Ten Things Educators Should Know About Introverted Students

ClassroomI’ve been doing more interviews on introversion this year as a result of the success of my eBook, “The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” and my Harvard Business Review Blog Post. A recent trend in these interviews has been a discussion about how our introversion affects us in our formative years, and at what point we start to feel the impact of our introversion, but perhaps not understand it.

As a parent I see it affecting my daughters in middle and high school, both in their approach to their schoolwork and how they are perceived by their teachers. Though I can’t always smooth the waters for them, or clear the path, here are the ten things I wish their teachers – and all educators – knew about introverted students.

1. Introversion is about energy, not shyness or social aptitude

This continues to be an issue I spend a lot of time discussing because there is so much misunderstanding in the world about what it really means to be an introvert. Introverts get their energy – we fuel ourselves – through our inner world of ideas and images, memories and visions. We get drained in the outer world of people and activity, such as in your classroom. This is simply an innate reality for us and not something we have control over.

The extroverts you teach will be energized just by being in your classroom, because they fuel themselves through the energy of being around people and activity. If you misunderstand this innate reality and see your introverted students as shy or socially lacking, you will have misunderstood them from the get-go.

2. Introverts excel at individual and small group work

Because this is our comfort zone and where we are naturally energized, this is the environment in which we can easily do our best work. If you are giving us an assignment that requires us to immerse ourselves in images, ideas, memories and our perceptive inner world, like interpreting great literature, or being astutely analytical such as figuring out a geometry proof, don’t ask us to do it as part of a large group. You will get our best insights and analysis if you let us work alone or in very small groups.

3. Introverts have the capability to succeed in a large group setting, but it’s more draining for us

Just because our innate preference is to be alone or in small groups, it does not mean we cannot succeed in larger groups. We absolutely can, it’s just important for you to understand that it requires us to get out of our comfort zone and is energetically draining for us. Of course, it’s important that we learn to get out of our comfort zone in order to succeed in life, so large group activities will play an important role in our educational development.

However, please be mindful that getting out of our comfort zone is stressful and will impact students differently depending on their age. Consider limiting the time dedicated to large-group activities during any one class, and give us a clear role in the group to minimize stress. The more uncertainty you take away (which often comes in large-group activities when there is no clear leader or defined role/objective, or a lack of supervision by the teacher), especially at a younger age, the less stressful it is for us to be out of our comfort zone. If introverted students learn over time that they can be successful in this type of environment, even though it’s not their comfort zone, they will be more confident and adaptable as they move to college and then out into the world.

4. Introverts prefer time to think things through

We think “in our heads” unlike our extroverted fellow students who may think out loud. Thus, our fear of being called on in class, particularly with no warning. It’s not that we don’t have an opinion or the desire to share in class; it’s simply that we prefer time to mull things over in our heads.

Try asking a question and then telling the class you’re going to give them a minute to think it through. Then call on the extroverts. Then call on your introverted students. Chances are you’re going to get much more confident and insightful responses from the introverts this way because you honored their need for a bit of time for thoughtful consideration.

Note, this is probably one of the main reasons people misjudge us as shy – or worse, standoffish – throughout our entire lives. We stay quiet because we’re thinking in our heads, and end up being mislabeled.

5. Introverts love stories and excel at storytelling

Stories invite us to revel in the world of images and ideas we sincerely love, so give us the chance to do this as much as possible, and allow us the chance to share the stories in our heads with you. Introverted students will be more passionate about getting up in front of class to share a story than to recite historical facts, for example. If history is the topic, let us tell a story about something historical that happened and you’ll discover our ability to relay details and facts becomes much deeper and richer and allows us to shine. Encourage us to see this strength within us as much as possible and to work to hone it.

6. Introverts create strong one-on-one relationships throughout our lifetime

We’re the students with one very best friend, or a few close friends, because that’s the comfort zone of sharing our ideas and feelings and dreams. We learn early on in life how to create deeply genuine relationships and connections, which is an asset we’ll use throughout our life. (I am in no way implying extroverts can’t do this, I’m simply focusing on introverts.) It’s easy to misjudge us as socially unpopular or lacking because of this. Instead, encourage, recognize and honor this trait by asking your introverted students to mentor other kids who need personal guidance or by serving as an ambassador for the class/school/team, etc… They will fulfill the role brilliantly.

7. Introverts make exceptional leaders

I’ve seen counselors and teachers assign leaders based on a child’s outgoing nature rather than innate leadership ability. Introverts make exceptional leaders for a million reasons, but as students their ability to listen to ideas, share their passion for their own ideas, and gel with other students one-on-one gives them a natural ability to connect and inspire through their words and quiet actions. Please give your introverted students every opportunity to show you how they can lead.

