Mrs Emma Lowry, Dean of Students
Originally published in July 2013
Those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know. — Lao Tzu
This famous Chinese quotation refers to 德 ‘de’—a Taoist concept often translated as ‘inherent character or inner power’. It reflects the cultural importance placed on quiet composure, inner contemplation and humility. Chinese and other Asian cultures respect quiet. And quiet people.
Silence is a way of communicating; it is better to talk too little than too much. Cultural mores influencing this mindset include the desire for group harmony and the belief that withholding one’s true opinion signifies politeness. In many Asian countries, characteristics such as reserved quietness, listening to others, and introversion are highly respected (Cain, 2011), qualities which are not so well regarded in western culture.
Reflecting upon my time teaching in Japan, I remember how I felt discouraged when students did not seem to participate or engage in class. High school students in particular did not ask questions and, if I asked them questions, they would often just stare back at me in silence. It took me some time to understand that, in Japanese society, actions are valued more than words, and it is the quiet, persistent student who receives the praise.
Recently, all students received their Semester 1 reports and Year 10 and Year 8 Parent-Teacher Interviews have taken place, leading to discussions about student progress and levels of engagement. The ‘Engagement in Learning’ comments on student report cards have given pause for thought; and I have considered how I ascertained ‘engagement’ of the quiet, possibly introverted, students in my care. While cultural differences can have an impact on where students sit on the introversion–extroversion spectrum, the fact that our Australian education system encourages students to vocalise their opinions in a collaborative learning environment and to be positively, actively engaged in an extrovert-centred world also needs to be considered. There is a need to foster different types of engagement and participation to individually cater for every girl. What constitutes ‘engagement’ differs for everyone, particularly for students who are introverted.
At least one third, but possibly closer to one half, of the population are introverted (Cain, 2012). Introverts thrive in environments that are not over-stimulating, and tend to enjoy quiet concentration. If your daughter is an introvert she may recharge at the end of the day by being alone with her thoughts and undertaking inner contemplation (Petrelli, 2012). Conversely, your extroverted daughter would be energised by social situations and tend to be an assertive multi-tasker who thinks out loud and on her feet (Goudreau, 2012).
In every class I teach, in every House in the School, there are students who are very good listeners, who are cognizant of what is happening in class, who know the correct answer, and yet don’t feel comfortable to answer questions or to engage in class discussion. While it is vital for these students to develop the skills they need in order to survive in what can be deemed as an extroverted society, it is also necessary to recognise their needs and nurture their sensitivity. How can we, at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, engage students who are introverted, as well as support exceptional scholarship so that each girl acquires the confidence to contribute to her world with imagination, wisdom and integrity?
Ms Natalie Smith, our Dean of Studies and Planning, speaks of the need ‘to find that all important balance between fuel and space, between facts and learning, to find the gaps to breathe and find meaning, so that the fire of deep understanding can ignite and burn passionately’ (2013). The importance of creating the mental space to ponder is equally important as creating the physical space to develop deeper understanding and enhance academic performance. According to research psychologist, Anders Ericsson, ‘solitude’ is the key ingredient required to enhance exceptional achievement (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, 1993). While introverts prefer to work individually and crave solitude, if we consider this notion in the actual classroom, it is actually the extroverts who unfortunately often fail to realise their true talents. The quietness and the time needed to practice music or study mathematics requires a solitude that they try to avoid (Cain, 2012, p. 83).
The need for quiet spaces for students, both introverted and extroverted, to spend time in solitude — for creativity, for contemplation and reflection, for solo-thought and for dedicating pure attention toward time on task — is being incorporated in the plans for future campus development at Girls Grammar. And while solitude can provide the quality of attention required to effectively learn tasks (Smith, 2013), it must also be noted that collaborative work in open spaces has a rightful place in the contemporary learning environment. For introverted students, however, collaborative learning should be in small groups and well managed.
Interestingly, research into the productivity of group performance indicates that as the size of the group increases, the group performance decreases. Groups of four generate better and more creative ideas than groups of six, who do better than groups of nine (Cain, 2012). For introverts, the best approach for group-work in the classroom is to have small groups of two or three, and clear roles for each student. In class discussions, teachers should encourage the quiet, introverted student to contribute ideas earlier, rather than wait until everyone has voiced their opinions and the tension has built up internally.
