Our introverts and the Extrovert Ideal

Since watching Susan Cain’s thought-provoking TED talk (below), I have been meaning to buy her book. I’m so glad that I finally did. The book (click left image) is not solely aimed at teachers, but the the psychology and research that is explained raises many questions for teachers, mainly ‘are we failing our introverts?’

The book discusses the Extrovert Ideal – our world where extroverts thrive due to their desired attributes and introverts, who generally lack these qualities, are made to feel like failures. Like the rest of society, the education system usually reflects the Extrovert Ideal. This raises many concerns, since a third to a half of our students are introverts (Cain suggests that this fraction might be even larger in Asian cultures). Since I have been so fascinated by the book, I would like to take this time to make the connections to education explicit. As I write, I hope to generate practical strategies for supporting our introverted students.

“The truth is that many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction.”


Extroverted students do hold desired characteristics, such as confidence, social skills and the willingness to take risks. However, introversion is not inferior and it is not something to be cured. We should also acknowledge the qualities that introverts generally hold (according to research). These include empathy, creativity and thinking skills. Connecting to the PYP, it seems like the IB Learner Profile is made up of both extrovert and introvert qualities, and rightly so. Our first step is to think positively about introversion as a unique and desirable character type, no less or more so than extroversion. After we have acknowledged our students’ strengths, we can appreciate them and support them as learners.

Collaborative work

“Stop the madness for constant group work. Just stop it! We need much more privacy and much more freedom and much more autonomy at work. School, same thing. We need to teach kids to work together, for sure, but we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. This is especially important for extrovert children too.”

Naturally, extroverts will share their ideas confidently in group situations. However, there is no evidence to suggest that extroverts are more intelligent or that they have better ideas. As teachers, we sometimes make this mistake. Sometimes the best ideas and the best thoughts are the ones that are never shared.

“Groups famously follow the opinions of the most dominant or charismatic person in the room.”

Introverts are dominated during group work and generally go along with the ideas from their talkative peers, even if these ideas are not as good as their own. Introverts need time to process an assignment and a safer platform for putting forward their ideas. Cain explains the important role of technology in collaborative work. Many adult introverts are enjoying their new-found voice through tools such as social media and blogging (yes, myself included). We can also use technology to give our students a voice (use tools such as Padlet and collaborative Google Docs). When structured thoughtfully, mixing extroverts and introverts can be beneficial for both groups due to the mix of attributes. Simply throwing students together mindlessly does not work. Occasionally, allow students a choice of who to work with, or a choice to work on their own.

Public speaking

“Experts believe that negative public speaking experiences in childhood can leave children with a lifelong terror or the podium.”

There’s a place for public speaking in classrooms. Like it or not, it’s a skill that our students are likely to need later in life. However, we can provide more support and make the situations as comfortable as possible for our apprehensive students. As with any uncomfortable task, we can support our students through scaffolding. By taking baby steps, we can keep our students out of their panic zone and within their stretch zone.


It is unlikely that introverted students will be the most popular in class. It is more likely that these students will have just one or two solid friendships. This is ok too. We should be aware of these friendship groups so that we can group strategically. During daunting tasks, introverts can be made to feel more at ease by working with these close friends.

Preferred teaching style

Whenever I go to training workshops, it is clear that the presenters feel pressure to make them interactive and hands-on. This might be the preferred style of learning for most, but I actually prefer the lecture style. Am I alone in this? As teachers, we are also discouraged from the ‘chalk and talk’ teaching style but, according to Cain, introverted students actually prefer to learn in this way. Perhaps we could target our shy students with less-threatening tasks in smaller groups (especially if we are trying the #NoTalkWC challenge) or even individually. Studies also show that downtime and independent projects are preferred by introverts. Allow your students to work on their own occasionally, and reassure them that this preference is normal.

