How to help your introvert thrive in the classroom

 

Classrooms are different in 2016. Kids are questioning, kids are working together and kids are moving. They get to talk and collaborate and discuss. And they love it. Don’t they?

Well, I thought they did. And then I met Tom.

A few weeks into the year, I had the normal check in discussion with Tom’s mum. Lots of positive talk, great kid, awesome manners, good group of friends.

We did however, also talk about the fact that, in our classroom with all the bright contemporary bells and whistles, Tom, would often work by himself at a desk. I mentioned that a goal for Tom would be to share his ideas with the other kids, and to join in our class discussions a bit more.

“Why?” she asked.

And I stopped and thought…I had never asked myself this. If kids were quiet, we wanted them to come out of their shell. It had always just been the expectation.

Why?

You see, I can see now that Tom was an introvert. He wasn’t shy. He wasn’t socially awkward. He was just an introvert. He thrived on quiet and calmness, and was drained by being constantly asked to interact, discuss and engage in group work. And because I saw the contemporary classroom and engagement in the learning, as being synonymous with noise and discussion and group work, I thought that he wasn’t as engaged as the other kids. But the truth was, Tom was engaged. Tom was highly engaged. The work that he produced proved that. The discussions that he had when he felt comfortable proved that. His interactions with his close friends on the playground proved that.

But Tom was an introvert, and just like many other introverted kids, I wasn’t truly catering for his needs at all. By constantly pushing him to collaborate, to work as part of a group, to share his ideas, to discuss his thoughts, to interact, I wasn’t catering for his needs at all.

And, along the way, I learnt that the contemporary classroom is not one that pushes for collaboration all the time, and gets kids to discuss and interact at every turn. The contemporary classroom is one that caters for the learning needs of ALL students, not just those that thrive in the busy environment, full of constant movement and noise.

And, so in my own enlightenment, here I have for you, a few tips that I learnt along the way. A few tips for those that are teachers, or parents, of introverts.

Give them options.

Whether it is at home or in the classroom, introverts are overwhelmed by the constant interaction and collaboration that occurs in most classrooms in 2016. I am, by no means, saying that introverts should not ever have to work with other children. But I am saying, that not every child is suited to the interactions that are required in collaboration. It is a skill that may not come naturally to them and it is a skill that they have to learn and develop over time.

It’s ok for them to be alone

No one wants their kids to be the kid that hangs out on their own. But introverts are often quite happy in their own company. They usually have a few close friends, as opposed to the extrovert who is constantly the centre of the big group of kids. Introverts often prefer to have some time alone. If you, as a parent, are concerned about your child being alone, talk to their teacher. There is a difference between the child who struggles socially, and the introvert who prefers, and actually needs some time on their own.

It’s ok for them to need time and for them to need quiet

Introverts need quiet, they need to reflect and often require time to ponder their answers, rather than engage in big impromptu and energetic discussions. They can feel overwhelmed and under prepared for the instantaneous nature of whole class discussions and group interactions. As teachers, we need to remember this and sometimes give these children reflective time or time to discuss with their friend, before engaging in larger interactions.

I love the contemporary classroom. It’s innovative, it’s adaptive and it’s flexible. But if the ever changing classroom environment is truly going to cater for the learning needs of ALL students, then it must be adaptive and flexible enough to truly cater for the learning needs of ALL students. Tom included.

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