“I’m an introverted kind of person just by nature…coming to realise that about myself was very empowering.”
Emma Watson, known for her galvanising UN speeches and blockbusting on-screen performances, is perhaps one of the last people you would think is an introvert. Historically, being a leader meant being the loudest voice in the room, someone yearning for the spotlight. But Watson can count herself among a whole host of household names that have helped us realise being a leader is about so much more.
Yet despite knowing that being introverted does not hold you back in life, children with these qualities are still singled out in school.
How often have teachers written in reports: “She is brilliant BUT quiet”?
Statements like this sound archaic, and when you consider introverted people account for up to 40 per cent of the population, you realise these outdated attitudes really do have no place in teaching today. But they’re part of a much broader societal attitude towards introverted people – we live in a fast-moving, extroverted world of constant connectivity, and if people believe you can’t keep up, you’re often overlooked.
Some children are sportier than others. Some prefer STEM subjects while others lean towards the creative arts. As teachers we actively encourage them to pursue their passions, we create opportunities for them to thrive, and it should be no different for students who are more inclined to introversion.
It was the coronavirus pandemic that brought this home for me. The new spotlight on education that came with school closures brought with it even more drive to understand how individual students learn. We were forced to look again at the way we teach to adapt it in a way that suited all our students from the comfort and safety of their homes.
“The ability to mute their microphones and cameras took the focus off them as people, and put it onto the quality of their work instead.”
We saw our introverted pupils thrive in this environment, the relative quiet they were granted in comparison to busy classrooms gave them space to think. The ability to mute their microphones and their cameras took the focus off them as people, and put it onto the quality of their work instead.
This lesson in the way our students learn has inspired a whole school shift to better cater to our introverted pupils by bringing some of the peace from home inside the school gates – something I encourage others to do as well.
The change can be something as simple as creating additional spaces for quiet reflection and work, or coming up with new co-curricular club ideas that provide a haven for the peace-seeking student. From a practical teaching perspective, balancing group work equally with working alone and seizing opportunities for quiet voices to have a platform could make all the difference in creating a less buzzy, noisy classroom environment that has traditionally favoured extroverts.
“But most fundamentally, I hope every teacher re-thinks how they feed back to introverted students.”
A quiet reading hour followed by the opportunity to structure thoughts about a text and present them in writing or a 1:1 interview can be just as valuable as asking students to read aloud or give an oral presentation to the whole class. This doesn’t mean those skills of oracy are neglected; rather that space is given to consolidate a student’s reflections and use a range of ways to present them.
But most fundamentally, I hope every teacher re-thinks how they feedback to introverted students. They are constantly absorbing the words we use to describe their qualities, and implying quietness costs success, or a wish to stay out of the spotlight equates to a lack of desire to lead is not only untrue but damaging.
“There are many lessons to be learned for teachers following Covid, and catering for and encouraging introverted pupils must be one.”
Many of our most successful leaders and recognisable faces are introverts – Emma Watson is a case in point – yet much of the narrative around leadership has historically focussed on the “superhero” model, described with phrases like “charismatic” and “dynamic”. We should all be just as keen to showcase the “considered” or “intelligent” qualities of leadership too.
There are many lessons to be learned for teachers following the pandemic, and catering for and encouraging introverted pupils must be one. In a world making constant moves towards inclusivity, championing all the fundamental qualities that make our pupils who they are should be a core part of this.