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The Long Runway: Helping Introverted Students Take Flight

By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon

April 15, 2019

Do you have a child who loves to take risks, who embraces change, who is a “social butterfly?” Or does your child tend to be more reserved, slow to warm to new experiences, and prefer independent or one-on-one play? These are the distinguishing hallmarks between extroverts and introverts. It is estimated that introverts make up 30-50% of our population, but so often introverts feel out of place in a society that seems to value extroversion, particularly in educational environments. First identified by Carl Jung, the concepts of introversion and extroversion have become increasingly widespread through the use of tools like the Myers-Briggs, and most recently through the work of Susan Cain in her highly-acclaimed book, Quiet. Essentially, these personality types relate to how a person processes information, and in turn, their preferences for interaction.

It turns out, our predilection for introversion or extroversion is largely innate and often detectable from birth. A study by Professor Jerome Kagan in the Laboratory for Child Development at Harvard University indicated that “high reactive” infants, those that were more easily upset by new and changing stimuli, were far more likely to display introverted tendencies later in life. “Low reactive” infants, on the other hand, were more adaptable to stimuli presented to them and more likely to develop into extroverted children and adults. The extroverted brain digests novelty more readily. The introverted brain becomes more easily overwhelmed by the unfamiliar.

Unfortunately, introverts can often feel at a disadvantage. Most workplaces and institutions of learning are set up in ways that value the “extrovert ideal.” Public speaking, class participation, collaborative projects and team sports are all elements of school that can be overwhelming for an introverted student. So, you may wonder, what the advantages of introversion? There are quite a few.

Advantages of Introversion

Though extroverts generally earn higher grades in elementary school, by high school and college, introverts outperform extroverted peers. Data shows that introverts earn more National Merit Scholarships, graduate degrees, and Phi Beta Kappa keys. Their achievements are not indicative of higher intelligence, but something called “insightful problem solving.” As Susan Cain writes, “Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately.” This insightful problem solving has brought much success to individuals such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Jordan, JK Rowling, Steven Spielberg, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. Einstein himself summed up introvert persistence perfectly stating, “It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Supporting Introverted Children at Rossman School

Obviously, a child’s natural tendency toward introversion or extroversion has many implications for our work in the classroom. At Rossman School, we have wonderfully talented educators who understand how to support all students. Here are some strategies and approaches our teachers include in their practice to support our more introverted students.

  • Allow wait time

    • For hesitant participants or those who need more time to think through their answers or ideas, allow additional time for response before moving on. Introverts’ brains actually retrieve information from different (and longer) pathways.

  • Set the scene

    • Detail what a new place or experience might be like. Visit or view pictures in advance. What will be different or familiar? What will the student be expected to do?

  • Practice and prepare

    • Demonstrate new routines and provide opportunities for low-stakes practice.

  • Make connections

    • As introverts make sense of new knowledge or experiences, they will draw upon what they already know or have done in the past. Drawing upon background knowledge not only deepens learning, but also alleviates the “newness” of an experience.

  • Designate a quiet space in the classroom

    • Find a space where students can remove themselves for a break or work alone. Offer tools for privacy and focus such as privacy shields or noise-reducing headphones.

  • Provide non-verbal opportunities for participation

    • Written reflections, self-evaluations and one-on-one teacher conferencing are ways in which to gauge student participation and understanding without calling on students to participate publicly.

Supporting Introverted Children at Home

Wondering what else you can do to support your quiet child at home?

  • Introduce new people or situations slowly.

  • Arrive early for parties, practices and events before everything is underway.

  • Practice manners/greetings at home so your child has a script.

  • Build in downtime. If your child does not want to talk in the car after school, allow them to have the quiet time to decompress.

  • Consider hosting playdates at your home or build in time to stay for a bit when dropping them off at a friend’s home.

  • Provide the time and space for them to be alone, but let them know you’re there.

  • Above all, listen! As with all children, being with and listening to are essential to any parent-child relationship.

If you have a quiet child, celebrate their strengths and honor their needs. Recognize that sometimes they may just need a longer runway before taking flight.

Additional Resources

Interested in learning more about introversion? Check the following resources that were referenced for this piece.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of introverts (podcast)

Quiet Revolution

Introvert, Dear

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Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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