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Tuesday, 01 April 2014 14:19

Quiet, Please: How We Engage Introverts

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At Techbridge we host a book club that gives us a chance to make time to read and come together to talk about research. We don't always agree on the subject matter, but the book discussions always get us thinking about how we approach our work with kids and with one another. Our last read was Quiet. In her best seller, Susan Cain shares research and personal experiences about the continuum of extroversion-introversion and how the trait can impact engagement and performance at work and school.

Quiet got me rethinking how we support the girls in our after-school programs and how we work at Techbridge. Here are some of my take-aways from the book for our work with kids in our after-school programs.

1) One third to one half of us are introverts yet there is some bias in our culture towards extraverts. Research shows that those who are talkative are more likely to have the chance to present their ideas and more likely to be perceived as competent. As we plan activities, let's stop and think about how we can encourage kids—and especially the introverts—to get their fair share of time and attention so they can fully engage in every part of the lesson.

2) Introverts and extroverts have different preferences for levels of stimulation. We can value both types of learning styles and create sweet spots for introverts and extroverts. In cooperative projects, we can be mindful of the demands placed on introverts and keep some space and time for individual work, especially at the start of a project.

3) It helps when kids know their roles in group activities. Clearly defined goals can help introverts take an active role and not get overshadowed by those more extroverted. With thoughtfulness, role assignment can gently nudge introverts to take on more active roles and extroverts to be more reflective.

4) Despite years of research on what works (and what doesn't), we're still setting up brainstorm situations in ways that are likely to be less productive. Invite kids to think about the project at hand and brainstorm on their own in advance of sharing in a group. With time to think kids are likely to generate more useful ideas and introverts are more likely to have the chance to add their ideas in the mix.

5) Many of the projects we introduce in our after-school programs ask kids to work with others. Sometimes kids get to choose who they work with while other times we assign partners. We have heard from some of our girls that they appreciate moving outside their comfort zone and working with others. These opportunities help kids go beyond their circle of friends, grade level, racial group, ability level, or place on the introversion-extroversion continuum.

6) Explain why it's important to learn to work with others and why you do social engineering. From our experience we found it helpful to explain to kids and parents. We promote teamwork to prepare our girls for what's ahead in high school, college, and the work place.

7) Working collaboratively can also create challenges. Some pairs find that two minds are better than one. These groups jump in and share ideas that build upon one another's efforts. They quickly try out their plans and when their first design fails—as they typically do—the girls step back and discuss how they can improve upon the redesign. In contrast, others just can't seem to figure out how to work together. Through trial and error, we have learned lessons to reduce these challenges and help more of our girls to work together with success.

8) At the end of the afternoon, allow time for kids to reflect in ways that support introverts and extraverts. Give everyone a post-it and invite them to share an idea they learned or a question they want to pursue. Collect and discuss them at the end or start of your program.

9) Help parents appreciate their child for who they are and offer strategies to support their child's strengths.

Our discussion around Quiet also gave us food for thought on our workspace and how we work at the office.

1) The open space concept is very popular, yet research suggests a different approach may work better. Top performers have workplaces that provide the most privacy, personal space, and freedom from interruption. Excessive stimulation and frequent interruptions can reduce productivity. Places with the optimal work environments offer a mix of personal and private quiet areas where staff can focus on individual projects and work alone along with casual meet-up areas where folks can brainstorm and share work in progress without interrupting others. This arrangement allows people to choose when and how much they want to collaborate. The set-up also accommodates for differences among introverts and extroverts. While it may not be possible to totally reconfigure an office, it is possible to reimagine elements within the office.

2) Some of our staff have jobs that bring frequent interruptions and interactions with others. They have been encouraged to create systems that let others know when they need quiet and uninterrupted time. A stop sign, a cartoon, or closed door gives them permission to have quiet time when they need it and to let others know when to hold off on a request or question.

3) Meetings are an important and frequent part of our work day. We are trying to be more mindful of differences among staff and support the inclusion of ideas from everyone during meetings and project planning. From Quiet, we learned that we can create opportunities for introverts to participate by inviting them in advance to present an idea or project update. With time to prepare they will be able to think about and rehearse their contribution. Another idea we are trying is asking staff to brainstorm by themselves and compiling their ideas for group discussion. This gives everyone time to contribute and reflect in advance. Not only does this encourage introverts but it also makes for more productive discussions.

I encourage you to read Quiet and think about how you support the introverts and extroverts in the work you do. What did you learn from the research? Do you disagree with any messages in the book? I invite you to share your experiences.

By the way, I had breakfast this Sunday morning here at the Techbridge office. I find that the quiet and uninterrupted time allows me to write and think about where I want to go during the week.

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Linda Kekelis

Executive Director
Oakland, CA


Linda Kekelis is Executive Director of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science, technology, and engineering.  With over 20 years’ experience designing and leading girls’ programs, Linda participates in advisory boards, collaborates with girl-serving organizations, and works with professional groups and corporate partners to promote females’ participation in science, technology, and engineering.  She conducts research, participates in national conferences, and writes, translating research into practical applications for educators, professionals, and parents. She has a doctorate in special education from the University of California, Berkeley.



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