Engaging the Introverts

Every classroom has them.  The students who try their best to be invisible.  They hardly raise their hands, they hardly volunteer to read aloud or answer a question or lead a discussion.  They may be perfectly well-behaved and compliant, facing the teacher or the board, watching what the others are doing, or just sitting on their hands.  These are the kids whom many teachers speak about with a gleam in their eyes; the kids whom many teachers love to have in their classes because they are respectful rule-followers.

But are these kids engaged during meaningful discussions?  If you answered yes, how do you know?

Just because a student is “physically engaged” in the classroom does not mean he or she is “cognitively engaged.”  In other words, I could walk into a classroom and immediately pick out the physically engaged students. You know who they are – the kids sitting quietly, watching their teacher or seemingly paying attention to another student who is speaking.

But what I can’t do is walk into a classroom and immediately determine which of these students is actually listening, processing, making connections, questioning, or creating hypotheses.  The only way to know if these quiet kids are learning is to ask them what they are learning or thinking.

And there’s the rub with introverts – getting them to feel comfortable enough to speak in class or share what they are thinking.

During the last two week, I had two moments of clarity regarding introverted students.  First, I read a blog post written by Jennifer Gonzalez titled A Mild Case of Fisheye.  “Think all of your students are participating in class?  Take another look.”  Gonzalez’s lead-in grabbed me.  This is a great post describing how the best class discussions are only engaging for the extroverts.  A teacher asks a great question, a few students provide thoughtful, interesting, or provocative answers, and a discussion ensues – but only for those who are participating.  But what about the quiet ones?  The Introverts?  Are they engaged?  

Gonzalez expertly explains why equitable participation in classrooms is important.  As she writes, “The quiet ones must learn to speak.”  And, “The talkers must learn to listen.”  She provides good strategies to bring out the introverts in classrooms.

Additionally, Gonzalez has written another post titled The Big List of Classroom Discussion Strategies.  Here, she provides 15 highly discussion strategies for teachers to use to engage ALL students in the classroom.  This is a great read with terrific strategies.

Then, I read a blog post written by my esteemed colleague and good friend Dr. Brian B. Bullis on his The Principal’s Office blog.  Dr. Bullis is a self-proclaimed introvert working in a leadership position designed by and for extroverts.  As Brian writes:

As we all know, this profession really has little room for introverts.  I am expected to a be a dynamic public communicator who can give speeches at the drop of a hat.  I am expected to say the right things at the right times to keep students, teachers, parents, and the community motivated to passionately pursue our school’s mission and vision.

I would put good money on the probability that Brian was one of those quiet kids in class who did not raise his hand very often in class.
Introvert Care








Two weeks ago, our instructional coaches and I shared the two Gonzalez blog posts with the teachers in our school.  We asked each teacher to try one discussion strategy to engage all students in meaningful and thoughtful discussions.  I am pleased to report that the teachers came back with very positive comments regarding the strategies.  We put together of a shared document of all the successful strategies that I will share with the entire staff.  


The goal for us as a staff is to engage all kids – the introverts and the extroverts.

Image retrieved from http://a.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2013/08/3016031-inline-how-to-care.jpg