After having a casual conversation about extroversion and introversion with our librarian, she recommended Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. After reading it feverishly, I felt invigorated; I felt understood.
I felt seen.
When I was a child, I was painfully shy. My childhood was filled with separation anxiety and socially-induced nervous habits. I loved dancing my heart out in the living room and spending afternoons with friends, but speaking in front of the class or having all eyes on me? Count me out.
But today, you’d never know it.
DISCOVERING THE POWER OF INTROVERTS
Today, I see myself in so many other students who fly under the radar like I once did, by virtue of not being as loud as others. This book finally said the words that I’d been craving my whole life: there’s nothing wrong with being the quiet one.
Teachers and other adults from my past led me to believe that there was something “wrong” with my natural preference for quietness, a pressure that caused me to develop additional nervousness about speaking up and being louder, like my classmates did and were. Cain’s Quiet describes introversion as a power — one I never knew I had.
Merriam-Webster defines an introvert is “a typically reserved or quiet person who tends to be introspective and enjoys spending time alone.” A common misconception about introverts is that they are shy, anxious, and don’t want to socialize with others.
Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.
— Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, p. 12
The stereotype is often far from the truth — introverts do like to socialize! Our introverted students chat happily with friends at lunch and can be just as passionate during class debates as their extroverted counterparts. The difference is that despite culturally-determined social outlets, introverts gain the most energy from time spent alone, or do their best learning from observation as opposed to constant participation.
Introverted students — gifted and neurotypical, alike — generally find their energy from seemingly “solitary” activities, such as immersing themselves in a book or conquering vast swaths of territory in a simulation game at school.
On the surface, the introverted student looks quiet. However, their mind may be bursting with ideas that they are not yet ready to share. They are more comfortable with observation and silent speculation than with being the first to volunteer.
INTROVERTS IN THE CLASSROOM
The gifted students we see come with different strengths, thoughts, and ideas. Some may be louder than others or more willing to raise their hands to share during class, but grit and creativity are equally visible in both groups.
Cain warns readers about the downfalls of an “extroversion ideal” in schools, which eventually flows into the same ideal in the workforce. It’s important to recognize, however, that both introversion and extroversion have their own strengths. Extroverts are a great addition any team. They help facilitate interpersonal connection and can be more confident in speaking up for what they believe in. Introverts can share many of the same qualities, with the added benefit of introspection, which allows them to weigh options carefully before making high-stakes decisions. Failure to recognize the strengths of either type can lead to valuing a generalized set of personality traits above the strengths that lie in each individual student when, as we know, a strengths-based approach is the best way to promote the most growth in gifted students.
…at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell” — that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.
— Quiet, p. 6
My first job–as a cashier at a bulk foods store–offered a turning point in overcoming debilitating shyness. Every weeknight, I practiced socializing with strangers by making pleasant and low-stakes conversation. The exposure led me to overcome the social barriers I perceived, helped me understand how to hold meaningful conversations while still feeling safe, and held the promise of being able to retreat into my preferred quiet spaces to recharge after my shift.
The biggest lesson I needed to hear during my shy childhood, echoed throughout Cain’s book, was it’s okay to not be the loudest person in the room. I spent a lot of time worrying that teachers thought I wasn’t listening or didn’t understand what was going on, all the while bargaining with myself to raise my hand. However, in the grand scheme of things, Cain teaches us that the world needs that introverted strength: after all, “there’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.”
Introverted students must be given opportunities to express themselves while still being reminded of the value of their individual strengths. At Grayson, teachers use differentiation to allow every student on the introversion-extroversion continuum to share ideas at a comfort level that works for them. A student sitting quietly at their desk while the room around them is bursting at the seams with energy is not bashful, anxious, or “too quiet.”
They are pensive. They are introspective. They are contemplative, unique, strong, creative, and bold. They may be thinking over the greatest idea they’ve ever had (or that we’ve ever heard). They just need some quiet before they’re comfortable sharing.
The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.
— Quiet, p. 264
If you, too, are an introvert (or are parenting an introvert) who has been misunderstood as withdrawn, too quiet, unsociable, or meek, I highly recommend reading Ms. Cain’s best-selling book.
Ashley Freeborn, The Grayson School Counselor