Zone of stimulation

We must allow students to work in the environment that suits them at any particular time. This is true for all students. We can make this possible by introducing elements of choice whenever possible; a choice of group (or no group), a choice of stimulus, resources, etc. Making it possible for students to work within their preferred zone will, according to Cain, maximise learning.

“The more freedom we give introverts to be themselves, the more likely that they are to come up with their own unique solutions.”

Classroom strategies:

In conclusion, I have compiled this list of ten practical strategies for supporting introverted students:

  1. Create a quiet area for independent work, and keep it available.
  2. Use tech tools as a platform for students to share ideas prior to class.
  3. During collaborative work, ensure that each student has a clear role.
  4. Try adopting the #NoTalkWC approach and speak only to small groups.
  5. Vary the style of teaching instruction to suit all learners.
  6. Show empathy and understanding towards all students and act gently towards introverts. Reassure them that their behaviour is totally natural.
  7. Provide scaffolding towards daunting tasks, such as public speaking.
  8. Introduce elements of choice.
  9. Praise all behavioural traits, not only those associated with extroversion.
  10. Consider the pros and cons of different groupings for different tasks (independent, friendship groups, etc.).


  1. For me, group work is helpful in that it provides students with alternative viewpoints on issues. As a college teacher, a student’s social abilities are usually well-formed by the time I teach them. Introverts have found their natural niche, whether this is only feeling comfortable expressing opinions in small groups or individually with me. I think labelling is an issue though as some assumed introverts may be garrulous or mute dependent on the class. Some ‘introverted’ students are often quiet due to those who share their ‘air time’. Having a relaxed, unintimidating class is all it takes to get the quoted students out of their shells. It is essential to have excellent questioning in order to get the most out of these students. I use the extroverts to get discussions started and I nominate introverts frequently thereafter. Everyone knows they are to contribute and no one is afraid to do this. The best example I can think of this year was when I monitored my students (5 minutes ‘chat’ with each individual on progress, performance etc). I made explicit to one girl that it made my job easier when she contributed as other students weren’t brave enough to voice misconceptions yet. Within a week, everyone, including the introverts were happy to do this and so a positive atmosphere lacking in judgement was established.

    1. Great stuff! I totally agree that there is a place for contributing and group work. This post is just making people aware that some students are less comfortable in those situations and may need support and scaffolding. I also agree that labelling is dangerous. It’s just a spectrum I guess. There is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. “Such a person would be in a lunatic asylum” (said the guy who first coined these terms – I can’t remember his name). Thanks for your contribution as always, Jon.

  2. Another excellent and thought-provoking post Mr. Hill. I think you could add a further idea to the public speaking section specifically and generally an idea to support all introverts. The powerful tool of empathy. Too often overlooked, but when a child knows that they are not alone and that other people share similar feelings, they feel a sense of freedom and relief. You yourself have openly shared your feelings about public speaking. Share that with the kids. It strengthens your relationship with them and gives them encouragement. it breaks down the us and them mentality and makes you more human in their eyes. In a Circle Time activity, get all children to share how they feel before public speaking, a test, a competition and so on. Also, get them to share their emotions as they start the activity, during and after. The sense of relief, satisfaction and accomplishment are all very valuable emotions to capture and share. The message we are trying to convey is that no one is alone and many of us experience exactly the same feelings as they do.

    1. An excellent point well made! Thanks for your contribution to this post, Dickie. I totally agree. Public speaking absolutely terrifies me, so I’m taking baby steps by speaking for short times or to small groups. I take the same risks that I expect my students to take. You’re absolutely right that we should share our own experiences in order to help our students with their anxiety. Fear of the spotlight is totally natural and some scientists even say that it has been an essential fear as part of our evolution.

      I could talk all day about how I related the book to my own experiences. It’s like it was written just for me, as an introvert and as a teacher. That’s a whole other blog post. It also made me think about how we could support the many other introverts on staff. Again, a whole other discussion.

      Thanks again for your contribution!


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