Online discussions are wonderful platforms for introverts to voice their opinion. The way we communicate and interact via social media and the Internet is positive for introverts, as it gives them the time and the space they require to think (Sparks, 2012). Moodle, the School’s Learning Management System, is an excellent resource for introverted students to be actively engaged in subject material. In 2014 the School’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy will be implemented, thus giving students greater opportunity to receive a broader range of classroom materials online through their preferred technological devices. Students can choose to individually process and reflect upon concepts in a more accessible environment, potentially allowing for a richer discussion in class, as the time and space for thinking and analysing has been provided. Using Moodle and engaging via small groups will not only empower students who are introverted, but it will help develop their confidence to contribute to the wider world around them.
Principal Ms Jacinda Euler states that, ‘A Girls Grammar education recognises the particular strengths and needs of the individual, seeking to draw out the very best in every girl’ (2013). While our education system values collaborative learning, interactive participation and asserting one’s opinion, in order to support exceptional scholarship, we believe that it is imperative to also recognise individual needs and nurture students’ sensitivities for each and every girl to reach her full potential.
We know from myths and fairytales, there are many different powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, and another a wizard’s education. The trick is to not amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn’t choose to go to Wonderland — but she made an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own. (Cain, 2012, p. 266)
Cain, S. (2011, January 22). What Amy Chua (and David Brooks) didn’t tell you: The real reason ‘Chinese mothers are superior’. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/2011/01/22/the-real-reason-chinese-mothers-are-superior/
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown.
Ericsson, A. K., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/blogs/freakonomics/pdf/DeliberatePractice(PsychologicalReview).pdf
Euler, J. (2013). Welcome from Ms Jacinda Euler. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/about/from-the-principal/
Goudreau, J. (2012, January 30). So begins a quiet revolution of the 50 per cent. Forbes. Retrieved September 14, 2012, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/01/30/quiet-revolution-of-the-50-percent-introverts-susan-cain/
Petrilli, L. (2012, January 30). Five myths about introversion from Harvard Business Review. Retrieved September 11, 2012, from http://www.lisapetrilli.com/2012/01/30/5-myths-about-introversion-from-harvard-business-review/
Smith, N. (2013, June 20). Mind the gap. BGGS News. Retrieved July 19, 2013, from http://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/2013/06/mind-the-gap/
Sparks, S. D. (2012, March 22). Studies illustrate plight of introverted students. Education Week. Retrieved July 26, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/05/23/32introvert_ep.h31.html
Read reflective commentary form Dean of Students, Mrs Emma Lowry, on her article, ‘Nurturing the introvert’.
I learned a lot when I initially researched and wrote this article in 2013 about introversion and the need for silent spaces in schools. Since then, with every student interaction and every lesson, I am reminded of my responsibility to create thinking spaces and the opportunity for engagement, for all introverted, extroverted and ambiverted learners.
In 2018, Cultures of Thinking was introduced as a way of being in the classroom, a driving force in celebrating the thinking of our students and a vehicle for enabling them to more comfortably voice their thoughts and opinions. Through the lens of Cultures of Thinking, I have been able to further reflect on my role of affecting the culture of the classroom, and what might I do to nurture both introverts and extroverts in my care. What is effective learning and how can I make thinking more visible—especially for introverts? What is the power of slowing down and the benefit of silence in the classroom—factors that we know bide well with introverts?
The eight ‘Cultural Forces’ that define our classrooms have prioritised the allocation of time for quiet thinking to formulate responses, created purposeful opportunities to engage in thinking, reflect and share, and ensured there is an expectation that focuses on the value of thinking, as opposed to just classroom engagement. All of these forces nurture students’ sensitivities and allow for collaboration and communication in a setting that is thoughtful and personalised for the individual learner.
As an example, the Micro-Lab protocol, which prompts discussion from every group member and is used for focussed discussion, is an incredible tool for enticing ideas fromss introverts. There is time for solo thought and pure attention to a task, and then every group member has a limited time to share their thinking with their small group of peers. The magical aspect is that there is a non-interruption element that allows for every single person to talk, but to also listen. It seems almost revolutionary as a way of encouraging active participation from everyone in a way that is supportive without building up internal pressure from those girls who are more reluctant to voice their thoughts in front of the whole class.
In my initial research, best practice indicated that in class discussions, teachers should encourage the quiet, introverted student to contribute ideas earlier, rather than wait until everyone has voiced their opinions. However, through using the protocols offered through Cultures of Thinking I have noticed that the environment in the classroom has shifted, and the scaffolding of thinking and reflection has resonated with the girls. Confidence has enabled them to contribute at a greater level, and anecdotally, this this has been especially true for the introverted students in our classes.