Article 1 June 2023 Download
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The herd instinct can be very powerful, and if it creates a sense of ‘not fitting in’ or ‘not good enough’ this can be a big contributor to poor mental health on campus, including a sense of isolation, depression and even suicide.
• Classroom dynamics, lesson design, and the facilitative role of teachers and tutors are all huge contributing factors to teacher and student mental wellbeing.
• One key element that should always be factored in is that every person has either naturally Extravert or Introvert (E/I) tendencies. Especially if that person is naturally introverted in a world where in most cultures, extraversion is regarded as the ‘norm’ and is therefore expected of everyone.
• Where these E/I needs are not being adequately met, there cannot be effective teaching nor inclusive learning. Instead, both teaching faculty and students can fall victim to disengagement, and debilitating mental conditions also often develop.
Extensive quantitative and qualitative research in the UK report high levels of low mental and emotional wellbeing in its education sector. This equally pertains to both teaching faculty and students.
Resultant fatigue, disengagement, sense of isolation, overwhelm and burnout, the serious consequences to physical health, work performance, and even to the taking of one’s own life, demand core causes to be identified, taken into account and satisfactorily addressed without compromise.
One core cause is the lack of clear understanding of the differing needs of engagement between extraverts and introverts within the education process, and how they might best be met. Needless to say, where people have neuro-divergent needs, the effect of E/I considerations will be amplified.
Mary is a non-tenured teaching academic anxious to prove her value. So when her senior messages and asks her to stand in for a fellow faculty member and to take a first-year lecture that afternoon she doesn’t feel she can refuse. Luckily, because she knows her natural tendency is towards introversion, she has pre-prepared strategies that enable her to ‘lean into the curve’, give a stimulating, inclusive session that will enable help fulfil the course learning objectives and without the need for her to spend all morning preparing overheads.
It is important to be clear that E/I tendencies are not a measurement of sociability or shyness but an innate pre-condition on how a person energises in order to be at their optimal. It shows itself in how that person prefers to work, learn, communicate and generally engage with others and, since this is also a fundamental requirement of quality education, this consideration should be adequately embedded in every lesson design.
Depending on one’s natural E/I tendency, (some say it is DNA-based, others environmental, but both are debatable), activities, behaviours and life style will affect one’s sense of energy or tiredness, and also one’s sense of belonging and personal security.
Extraverts source a feeling of energy from being at the hub of lots of differing activities and conversations, where they constantly interact with many others and across a wide variety of interests. The ideal method of interaction involves the opportunity to speak a lot, irrespective whether or not it useful. The benefit lies simply in the act of conversation and social interaction, as this is energising to them. Silence is noticed and can feel uncomfortable.
Introverts source energy from taking their thoughts inward, like a tortoise into its shell. It doesn’t need to be a physical withdrawal; it can even be during a meeting or in the middle of a crowded room. Their interests are more singular and directed where they develop considerable depth of knowledge, in contrast to extraverts who are more satisfied with a surface understanding over a broader range. Introverts work better when they are given time to reflect and to research before speaking, but when they do they can be even overly talkative in a subject that is of deep personal interest. They consider that words should be spoken only when there is something useful to say. Silence is comfortable and goes unnoticed.
For Extraverts, words are cheap currency, and they very quickly forget what even they themselves have said. They will interrupt and dominate until they feel heard. They happily take on the lead role, chair meetings and be the spokesperson, the one at the front, and who can speak ‘off the cuff’ with no hesitancy and little or no advance preparation.
For Introverts, words are like gold nuggets. They speak in a considered way, and remember past conversations accurately. If they are interrupted or what they say isn’t adequately acknowledged, they don’t persist to share their ‘gold’ and may even mentally withdraw. Introvert types are more likely to take on the role of the meeting minute taker, and if they have to be spokesperson, the one at the front, they need to be given sufficient time in advance so they can rehearse and feel adequately prepared.
Even a basic awareness of these differences is extremely helpful within teaching and learning frameworks in regard to the impact it can have on both teacher and student prevailing sense of wellbeing.
Here is what AI-ChatGBT has to offer on Bing:
‘In education, understanding the different needs of extraverts and introverts can help teachers create a learning environment that caters to both personality types. For example, introverted students may prefer quiet spaces for studying while extroverted students may prefer group work or interactive activities.’
Like all simplifications, this explanation is like the visible 10% of the iceberg above the waterline. Physical space is one thing, but headspace is the BIG thing. And the differing needs of E/I teacher and student type are both to be adequately factored in such that neither ever feel compromised nor marginalised.
STUCK IN COMFORT
Whether it be subconscious or deliberate, there can be a preference to stay within what is our natural preference and therefore our ‘default’ position. As a result, a teacher can be seen to apply pedagogical methods which are more suited to how they are, rather than take fully into account the spectrum of student predilections.
Alternatively, if teachers come under pressure to change curriculum design in ways that demand another way of doing things that goes against their own E/I tendencies, this can undermine their sense of confidence to do the job to a level where they are satisfied.
Download the pdf of this article to view Diagram 1 which simplifies the potential influence of E/I natural tendencies on both teacher and student where there is a ‘mismatch’ that can cause potential discomfort and stress.
Meaningful learning is a mutual exchange and requires both teacher and student to be taken outside their ‘comfort zone’ of preferences, whilst remaining within a ‘wellbeing zone’. An open willingness is needed for this to happen, which is enabled by first creating a learning environment that feels emotionally safe and where everyone feels they make a valued contribution.
This is facilitated by everyone being led to feel understood and where their communication needs are satisfactorily met.
Download the pdf of this article to view Table 1 which offers insights to highlight awareness and to help create pre-emptive strategies.
In universities and business schools when lecture theatres have capacities where hundreds of students attend at a time, it can be even more challenging to facilitate inclusion at this emotional level. However, positive and meaningful teacher/student engagement and therefore learning is still possible, and there is a growing bank of resources provided by teaching faculty on how this can be achieved.
It is also part-core to the free resources and input provided through the Caring on Campus initiative within LifeRoute.
AN ABC APPROACH
The approach being championed here is an ABC of teaching and learning:
A for AWARENESS; B for BALANCE; C for CLARITY.
Awareness of mutual needs, Balance of personal growth with a sense of safety and respect, and ongoing upfront Clarity from the teacher of the purpose of what is being taught, that it is clearly understood, and why the specific methods and activities have been chosen.
All are to be taken into account in lesson design and delivery that will contribute to the enhancement of the mental wellbeing of all involved and its consequent education value.
The wonderful aspect of raised awareness and desire to equally accommodate both E/I tendencies is that it also encourages the development of many other social and communication/collaboration skills and abilities. Some may term them as ‘soft skills’ or non-cognitive skills.
They are the skills that more and more are being articulated by employers as being most required in the workplace; the skills that Artificial Intelligence does not possess. These skills are at their best when they are values-based, which means they underpin what it means to be human – homo sapiens – the wise ape.
The insights shared here have their origins derived from the work of Isabel Briggs, who was intrigued by what she observed as people being of different ‘Types’ in terms of how they naturally think, decide, organise and live their life. She developed her theories based on Carl Jung’s work on personality type and her working model, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, first published in 1962 is widely used worldwide in the field of psychometrics.