8. If your introverted students raise their hand, it’s very important that you listen

If your introverted students step out of their comfort zone in your classroom (remember, just being there with all those other students drains them) to raise their hand, it means they’ve given great thought to what they want to say and genuinely want to be heard. If it’s at all possible to honor that request, please do so. As mentioned earlier, it may be well after you’ve introduced a thought because the introverts needed time to think it through, and you may be ready to move on to something else. However, if you can take that extra minute to give them the chance to contribute, it will go a long way toward encouraging future participation and to them feeling valued in your class.

9. Introverted students’ strengths should be appreciated and valued

When teaching through group activities, try to make part of the process to appreciate the diversity of strengths each student brought to the group. Naturally, your introverted students will probably have been quieter than the extroverts for all the reasons given above. Help your students learn to appreciate what each person contributed regardless of how much they participated verbally. Even quiet encouragement from an introverted student should be valued and recognized, as should one small idea that was shared. This helps both introverts and extroverts work well together throughout their lifetimes when they learn the importance of appreciating all forms of diversity.

10. Introverts should be encouraged to be more of who we are, never less

The most important thing you can do as an educator in the formative stages for your introverted students – speaking solely in regard to their introversion – is to encourage them to honor who they are. I have heard from executives who read my book and admitted to years of trying to pretend they were an extrovert, only looking foolish in the process. I cringe every time I hear someone say, “I’m trying to get over my introversion,” thinking that somehow being an extrovert will lead to more happiness or success. It won’t.

True success and joy in life come from a foundation that honors being more of who you are truly meant to be and less of who you are not. Help your students understand this and you’ll be setting them up for success in ways you never dreamed!

~

The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership

The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership

Are you an introvert looking to use your introversion to your advantage in business & leadership or an extrovert interested in leading introverts more effectively? I wrote this eBook for you…The Introvert’s Guide to Success in Business and Leadership” eBook is NOW Available! Amazon Best Seller, Amazon Hot New Release, and the inspiration behind my Harvard Business Review article! Featured on Huffington Post. BUY Now on Amazon for Kindle or Buy it at B&N for Nook! Also available on iBooks!

Click here to DOWNLOAD in PDF format. Thank you!

Being an introvert is truly an advantage in business and leadership if you know how to leverage it, and if you remain true to yourself.

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Photo of Classroom by evmaiden.

Comments

  1. Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing. This is valuable, timely and useful information. Having a keen interest in this idea of introversion in the classroom, and having presented on the topic a couple of times, I can’t tell you how important I think the conversation about introverted students and the way in which we can facilitate their greatness is.

    I find point number 8 above most interesting. Too often, we tend to praise the introvert who speaks up for the act of speaking up and fail to recognize the content the student is sharing. Often, that information which the introvert cares to share is well thought out, relative and timely. By the time they have spoken, the introvert has vetted their thoughts, carefully rehearsed that which they want to share, and assessed it’s usefulness to the conversation. Granted, the content isn’t always right on, but the deliberate nature of the introvert’s thinking results in useful information more often than not.

    • Thank you, Tony and such a great point about recognizing the content of the comment rather than the fact they’re contributing. They want to contribute and by giving them the time to be ready you’ll be getting their best thoughts. Taking the time to appreciate those thoughts is key. Thank you so much for bringing this up and for taking the time to comment – I sincerely appreciate it!

  2. Lisa,

    What a post! When I read this, I thought “this was me” as a student. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it nor did some of my teachers. The good ones did, but these are such important points to grasp and use. Thank you for raising awareness!

    Jon
    Jon Mertz´s last blog post ..Five Practices to Enhance Your Problem-Solving Mindset

  3. Lisa,

    Thank you for writing this. So few people understand the connection with energy. There are people who I simply choose not to be around, not because I don’t like them, but because their energy is so much larger than mine. And I wonder if my teachers had understood this when I was a kid, if I would have been better prepared for college my first time around instead of being so overwhelmed by the constant drive for activity that I remained in my dorm room for days on end.
    Thankfully, age (and a few key professors who seem to understand the points you’ve made here) has allowed me to better adapt and know when to pull back. And now I am a few weeks from graduating– 21 years after that first college class. I’ve chosen to study journalism, which nudges me outside of my comfort zone in manageable doses (for things like interviews), yet allow me to do the bulk of my work in the solitary comfort of my head.
    It was comforting to read how clearly you articulated things I have felt my entire life. Thank you!

    • Jenny, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your story with me and the readers. It means the world to me and I’m so happy to hear of your pending graduation! Congratulations and best wishes for a future of celebrating all that you are. :)

  4. Lisa, Truly identified with the point on success in large groups. I’m in my 50’s and to this day I am uncomfortable with large group projects or activities that do not have clearly defined objectives, or where I feel my role is unclear. Many times, my reaction in such situations has been to bulldog the group until both needs are satisfied – perhaps a guerrilla type of leadership?
    Thanks for the

    • Robin, you are very welcome! And though a bulldog approach is likely not best in those situations, it’s just a reflection of a need you have in that environment. Understanding it is half the battle. :) Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, I sincerely appreciate it!

