Furthering Our Understanding as Educators

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about Thomas, a fourth grader I taught years ago in New York City. Thomas was quite reserved, and while he was always prepared for discussions, he rarely volunteered to speak and only occasionally shared his thinking with the group. When he would offer a solution to a math problem or an idea about our read-aloud book, he’d often freeze, staring right at me, his back straightening, his face growing flushed. Working with Thomas over the course of the year, I figured out some ways to help him share his voice more comfortably. For example, when Thomas worked on small group research projects, he always showed up at the group presentation knowing his part and able to deliver it clearly. His work was well-researched, thorough, and beautifully illustrated. And he was surprisingly forthcoming in answering questions asked of his group. By June, Thomas, his family, and I all felt good about the growth he had shown. He had a good year.

This summer, my mind has gone back to Thomas many times because I’ve been reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. As a society, we tend to favor extroverts for their ability to navigate social situations, and for their outgoing personalities, charisma, and confidence in voicing their thoughts and opinions. Although it was clear to me back then that Thomas was an introvert, I was unaware of the strengths he possessed as an introvert. Instead, I was set on helping him participate more often and find his voice in the classroom so I could move him toward being more of an extrovert. Quiet is helping me grow in my own understanding of introverts, and I can’t help thinking about how the understanding I have now would have helped me in my work with Thomas.

Quakers believe that new truth is constantly being revealed to those who seek it, and that each new bit of understanding helps us create a more developed picture of the whole. For us as educators in a Quaker school, continuing revelation is what drives us forward in refining our teaching craft. There are always new understandings to be developed, and this is what keeps us energized and fresh year after year. One could say we are never done, nor should we be. I’ve inched closer to the truth by gaining a new piece of understanding about introversion and its many strengths, and I’m eager to have this new lens inform my interactions with children and adults this year.

I’m not alone in this work. This summer, a number of lower school teachers attended professional development on reading and writing instruction, the latest brain research, and building diverse and inclusive classrooms and schools. We formed book clubs and, while some read Quiet like I did, others read books about different topics that affect our work with children: examining the language we use with children, our beliefs about equity and justice, sensory processing, and gender fluidity. I can’t wait to learn from their new understandings as we move closer to the truth together this year and further refine our teaching craft.