The faculty and I spend a lot of time discussing the needs of students, from both a broad, developmental perspective and from a personal and individual perspective. One topic that comes up perennially is the role of introversion and extroversion in the classroom. Susan Cain, author of Quiet, a NY Times bestseller since 2012, defines these two groups a little differently than you might have heard before, and I think it’s the best definition I’ve ever heard.
She says, an introvert is “a person who feels at their best and at their most alive when they’re in quieter, more mellow environments. And it stems from a neurobiological difference between introverts and extroverts. Literally, different nervous systems. Introverts have nervous systems that simply react more to everything that’s going on around them, and that means they feel more in their sweet spot when there’s less stuff happening. And extroverts have nervous systems that react less, which means that they don’t get to their sweet spot until there’s more stuff happening.”
Defined in terms of the external stimulation students seek, introversion and extroversion have a huge impact on what the ideal classroom environment looks like. In this interview with Mindshift at PBS, Cain discusses the impact on the classroom. There is a lot to consider–not all introverts are shy and lots of extroverts are surprisingly shy. Some skills that introverts might prefer to avoid (class discussions or group projects) might be important skills for them to develop for a successful college and professional life, but we want to challenge them while respecting their natural inclinations.
The smaller environment at TFS definitely creates a comfort level for our introverts to grow in that would not be possible in a large school, but it also means that they cannot hide in the back of the classroom or blend into a group. We are always working to meet your children where they are, while pushing them to move beyond their comfort zones. It’s an art rather than a science, but it’s a high priority for us at TFS.