Are you an introvert? Roughly one third to a half of the population feel most capable or alive in quiet environments. Author and speaker Susan Cain’s research centers around introverts, as the co-founder of the Quiet Revolution, a movement devoted to showcasing introverts’ strengths. She is also the author of Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Her 2012 TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts,” exceeds 21M views and is one of Bill Gates’ “all-time favorites.”

One important place where the introvert/extrovert dynamic appears is in the classroom. Here are three ways that she believes introverted students—and professors—can feel more comfortable when learning or teaching.

1. Retreat to a “restorative niche”

A restorative niche is an environment or activity that recharges you and can physically, or mentally, take you back to your true self. Stepping outside a comfort zone is the first step for professors to create an engaging experience for their students. It’s equally important to later schedule some solo time to recoup, says Cain: “If you know that you’re going to be on all morning, teaching a class and that’s going to be draining for you, make sure you schedule a lunch date with yourself afterwards where you’re going to honor that solitude and you’re going to stick to it just as fiercely as you would a commitment to your students.”

Introverts and extroverts respond to the same stimuli in different ways. For instance, parties are seen as fun, social gatherings—but they aren’t entirely enjoyable for everyone. Extroverts’ mental batteries are charged during a social event, where introverts’ batteries are quickly drained. It’s necessary, then, for introverts to prioritize their comfort and well-being by making time for themselves after being under the spotlight.

2. Evenly distribute group and individual projects

Once you get students together in a group, all creative ideas will emerge—or so many professors believe. But this is far from the case with introverts who may hesitate to raise their hand in front of a large crowd. Cain is an advocate of classrooms which “bring [independent work] back into the college curriculum,” giving introverts an opportunity to shine. Introverts would rather participate in solitary assignments or one-on-ones, both of which foreground deep and thoughtful reflection. Solitude is required for introverts to come up with their own unique solutions—most of which wouldn’t be shared in big groups. A balance between group and individual work is essential to create inclusive learning environments.

3. Engagement is better than participation

Modern courses are designed to penalize those who don’t speak in class—which is unfortunate for introverts. “It’s a system that’s encouraging a lot of blather. You know, it’s not a system that’s encouraging people to be thoughtful or to be respectful of other people’s time,” Cain says. Educators should place importance on engaging other students through meaningful contributions, rather than hosting a competition to see who has their hand up the most.

The traditional classroom structure is set up to favour extroverts at the expense of introverts. Country of origin has an important role to play, too—new immigrants may find it hard to adjust to the American attitude to participation. Some believe “that [classmates] are taking up everybody else’s time, but the more you do that, the more you’re actually rewarded.”

In her TED Talk, Cain uses a suitcase analogy to show how introverts may guard their thoughts. Introverts are precautious about what is shared with others, but Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert herself, urges others like her to occasionally “open up your suitcases for other people to see because the world needs you and it needs the things you carry.”

Free webinar with Susan Cain

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