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The power of introverts

Introvert pic - optimizedIB World magazine investigates how IB teachers can nurture the power of introverts in their classroom and encourage students to step out of their comfort zone, gaining the self-confidence required to engage in new experiences and environments

Charles Darwin was an introvert. He took long walks alone in the woods during the time he was writing his theory of evolution. Dr Seuss was too – he dreamed up many of his creations in a lonely office at the back of his house. “When it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Chief Revolutionary and Co-Founder of the Quiet Revolution, during her 2012 TEDTalk

She was referring to an introvert’s ability to listen with empathy and patience; focus deeply on topics; and weigh up options before making a decision. But this different style of communication is misunderstood and not yet fully accepted in every classroom, as IB World magazine explains.

Heidi Kasevich pic - introvert pic 3

Heidi Kasevich

What is introversion?

Introverts and extroverts are on opposite sides of the spectrum, and an ambivert sits in the middle. Individuals can fall anywhere on the spectrum. But it’s important to note that it is not linked to levels of shyness.

“Shyness is a fear of social judgment, which can lead to anxiety. Introverts and extroverts can be shy and fear personal judgment,” explains Heidi Kasevich, Director of Quiet Education, a part of the Quiet Revolution, which is working with schoolteachers and leaders to educate their communities about the differences between introversion and extroversion. “There are misconceptions that introverts dislike social interactions, but this is false.”

Introversion and extroversion is to do with sensitivity to stimulation. “Introverts react more intensely to stimulation and are more easily overwhelmed by it. Hence they feel more alive and happy and at an equilibrium in quiet, more intimate, minimally-stimulated environments,” adds Kasevich.

Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to require a lot of stimulation. Dopamine – a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure systems – is less active in introverts.  “With a less active reward system, frequent social interactions can be exhausting for introverts, says Kasevich.

A key to maximizing creativity is to put ourselves in a zone of stimulation that is right for us. But Kasevich argues that many schools are designed for extroverts: “Noisy, open-plan classrooms, where students are called to work in groups most of the time, can make introverts feel uncomfortable,” she says.

While Kasevich agrees that teamwork and collaboration is important for relationship-building and problem solving, it’s important to balance classroom dynamics with solitude.

The importance of alone time

Solitude is a catalyst for innovation, according to a study by Adam Grant, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Solitude is good for extroverts too,” says Kasevich. “Balance is important – have some time where all students can sit, think and create and then get them together to talk about it.”

Quiet Revolution research shows it’s easier for introverts to communicate with a friend or a few people before sharing with a large group. Kasevich suggests teachers use a ‘brain writing’ technique – a student writes down a solution to a problem they are trying to solve as a class. That solution gets passed round the classroom for other students to add to and then group sharing takes place. “Or questions on Post-it notes can be placed around the classroom and students can walk around and answer them – this builds in solitary time and group work,” adds Kasevich.

It’s time to recognize the strengths of introverts, which helped visionaries like Darwin and Dr Seuss change the world. According to the Quiet Revolution, introverts have three key strengths, which they refer to as “super powers”.

G4 Writing - introvert pic 1Introvert superpowers

The first is the ability to listen with empathy and patience. “It’s really important for teachers to value deep listening as a classroom engagement skill,” says Kasevich. She recommends listening games and teaching students about body language, “Students can learn to show that they are fully engaged in listening.”

Increased verbal engagement can help introverts step out of their comfort zones, but extroverts can feel stretched when learning how to listen. “It can be more difficult for extroverts to deeply listen than for introverts to engage in public speaking. As Winston Churchill once said: Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen’,” says Kasevich.

Introverted students are also able to focus more deeply on topics. “Introverts tend to be independent learners, self-willed and driven by their interests and passions, says Kasevich. “Practicing alone is a great way to enhance skills.”

Kasevich endorses Genius Hour –­ a movement inspired by Google that encourages creativity in the classroom. “It’s great for all students,” she says. “Once an introverted student is excited about a topic or solving a problem, it’s easier for them to break through their verbal inhibitions and discuss subjects of passion. It’s about creating a zone of safety.”

The ability to weigh up options before making a decision is the third super power. “Introverts need more processing time before they speak. We call it ‘think time or time for a reflective pause’,” says Kasevich. “We want teachers to become aware of the different temperaments in the classroom and give everyone that time for a reflective pause. Honoring different temperaments is important, and seeing ‘processing time’ as a strength can broaden all types of engagement.”

“We encourage teachers to think about, understand and learn the differences between introverts and extroverts, and what it means for them to step outside their comfort zones,” she adds.

 Self-knowledge is power

Understanding who are the more introverted or extroverted children in your classroom is not labeling students. It’s about helping them understand who they are.

Self-knowledge is power and understanding who we really are is an invaluable communication tool: “By understanding the power of temperament we can better communicate with one another, and foster a culture of kindness in schools,” adds Kasevich. “It’s about encouraging students that they can stretch themselves and step out of their comfort zones and do even greater things.”

 If you would like to discover where you sit on the introvert to extravert scale, visit:

Ideas from the IB community

How do you encourage students to step out of their comfort zones?

There is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. IB teachers are working with their students to develop classroom strategies that work for everyone.

“I ask students to choose an IB Learner Profile attribute or an attitude at the start of the day. At the end of the day all students verbally share with a partner how they exhibited that attitude or attribute. This everyday routine allows my introverts quiet reflection time before sharing their stories,” PYP teacher Nilufar Kamdar at Alvin Dunn Elementary IB World School, California, USA

“When we pose questions to the class, we pick students at random to respond by using a pot of lollypop (popsicle) sticks. Each stick has the name of one of the students in the class. Introverted and less confident students who might ordinarily shy away from responding in group settings are obliged to take note. They have exactly the same chance of having their name drawn from the pot as their confident, extroverted peers. They are motivated to listen and to think. In a constructivist classroom, thinking is the prerequisite to learning, and we have a responsibility to encourage all children to think and to fully engage.” Christopher Frost, Primary School Principal, Tokyo International School, Japan

“I encourage participation through interactive visual aids. When I ask questions, students can either answer verbally or via Google docs. Before having group discussions, I let them talk about the topic with their seatmate like a ‘think-pair-share’ activity. For presentations, students can choose to present their project via a podcast or screen cast (voice record).” Jay Billones, IB Diploma Programme (DP) science teacher, Kang Chiao International School (Taipei Campus), Taiwan

“The most powerful tool you can develop and use with any type of student is to create a bond. Bonding with your students can change their mindsets; it can give them strategies to get out of their comfort zone, and it can motivate them to follow their passions.” Nataly Bringas, HS special ed. teacher, Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt – The American School of Lima, Peru

“Right from the start of the class, I emphasize how important it is to create a safe classroom culture. The banner ‘mistakes are welcome’ is clearly visible in front of the classroom. I ensure that we celebrate mistakes and look for opportunities to learn in this way. Two of my very quiet students have come a long way. However, this happened almost at the beginning of third term. It takes time.” Naini Singh, PYP teacher, Seisen International School, Tokyo, Japan

“I think the key is to start small and build confidence.  All students need to feel comfortable and supported in their classroom, but I find that this is even more important for introverted students.  They need to know that they can make mistakes and that their ideas and voice are just as important as others.  Challenging students to comment on each other’s work through peer review can help establish an open and supportive atmosphere.  In order for this to work, I find that students need to be provided some simple guidance and structure for their comments. For example, students can be asked to state at least one thing they liked and at least one thing they thought could have been improved or one clarifying question.” Brad Opfer, Business Management Teacher and Head of Department, Pamoja Education

Do you have other ideas? Email [email protected]