speed dating and hot seating and relays, and let the introverts talk about metacognition and constructivism and individual tasks that lead to deep understanding. Of course, I'll never be in charge of T&L in any school, because I'm an introvert. Also because I always crack stupid jokes in interviews.

Introverts: please let me know what you think of all of the above by leaving a comment here or on facebook if you're my friend or in an email if you're my colleague. Extroverts: please let me know what you think of all of the above by cornering me in the corridor and talking at me until I get so uncomfortable I have to pretend I'm on playground duty so I can escape (just kidding! Well, mostly...)

Emma x x x