I have been using emotional intelligence lately to tune in to my students. I teach in an industry that demands extroverts. Last night, we had a guest speaker who came to share about trends in the fitness industry. He took one look at the group, and before he even started, he announced that they were too quiet and needed to change that quickly. I bristled.
Step back six weeks in time when I started reading a book on introversion. Susan Cain, the author, is an introvert “in a world that can’t stop talking.” She wrote an awesome book on the topic and I have to share what I learned.
There are lots of introverts among us. They are hard to spot sometimes because they have managed to adapt to their environment. As instructors, introverts can perform well in the classroom, but they need much more recovery time than an extroverted professor.
Many, many of our students are introverts. They are very uncomfortable with speaking up in class or engaging in dynamic group activity. They do it, but it is draining, and they have a harder time learning information because adrenaline is coursing through their veins. The limbic part of their brain is dealing with stress, and the pre-frontal cortex is not able to focus on learning.
I can relate. I know what it is like to be put on the spot and be expected to speak in full eloquence and all that comes out of your mouth is a caveman-like grunt.
We are supposed to be preparing our students for the workforce. Employers are telling us they want outgoing, friendly people with excellent customer service and communication skills. No introverts need apply.
So we create modular classrooms where students are forced to face each other and work in groups. We ask students to do oral presentations in front of the class regardless of ability. We call their name in front of the class without warning and expect a correct answer.
I wish we could have a visual readout of our students’ brainwave patterns and hormone production as we teach them so we can adapt our methods accordingly. If a student is half terrified, even though they can hide it well, they are not in a safe and effective learning environment. We can teach all we want, but they retain very little.
So what is the solution to this dilemma? Our introverted students are not less intelligent than our extroverted students, yet our biases favor the extrovert. The introverted professor brings a wealth of knowledge to campus meetings, but never gets heard. The introverted students are engaged and fully focused on learning until we push them too far out of their comfort zone. The loudest voice in the room is usually the one that we acknowledge.
How can we get a nice complement of both worlds? How can we pair our introverts and our extroverts so the best knowledge is heard?
We have much work to do in this area.
Start by reading Quiet, by Susan Cain.