Winning the Introvert
If you’re a teacher, then you generally don’t mind standing up in front of a group of people to talk. Not all educators are extroverts, but for the most part, we don’t tense up when we’re called on to talk.
I think that’s why introverts find school-type settings so difficult. They hope to God you don’t call on them and they seem to want to hide. But the reality is, introverts are observers. They’re paying attention probably better than most of the other students and they often perform well on tests.
I had a student named Doug and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he wanted to be a cosmetologist. He hardly participated and making eye contact was like torture for him. How was this guy going to cut hair and talk to people for a living? I went to the admissions office to get “the scoop” and discovered he was a single father to two daughters and wanted a stable career to take care of them. I made it my mission to learn more about Doug so that he would be successful in my classroom.
Here are my steps to winning the introvert
■ Take away the fear. Most of the time there is something preventing them from completely opening up. Whether it’s at home, self-image, whatever—you need to create a safe space without judgment. They don’t trust you yet. You have to earn it.
■ Don’t call them out. Sometimes even saying their name will embarrass them. If they’re going to participate, it needs to be on their terms—not yours. Don’t bring up bad memories if you know their history. Position yourself toward them so they feel included.
■ Find a connection. When I discovered that Doug rode that motorcycle parked out front, I brought it up in class. I said, “Wow, that is the coolest bike. Did anyone else see it? I wonder whose it is.” Then he, on his terms, piped up and said it was his. He immediately got excited and told the whole class about it. Now he had a new connection to his peers and to me.
■ Don’t change them. It’s not about making an introvert and extravert. It’s about building their trust and helping them succeed no matter who they are, what kind of learner they are or what their history is. That’s your job as a teacher—to bring out the best in everyone.
Never underestimate the power of an educator.