What’s your favourite time of day? One of my favourite times is when I’m hanging the washing on the line first thing in the morning. This usually happens at around 7 am, the world hasn’t quite got going and I savour the quiet hum of our village as it starts a new day. I try to take my time and relish the few minutes of quiet in which I cannot hear my kids squabbling or the noise of my husband unloading the dishwasher. I use my fleeting solitude wisely, I think about my day, what I’d like to accomplish and what I have to do or sometimes I let my mind wander in no specific direction at all whilst I carry out my seemingly mundane task. If I’m lucky hanging the washing out takes 10 minutes and then it’s back to the daily pre school chaos that I’m sure not only engulfs our household but many up and down the land.
The thing is, I love peace and quiet, I love it when I can settle in my classroom during my PPA time with no distractions and get on and do something. On Sundays when I go kayaking, I can be paddling with upto 12 others but I love nothing more than silently paddling along listening to the rhythmic sound of my paddle in the water, the call of sea birds all around and to let my mind wander. Solitude is bliss for me and I treasure it. During one of my solitary moments this summer I engaged in another of my favourite activities; reading. I love to read and always have, during term time I tend to read less but in the holidays I love to relax with a good book – given half the chance I’d do it all day! This summer after I’d read all my chosen literature my husband suggested I read a book which did not appeal to me one little bit, it is called Quiet and it was written by Susan Cain. It has a subtitle – The Power of Introverts In A Word That Just Can’t Stop Talking. Those of you who know me would no doubt call me an extrovert so why on earth would I want to read this sort of book I asked myself, but in the absence of any other reading material at the time I reluctantly read it. It was un put downable. It was a real page turner and I am so glad my lovely hubs pushed me to read it and here’s why.
Cain has clearly done her research, as her book is littered full of quotes from psychologists and scientists alike. Her premise is this; in an era of big business the world has become increasingly “extrovert”, introverts have been shunned in favour of the salesman with the big personality yet, Cain explains with clarity and conviction that the world now more than ever, needs introverts. Introverts often come up with the best ideas but these ideas are often drowned out by the noise of extroverts in meetings. Introverts are quiet people, who like to work in peace and solitude, it gives them time to think and process information, however we currently appear to live in a world where the group mentality is king. We increasingly work in open plan offices and our classrooms are often arranged in tables of 4 or even 6 to aide group work. Cain argues that for introverts these are difficult working conditions and more flexibility is called for so that both extroverts and introverts can get the best out of business or education and can equally feedback into those systems more successfully.
We have all had to engage in the horror of brainstorming on an INSET day and we all know that those who speak loudest or most confidently generally hold sway. Cain argues that online working is a great arena in which both introverts and extroverts can successfully operate. Extroverts get a chance to express their views and introverts get thinking time to express theirs in equal measure moreover, the loudest voice isn’t the one that is necessarily heard and as a result better ideas are often formed.
Both of these notions really stuck with me. I actually hate doing group work in my classroom as I have never found it to be that productive or in fact, something that students particularly enjoy. I do however have my classroom arranged in tables of 4, with some tables of 2 at the front. I find that this arrangement works well for speaking pairwork in the modern languages classroom, also it enables the students to help each other. I had not however, considered how this arrangement made my introverts feel and although there will never be a perfect solution to this conundrum I now feel that I have to take this new information into account when organising my room and some of my classroom activities.
This year I have been experimenting with working online with my students and for the most part I have found it to be successful, yet until I had read Quiet I hadn’t really realised that it was mainly my introverted students that had contacted me via email throughout the academic year to discuss points about homework or classwork, but that is in fact the case. My extroverts on the other hand, like to to talk openly to me during class time. I have also produced a website for my students to use to practise reading and listening exercises they submit their answers to me electronically via the site. I guess, and it is only a guess, that the introverts among my class have preferred this method of delivery as it gives them time to think and consider their answers away from the pressures of the classroom. Given the things that I have leant from reading Quiet I intend to extend the use of online learning and discussion into the next academic year.
By far the most incredible thing that I have learnt from reading this book is about myself. According to Cain, we are all to some extent introvert and extrovert, none of us is 100% extrovert or introvert, which I guess is a blessing. I am without doubt extrovert, but not as extrovert as you might think when you first meet me. As a child I was painfully shy, so much so that my parents really worried about it and sent me to a variety of after school clubs so that I could mix with others and exorcise my introversion! Over the years, I have learnt to be more extrovert. I love a party, but prefer it if they are small. I like to go for a drink in the pub but after a while I find that the noise gets to me and I have to go home. I love a chat but like to keep certain things about my family and myself very private. I love to read and spent a lot of my formative years “living in my head” as Cain calls it, wishing I was a member of the Famous Five. I get very nervous before speaking in public and when I was a Head of Year I got sweaty hands before every assembly that I delivered over a 5 year period. So you see, I am not that much of an extrovert I am just that person who loves to hang her washing out and get in touch with her introverted self whilst do so!
This book was so startling, it made me think, it made me smile. I recognised myself, my husband, my family and my students in it and for those reasons alone I cannot recommend it to you enough!
If you want to see Susan Cain in action talking about her book have a look at her TED talk here.