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6 Ways Extroverted Teachers Can Support Introverted Students

Posted by on in What If?
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"She just needs to talk more in class."

Those were the words a frustrated mother shared with me during one of my first parent-teacher conferences.  The mother's goal was for her child to speak up more in class.  That was it.  In her mother's opinion, that's all the daughter needed to be more successful in school; she just needed to break out of her shell.  I thought to myself, "Well, that seems easy enough."

Oh, my naivety.

As an inexperienced teacher (and strong extrovert myself), it seemed logical to not question the validity of this parent's request.  At that time, I equated students who actively spoke in class as the bright and engaged learners.  If I'm honest, and if you follow the logic of that belief system, then I probably considered those students who spoke up less in class as less enthusiastic and engaged learners.

I cringe as I type that.

I think both my student's mom and I were well-intentioned, though our actions were ill-informed.  The mother was a strong extrovert and played a prominent role in our school's parent association.  She was outgoing, popular, and bounced around the school with a joyful enthusiasm that seemed to be contagious to everyone around her.

Yet it wasn't.

Her extroversion was not contagious nor did it rub off on her daughter.  And if anything, this student felt her mother's expectations to match her extroverted personality, which carried a burden of weight on this 10-year old's shoulders.

How can you be someone you're not?

In reflection, I recognize that the daughter was an engaged and thoughtful listener, who was artistic both musically and in drawing.  While the daughter had one or two good friends, which may have been a disappointment to her mother, those friendships were as strong and deep as any in my class.  These admirable qualities needed to be lifted up instead of buried in an attempt to 'make' this student more extroverted.

As an extrovert, my journey to better understand the dynamic minds of introverts continues to this day.  Since my wonderful wife is an introvert, this learning is occurring not just in my classrooms, but now in my home on a daily basis.

And here is what am I learning...



Accurate Descriptions of Introverts.  There is no universal definition for introverts and extroverts.  However, Susan Cain, the best-selling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, shares some descriptors common among introverts including:

     -Introverted individuals prefer time alone to recharge after engaging in social settings.

     -Introverts feel 'just right' with less stimulation.

     -They often work slowly and deliberately.  Introverted folks like to focus on one task with the mighty power of concentration.

     -They listen more than they talk, and think before they speak.

     -Introverts often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.

     -They can value and feel more equipped for deep conversations than small talk.

Common Misconceptions of Introverts.  There are a variety of misconceptions about introverts, including:

     -Introverts don't like people.  This is simply untrue, they just tend to value smaller groups of friends.

     -Introverts don't like social settings.  Again this is unfounded, as introverts value deep conversations with people, though need time afterward to recharge.

     -Introverts are shy.  Being shy relates to the fear of social rejection.  Instead, introverts are just selective in their friendship circles.

     -It's easy to identify introverts.  You may be surprised by people who identify as introverted, as they may be very active in social settings.  Again, the key to introversion is understanding that all folks can be successful in social settings, it may just take more energy for introverts.

     -Cain notes that between one-third to half of the population are introverts.  Think about that.  Up to one-half of our students may identify as being introverted.

The question is, do our classrooms and practice support the unique needs of these students?



1.  Reflect upon our own bias regarding introverts.  When we think of these students, do we associate them as shy, timid, or even weak?  If so, we need to educate ourselves to interrupt these negative stereotypes.

2.  Tally our daily feedback to introverts.  Do we spend more time building upon their strengths or more time subconsciously trying to transform them into being more extroverted?

3.  Design our lessons to support the needs of all learners, introverts included.

     -Do we include deliberate quiet time to think and reflect?

     -Instead of emphasizing constant group work, do we also include independent and pair work?

     -Do we encourage introverts' voices to be heard through writing, blogging, creating podcasts, and video reflections?

     -Do we provide introverted students with some advance notice regarding questions they will answer out loud in class?

4.  Do we value "more" as better?  Do we assume that it's better to share out loud more (regardless of the quality of ideas), have more friends, and provide students with more classroom stimulus and options?  If so, we are subconsciously reinforcing society's message that values extroverted characteristics over the preferences of introverts.

5.  Do we use language that assumes being an introvert is something students need to fix?  The following are examples of common teacher language with a negative introvert bias:

     "She's just so quiet, I wish she would speak up more."

     "She just needs to come out of her box."

     "I'm concerned that he doesn't have a bigger group of friends."

     "If he was just more outgoing, he would be a great leader."

6.  Do we strive to stretch extroverts outside of their comfort zones as often as we do with introverted students?  Yes, introverts need to learn skills that may come more natural to extroverted students (success in collaborative settings and verbally communicating their ideas).  By the same token, extroverted students need to be challenged in areas that may come more naturally to introverts (think carefully before sharing and listen deliberately before speaking).


I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences when working with students who are introverts.  Share your comments below.

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As a professor of education, Tony Kline, Ph.D. is always learning. Having taught in rural villages in Africa to urban neighborhoods in the midwest, he has been surrounded by individuals who've dedicated their lives to impacting students. Now as a professor of education who has taught on four continents, he's had the great pleasure to work with colleagues to help prepare over 1,000 current teachers who are passionately serving in today's classrooms. Tony Kline, Ph.D. is an assistant professor for the Franks School of Education at Trine University in Angola, Indiana. He has been honored by Phi Delta Kappa International as an Emerging Leader Under 40 and was the recipient of the Excellence in Teaching Award by Ball State University and Trine University. These thoughts and views are personal and do not represent any outside organization.

  • Guest
    Brigid Wolff Wednesday, 30 March 2016

    Raising an introvert and reading Susan Cain's book with him when he was in 8th grade, transformed my teaching. I too use many of the same techniques. I also have a rubric that measures non verbal participation which my introverted students report has made them feel more welcome in our class.

  • Tony Kline, Ph.D. | @TonyKlinePhD
    Tony Kline, Ph.D. | @TonyKlinePhD Thursday, 31 March 2016

    Thanks for your feedback, Brigid. I would be really interested in learning more about your rubric! Can you kindly share a few items of criteria?

  • Guest
    Phil Tuesday, 03 May 2016

    This is an excellent article. I am an extreme introvert and I was fortunate to be sent to a boarding school in Sydney, Australia.
    I was raised on a farm and I was placed in a boarding school when I was in 6th grade. This was a big step for me as I was very quiet and did not mix very well with other students. On my report it states that I was very quiet, which my parents would see, but they would not talk about it with me. My father was an extrovert and my mother was an introvert There was no discussion to me about it back then with the school and/or my parents. I just went through boarding school coping the best way I could. It would have been great if students and teachers understood introversion, as they would have understood me better. I had a talent for sport and eventually became school champion and captain for tennis, which I was very proud of.
    I am now 62 years old and I have done some exceptional things throughout my life, which have been outside my comfort zone. I have learnt a lot about being an introvert in the past couple of years and I have learnt to deal with it the best way I can. I believe Susan Cain is leading the way with this and I will help promote and sell her books so other people can better understand introversion. This is now going to be my job and educate people on this important topic.

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