Last month we gave everyone on staff a chance to participate in a unique professional development experience–to learn how to “unlock the power of quiet.” Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which the entire Prospect Sierra faculty and staff read together in 2012, is an eye-opening study of how much our work and school worlds are geared towards extroverts. By understanding introverts, all of us can do a much better job of providing spaces, meetings, and programs that are more inclusive of introverts and allow our entire community to benefit more from the creativity and power that introverts possess.
Now, I’m an extrovert. This means I gain energy when I’m with people and I am not worn out by loud spaces and groups. Introverts are the opposite. They gain energy by being alone, and if they’re exposed to many people or stimuli for a period of time, their energy is sucked out of them and they need to recharge. A misconception is that introverts have bad social skills or can’t speak in public. This is not true. There are incredibly effective and successful performers and leaders who are introverts. They simply have a greater need than extroverts to recharge through quiet or alone time after an experience where they have had to be in groups or highly stimulating environments.
After reading Quiet all those years ago, I wanted to ensure that we have spaces for all students to find a little quiet in their day. Each classroom at Tapscott has spaces for reading quietly, and at Avis we reserve one room in our library for quiet reading, as well as a wild space on our upper hillside. Teachers use mindfulness or a few moments of silence in their classes either after recess or whenever the need arises. Julie, our Avis art teacher, gives students opportunities to be in their own zone when they are creating art by listening to music. If we don’t support introverts, who are known for their ability to be highly creative and good listeners, we miss out on so much that introverts can offer.
Yet, we have work to do. In the staff workshop last month, led by Heidi Kasevich, who is the Education Director of Cain’s organization Quiet Revolution, we delved into the typical environments in schools and workplaces that expect people to be more outgoing or outspoken. All of us could relate to the idea that teachers tend to equate student engagement with speaking more in class. Some of us who have taught since “back in the day,” could admit to having made classroom participation part of the overall grade sometime in our career. We also problem-solved around everyday scenarios such as recess and group work. Many felt safe and vulnerable enough to share how it feels to be an introvert in an extroverted world, and how truly exhausting a day at school can be.
And then there was the quiet that pervaded the space and time. Having more or less “done my homework” on Susan Cain’s ideas, I expected to appreciate spending time problem-solving with colleagues, but not necessarily learning new information. What I experienced was much more profound. Because the workshop was led by Kasevich, an introvert, and was attended by almost entirely introverts, the program was different than any other professional development I’ve ever had. It was very quiet–almost uncomfortably so for me, until I recognized how I was benefiting from it. Yet my introverted colleagues were thriving in that setting: feeling productive, comfortable about sharing out, and working in groups. I realized how much we were doing that was not “unlocking” the power of introverts in our staff. What if every meeting were that quiet and deliberate? What if we allowed more room for silence before someone else spoke? What if we waited longer for responses, instead of just calling on the first person we see? What if we gave people time to do “quiet think” on their own before asking for participation? These are just some of the ideas that we realized could move us farther along in making our environment more inclusive of introverts, and thereby unlocking their many hidden talents.
I’m happy to share reflections on the professional development that we will continue to do this year as a school in the Quiet Network. Please reach out if you or your children are introverts and tell us how we can be a more inclusive environment.