  5. Lisa This is a great article and so important for everyone to read. I am going to link to it in an article on my blog. It’s hard for ten points to be succinct, but you did that nicely. Thank you. Say a little more about introvert as leader. I know they can be great–I have seen many. But how are the social challenges of leading sustainable–I mean what sustains them? Given that they pay a price for leading, how do they get repaid and keep their energy up so that they want to keep doing it? All of us need relationships, how can relationships feed introverts? (beyond what you have suggested. How does that work?)

  6. Lisa,
    I like this post and I think it gives great insight into the mind of an introvert. I consider myself an introvert, but not shy. As you stated, I love being around others, but I get my energy from being by myself. In this post, however, I do question some of what you stated in points 3 and 4.

    In point 3 you said, “Consider limiting the time dedicated to large-group activities during any one class, and give us a clear role in the group to minimize stress. The more uncertainty you take away especially at a younger age, the less stressful it is for us to be out of our comfort zone.” And in point 4 you mentioned, “Try asking a question and then telling the class you’re going to give them a minute to think it through. Then call on the extroverts. Then call on your introverted students.”

    You make great points for why these approaches are helpful, but they can also be hurtful. The approach caters to the introvert, but the business world doesn’t cater to the introvert or extrovert. It varies depending on what you do. If you grow up within a framework that caters to you, you will go through a rude awakening when you enter the business world. I think a better approach would be to teach the introverted people how they think and how their way of thinking can be leveraged for the overall betterment of themselves and those they lead or work with.

    Thank you for writing a great post.
    Brandon Jones´s last blog post ..Why Complacency And Leadership Don’t Mix

    • Hi Brandon,
      You make some excellent points, thank you. When thinking of kids in middle school and high school, though, I think it’s as important to encourage their confidence in getting out of their comfort zone. If they can do this in small ways throughout their school day, it will help them grow to the point where the adjustment then to college and real life is an easier transition. I would not use the word, “cater,” – I would think of it more as being sensitive to different learning styles and needs at different ages. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective – I sincerely appreciate it and am sure it reflects the thoughts of others as well!

      • Lisa,

        I like your point and feel it is great to give children those opportunities. The challenge I have seen for schools or organizations is that they either make no change or a sweeping change. They have a very hard time hitting that happy-medium spot. I think it is good for teachers to provide a variety of environments for each person to learn in a way that is most comfortable to them. If the teachers can create a variety of learning environments, each person will have times when they are in their learning sweet spot and times when learning puts them outside their comfort zone.
        Brandon Jones´s last blog post ..Leadership Blessings Through Hard Times

  7. Brandon and Lisa, re: (“cater”). The core question is about the challenges that kids face. On the one hand, educators should be sensitive to individual difference. On the other, they need to be prepared to face the challenge of the real world. In the last thirty-to-forty years we have tended to err on the side of feeding kids doable challenges so that they don’t experience failure. What doing two things at once support and empathy on the one hand and not distorting the reality of what the real world is like on the other?
    Rick Ackerly´s last blog post ..1st Grade Teacher Shows How to Design an Instant Learning Organization

  8. Mary Anne Sutherland says:

    Lisa Thanks so much for the post

    As an educator charged with speaking to large groups (32 years) and extreme introvert I so appreciate your 10 points. Young people are still so vulnerable even into high school and even college and we need to take your points to heart. The time, in our fast paced society, is so necessary for the introvert and we never seem to have enough of it. Not to be critical of those who say kids need to be prepared for the “real world” but our challenge in schools is that so much of what we do is mandated leaving kids very little choice in how and when they produce and conquer the tasks they are asked to do. When we get into the real world we have endless numbers of choices and we can more easily control our own world much easier than we can in the high stakes ( finish this before the end of semester) school schedule. If you are an introvert and need more time to think about a task at your job you may just put in many more hours than someone else who decides very quickly. If you work until midnight to five in the morning no one cares as long as you arrive at the meeting with your best product in place. If you are extremely introverted you will probably choose a career path ( research lab etc) that uses your gifts and preferences. Adults very often have much more control over being able to remove themselves from situations they find uncomfortable. ( at the conference kareoke night you can plead a headache/or completion of a project and leave) Kids can’t do that. I have found that once young people get out into the ” real world” and have ‘real choices’ they are much more successful. I think as educators helping young people to thrive and conquer hurdles at their own pace using their strengths to help them bridge to the uncomfortable has never ever made a young person not able to face the ‘real world” In school they are still learning they are not yet in the ‘real world’ unfortunately. Thanks again for the post. I hope educators and parents take note. Nicely said.

