By Yeo Sue-Ann, Lecturer cum Programme Leader, School of Education, MPU & Language
What does it mean to be an introvert?
To put it in simple terms, an introvert is someone who feels and performs best when they are in quieter environments. In contrast to extroverted individuals, introverts favour peaceful environments over loud social ones. A reason why there is such a difference is due to a difference in temperament. Temperament can be differentiated from being “high-reactive” or “low-reactive” towards the environment. Introverts tend to be high-reactive individuals with a more active amygdala (which processes emotions and fear). This means that introverts will have a more activated nervous system with higher heart rate and stress levels when placed in new or unfamiliar situations compared to extroverts. As introverts are more easily stimulated by their external environment, their energy levels drain faster than extroverts.
The extrovert ideal
One-third of the population are introverts, yet introverts are still undervalued for their introspective qualities which cause them to be overlooked and ignored when it comes to achieving certain milestones such as succeeding in school or getting a job promotion. From the book “Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain, it is stated that this bias comes from the cultural expectations of the Extrovert Ideal where people think they need to be outgoing and sociable to succeed in life. As quoted, “We are told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts.” However, this belief is flawed as introverts are equally capable of being successful. Take real-life introverted leaders (Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.) for example.
In the classroom
As teachers, we always try to foster a class environment that is high in participation and interaction. We feel good when students actively listen and ask questions. We praise students for their eager participation and collaboration in class. However, at the same time, we tend to overlook the quiet students and we may become mildly frustrated with students who do not speak up for themselves. So, how do we meet the needs of these students who may most likely be introverts?
Some tips to nurture introverted students:
- Take care of the words you use.
It is important not to label introverted students as “shy” as this might make them lose self-confidence. Instead, we can teach them social strategies (e.g., smile, stand up straight to feel more confident, etc.) to regulate anxious emotions and handle uncomfortable situations. We should learn to see introvert traits not as a weakness but rather as a strength that helps introverts strive in whatever they do.
- Do not compare.
We should not compare extroverted and introverted students on a single spectrum as these two types of students function very differently in terms of their thinking and working styles. Introverted students often work more carefully and deliberately and tend to think before they speak. Therefore, it is important to have a mindset that students being quiet in class do not necessarily mean a lack of interest. Sometimes, it could just mean that these students are just listening and processing internally.
- Think/pair/share technique.
During question time, teachers can apply this technique and give students the opportunity to take a few minutes to think about their answers. Next, teachers can divide the students into pairs to further discuss their answers and thoughts. Once ready, students can then share their thoughts with the whole class in pairs. This technique is especially effective for introverts as it gives them time to warm up and to process their thoughts internally before sharing them with the public.
- Slowly expand their horizons.
Even though introverted children tend to be quiet, it does not mean they do not enjoy social interactions. As teachers, we can help the children by encouraging them to try new experiences and make new friends. Instead of throwing them straight into the deep end, allow them opportunities to get to know other children slowly. Praising introverted students when they take social risks is also a huge encouragement for them to come out from their shells.
To sum it up, “Quiet is might, solitude is strength, introversion is power.” – Laurie Helgoe.