What can Shy Charles teach teachers about the introverted student?

Poor misunderstood Charles! He was happy as can be until others told him he wasn’t.  Let’s not do that to any of our kiddos.  Understanding children like Charles is vital for any teacher.

Introversion is often confused with shyness.  Shyness has to do with social settings where a person wants to be more involved socially, but can’t because of anxiety.  Both introverts and extroverts can be shy.  I think Charles might argue the “shy” label if he could.

The book The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child: Helping Your Child Thrive in an Extroverted World by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy. D  states that “Introversion is actually an inborn temperament based on (a) child’s genetic makeup.”  The book explains that most people have both introverted and extroverted proclivities, with more people on the extroverted end of the spectrum.  The main differences have to do with energy as shown in the chart below:

Energized by Depleted by
Introverts accessing thoughts, feelings, and perceptions too much activity, noise, and chatter
Extroverts lots of people and much action too much quiet or solitude


What does that mean to teachers?  Well, in order to do a better job teaching a good share of our class, we need to remember that introversion is not a personality.  It is a way that many people interact with the world.  These strategies can help you interact with and better teach an introverted child.

In order to do a better job teaching, we need to remember that introversion is not a personality. - Kat & SquirrelAn introvert is like a treasure chest.  They are full of ideas, thought, fantasies, and feelings.  A teacher can help an introverted child gain a feeling of belonging by encouraging them to open the treasure chest and share the bounty within.  Interacting with others will help them stave off feelings of isolation. Charles enjoyed building a spaceship out of chairs alone, but he also enjoyed quiet times with his family.

An introvert is like a kaleidoscope.  They can amuse themselves for hours with what seems like very little stimulation.  They connect with deeper and deeper aspects of it also making connection with their inner thoughts. Teachers can focus on depth of learning vs. breadth when they recognize students with this deep focus.  Can you imagine Charles’ colorful thoughts as he zipped along on his roller skates?

An introvert is like a library.  They are full of knowledge, always seeking more resources, and willing to share information when asked.  Teachers can recognize this love of learning and make sure the curriculum is something worth learning about. (No boring time killers!) Present information in a way that kids will recognize its importance and crave learning more.  Charles knew exactly what to do in an emergency, probably because he’d already played the scenario through in his head.

An introvert is like a jigsaw puzzle.  They focus in on different aspects of their worlds and piece them together in creative innovative ways.  Teachers can ask the class for input when solving problems in the classroom.  An introvert has probably already recognized the problem and has been tossing around ideas for a while.  Teachers can also make sure the arts are a vibrant part of the work done in class.  Including music, drawing, painting, and sculpture in class projects will give introverts creative ways to express what they are thinking.  Charles didn’t enjoy dancing ballet, but he might have enjoyed learning to play that piano.

An introvert is like a fertilized chicken egg.  They appear extremely calm and collected on the outside, but inside they are processing emotions, thoughts, and feelings like crazy.  They are very tuned in to their own feeling and the feelings of others leading them to work well in groups.  Teachers can realize that introverts feeling are hurt easily.  They can ruminate over hurt feelings for some time without demonstrating or telling their feelings. They can have emotions flare-ups if they are tired, stressed, threatened, or hungry. Charles sure did after being yelled at by his dad during football practice.

An introvert is like a BFF.  They love to hold conversations and do so with a multifaceted use of social niceties.  They are great listeners, rarely interrupt, pick up on body language, offer real advice, remember past conversations, and keep secrets well.  They have playful imaginations and are loyal to people who take time to connect with them. Teachers can make sure introverts have access to others who enjoy discussing ideas in depth.  Teachers can also make sure the introvert is not depleted by too much socializing. Mrs. Belinski is sure to be one of Charles’ favorite people in the world.  She understands that he’s not ready to show his appreciation yet, and she knows that one day he will.

An introvert is like a crew member.  They don’t need to be in the spotlight in order to feel great about themselves.  They enjoy observing and being a part of things but don’t need to be the center of attention.  Too much attention actually becomes highly uncomfortable and even painful for many introverts.  Teachers can praise introverts privately for their accomplishments (they love recognition). Make sure that in any production there are “behind the scenes” roles, and never negatively single anyone out.  Charles showed his willingness to pitch in when he got Mrs. Block a blanket, some cocoa, and called the emergency service.

An introvert is like salmon.  They can be super healthy!  With all of their inner thought going on they are conscientious and think before making poor choices.  They know it’s best to swim upstream even though it’s more difficult.  They recognize the needs of their bodies and take measures to fulfill these needs.  Teachers can make sure that introverts are given solid factual information about health because they are likely to follow through with suggestions.  Do not feed them “old wives’ tales” like, “if you swallow a watermelon seed you’ll grow one in your tummy”.  Also make sure they know where to go to get more information on their own. Charles knew what worked well for him. He understood when it was time to pretend to be asleep and when it was time to roller skate.

Oh, Charles, you’ll be all right  – as long as the others in your life learn that sometimes a HERO says ZERO!  And that’s OK.

Thirsty for more? Check out this site called Ten Things Educators Should Know About Introverted Students by Lisa Petrilli.

Wondering where you fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum? Take this short quiz and find out.

Great teaching strategy to help engage the reluctant student: The Wingman / Sean Paris

Brainstorming for introverts (by the Squirrel): 5 Ways To Bring Out Your Introvert’s Creativity During Group Brainstorming Sessions (Plus 5 more ideas for the introverts)


Some good books for you:



10 Lessons from Storybook Characters