    • Wow, Mary Anne, your comment is a brilliant and eloquent testament to the importance of giving introverted students room/space/time to grow during their school years. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your whole experience and the depth of your insights with this community! It is a true gift. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share!

  9. Brandon, Mary Ann and Lisa, All good, and there is yet another dimension to be considered. The importance of letting–and encouraging–people to self-define. Giving kids time to think through a problem is not just good for introverts–other learning styles need it and not all introverts do. In fact no two introverts are alike so the broader challenges is to create the conditions where all learning styles can feel safe, and for that the cultural piece of “Around here we don’t presume to fully understand you and invite you to help us learn together how you learn.
    Stage 1: it is safe to be an introvert
    Stage 2: it is safe to be your own weird, unique self and to transcend all the generalizations one could make about you.
    Rick Ackerly´s last blog post ..1st Grade Teacher Shows How to Design an Instant Learning Organization

  10. Chris McGrath says:

    As someone who has had a long teaching career and 16 years currently as a Headteacher, your insights clearly summarise my experience and the stresses I have faced. I hope your bit about ‘great leaders’ is 100% accurate as well! Thank you.

  11. Madonna Forster says:

    Lisa thanks so much. I’ll never forget my 12 year old introverted daughter saying to me “by the time I’ve thought through what the teacher’s said, they moved on to the next subject. It is so frustrating”. I was lucky two very intelligent friends who were introverts helped me to understand and nurture her through the school process. So thank you for bringing these issues into mainstream discussion.
    P.S. This same gorgeous girl could run the universe if given 30 mins to plan ahead!

  12. Cassalyn says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I am introverted and aspiring to be a teacher and these are wonderful ideas that I will definitly consider and act on.
    I would like to add that some introverts are more comfortable reciting facts than speaking their minds. Using myself as an example, I had many, many times where my thoughts which I dwelled long over were ignored, heavily critiqued, or swept aside. I now have great trouble trying to express my thoughts and ideas to people. I prefer to recite the facts that I know will not be criticized and shot down. I certainly still have the deeper thoughts and can write them down easily, but I have grown to fear the reactions of others and have trouble verbalizing these thoughts.
    So I will add that these things can change by how a child is raised and treated, and I place upon this issue a most sincere importance. I despise that anyone else could feel so afraid to share their thoughts as I do now.

  13. This is wonderful information, and I found it all to be very true. I am an introvert myself and you are so right, it is not about shyness – it is about energy. Many years ago when I was trying to find the right career path, I gave real estate a try. I didn’t understand myself well enough at that young age to understand why showing homes and conversing with people all day long exhausted me! I am not shy, and I love people – but I do not need a career where I must be social for long periods of time.
    Timely, helpful information. Thank you for sharing!
    Candace Barr´s last blog post ..Will Your Resume or CV Pass the Test?

    • So happy to know it resonated with you, Candace! How fortunate to have realized early on that you needed a role that was a much better fit for your innate preferences! All the best to you!

  14. Karen Heffernan says:

    This is fascinating.

    I am a research nurse practitioner with an INTJ – MB profile.

    We are finding that medical students must evaluate the social velocity that they can endure. Moreover many medical professionals are exhausted by “satisfaction” surveys>> That exhaustion comes because they lack confidence in how these surveys assess the “thinking” requisite for the work. In addition they know that our behavioral coding lacks predictability.

    So like the writer, I believe that personality analysis is important. Finally I worry that corporate culture is burning out “thinkers” who may have introverted styles.

    Thanks for the post Lisa

  15. Gail Welde says:

    Absolutely right. My mother worried. My sister mocked. But I ignored them and was a straight A student regardless of the norm. Group work was not such an “in” thing way back then. I think teachers should rethink the whole obsession with working together (it’s really just some students using others).
    Introverts shine when they are responsible for their own work. The trend will change to extroverts being seen as chatterboxes.

  16. Gail Welde says:

    Karen Heffernan’s comment is esp noteworthy. The extremely difficult professions (like medicine) require enormous amounts of independent study–where introverts have always dwelt. It may take a shift in thinking, but if we want kids to go into these professions, we should be encouraging introversion–developing it in those who can’t sit still and really study and so will never grasp any really difficult subject.

  17. I love this. It is true, every teachers and educators should know. This should be posted in every school throughout the world.
    Great!

  18. Excellent post Lisa. I especially relate to #4. It can be frustrating to try to give thoughtful answers instantaneously or else risk being perceived as not being able to think on your feet.
    Chris´s last blog post ..2012 State GDP Growth

  19. Atul Abraham says:

    nice topic. I would like to learn more about introverts.

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