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Reaching and Teaching Introverted Students

Dr. Lisa Kaenzig
Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Some can't stop talking, and others seem quiet and reflective. Those are two differences between extroverts and introverts.

Dr. Lisa Kaenzig, an Associate Dean at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva has studied best teaching practices for both types of students since she earned her doctorate in the late 90s.

Dr. Kaenzig noticed a disconnect between what she labels as “upbeat” teachers and students who struggle with group work and oral presentations. She enjoys training educators on the strategies to reach all of the students in their classroom – introverts and extroverts.

“When we only grade participation in classrooms by who's raising their hands and interrupting and talking in class, we're really missing out on quite a bit from kids who are so bright in thinking through their answers before they quickly jump in,” said Kaenzig.

Dr. Kaenzig says 75% of gifted and talented children are introverts and more than 75% of teachers are extroverts, so it helps for each group to understand each other. Parents may also find this recognition helpful in raising their children.

Extroverts and introverts are just wired differently.

Dr. Kaenzig calls herself a "raging" extrovert. She says we should consider introverts as 'slower', but often, better thinkers, who may need a little more time to respond.

"Introverts often get better grades in classes, but classroom teachers and other students in the class often think the extroverts are the ones getting the better grades because they're talking so much more in the class,” said Kaenzig. “So, it's a real interesting disconnect in terms of perception, too."

She points out that President Obama and Canada's president are both introverts.

We shouldn’t assume that introverts don't like being around other people, but it can wear them down, said Kaenzig.

"Most of our introverts end up being our creators, our problem solvers, because they take that time to think and process through something and follow things all the way through. Many of them have terrific work ethics. They can focus on something alone for long periods of time."

There's something to be said for each type. We just have to make sure we value both.

Kaenzig outlines critical differences between introverts and extroverts:

"We get energy from other people, from our environment, from our surroundings, schools, from all that great energy and activity that's going on around us. Introverts, on the other hand, get energy from within themselves. And so, after they've been in a social environment like school, they need time to kind of recharge, go back into themselves, have some time to think and to process, re-energize and recharge their batteries."

Dr. Kaenzig applauds the renewed interest in schools to provide individual learning experiences for kids. For example, teachers, who are often extroverts, may think twice about using so-called “fish-bowls.”

"The idea where there's a small group of students in the middle talking about something, and a bigger group of students sitting around them and they all are kind of critiquing the kids on the inside doing it,” said Kaenzig. “It really is great for the extroverts and absolutely horrible for the introverts. Some teachers do that very regularly, because it's been sort of seen as a best practice. And it's great best practice for extroverts, but not so much for introverts."

For parents

Dean Kaenzig suggests you notice the differences in your children. She has two daughters, one an extrovert, the other introverted.

"The worst thing I can do is immediately ask her the minute she comes home 'How was your day? How was your day?' She just needs some time to process and have some alone time to process that in her own mind and her own way. Where my extroverted daughter, the minute she walks in the door she's telling me about her day because she needs to verbally process it out loud in that regard."

Kaenzig says when parents and teachers understand both types of personalities the adult can help the child cope with difficult situations.

"You wouldn't take an extroverted child and say 'You must spend all of this time in your room. You must read books all of the time. You must spend lots of time alone.' You would never say that to an extroverted child. We feel excitement when they're wanting to be social and be with their peers and tell us what happened with their day, and I think in the same way that we respect that innate strength of an extroverted child, we need to respect the innate strengths of the introverted child."

In other words, Kaenzig says we shouldn't force children to be something they are not.


Kaenzig is often asked by teachers to help them better understand students in their classrooms.

"Teenagers, whether they're girls or boys, are such sensitive people and they're going through so much change so quickly, and so I think making sure that you help them by talking about things like introversion and extroversion and personality traits, helps them understand themselves better. I think there's real power in that. There's something to be said for each type. We just have to make sure we value both."