It's tough to be an introvert in an extrovert world, especially in an extrovert's profession, like teaching. Through this blog, I'd like to share my own and others' reflections on being an introvert in the classroom. This isn't a place for misanthropes or grumps, though; I hope to thoughtfully discuss the challenges that introverts face in schools and celebrate the gifts that introverted teachers and students bring to the educational environment. If you can relate, please join me!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dear Administrator, Don't Flip Your Meeting...At Least Not All the Time

As I sit here and write this less than two hours away from the deadline I gave myself (and which I, in a fit of foolishness, told my students so that there'd be living humans to hold me to it), it strikes me that in some ways I'm a lot like them. (I procrastinate when I'm afraid or insecure. I have things I worry that I'm not good enough at.)

But in other ways, I'm not like them. And that is why I don't want administrators to "flip" their meetings. See Dear Administrator, Flip Your Meeting?, by David Perry.

Let me back up. First, I'd like to say that I think English classes are the original "flipped" classes: you do the reading (the intake of ideas) at home, and the active discussion (output, exchange of ideas) happens in class.

But I feel like when educators say "flipped," they mean that class should consist of fast-moving, small-group work, as if that's the only kind of learning that is "active." The author of "Dear Admin" equates lecturing with "relying too much on students to function as passive receptacles for information." And, of course, he cites, as evidence, Studies.

Ah, yes, the almighty Studies. OK. Let me back up again. I believe the Studies. I facilitate collaborative learning in my classes. I have seen it work with my students. But the I suspect that the Studies are done on students.

I am not a student. I am a professor. Yes, I know, we're life-long learners, everyone is a student of life, yadda, yadda. But you know what I mean. I'm a professor. I'm someone who chose to spend long hours alone reading, studying, and writing. Many of my students would not choose a life like this. It is not in their disposition.

However, I think many professors are like me. The conditions of study and work that our career paths require demands a disposition opposite that of many of our students. I think this hits us community college professors especially hard. We have the focus, the single-mindedness, often the introversion that is necessary to be subject matter experts, but some of our students come to community college precisely because they do not have a single-minded focus or the inclination to be reflective and contemplative.

This doesn't mean I don't love them. It doesn't mean I don't appreciate them. It's just that I am different. And I don't think that I learn the same way as they do. I don't think the results of Studies on them will always apply to me, or even to some of them, especially as people like Susan Cain now estimate that introverts may make up up to half the population, as opposed to the one quarter that was previously believed. One of the reasons I hated small group work as a student resulted from the educators having been told that we students were all the same and would learn better from our peers than from the teacher. Well, I felt different than most of my peers, and I didn't trust them. I didn't want to be vulnerable (and that is what one becomes when learning) in a group of people who didn't "get" me or who, in the past, had outright ridiculed me. Small groups are supposed to let the shy ones speak up, but this logic works best if you assume that the teacher is the intimidator. What if the peers are the intimidators?

Let me back up again, lest I sound too much like the small-group hater and the lecture-lover. I should say that meetings in my department, the English Department, are rarely lectures. We discuss everything. Some might say too much, winking-smiley-face.

But I know and trust these colleagues. I have been with them many years. I am, or try to be, well-informed about what we discuss. (I'd like to point out that the kind of environment that we have in my department doesn't just happen by putting strangers into groups; I fear a lot of active learning research focuses on the how-to's of grouping but ignores the very real parts that authentic interpersonal communication and the interplay of the teacher's and students' personalities play in learning.)

But sometimes I'm in a meeting of the broader campus community. I don't know these people as well. The subject matter is unfamiliar. I would like a captivating person to explain it to me, to help me understand, and then I would like to reflect on it quietly and at length before commenting upon it. In this case, for an administrator to, as Perry suggests, send me inscrutable data in an e-mail for me to tackle alone for the sake of "flipping" the meeting and not lecturing at me would, I believe, result in just the type of "information-dump" that David Perry wishes to avoid.

Sometimes, after a day of "facilitating," a day of orchestrating other people's learning experiences, I want someone to cater to my learning style. On the other hand, perhaps you could say that sometimes I just get tired--that after a day of creative choices, of discussing complex social issues, of always wondering what is the right decision--from which direction to lean in assigning a grade to what I should say to that girl who came to class today with a black eye--, sometimes I want somebody to just tell me what to do, how to understand a given piece of information.

Maybe I made my point best when I said recently to my wonderful dean, who has always respected me even though we have very different temperaments, that, just as traditional lecture excluded many students in the old days, so too can group work in our own times. We introvert educators (both those teachers who are introverts themselves as well as those teachers who educate introverts) should be vigilant that that doesn't happen.

That would be a kind of "flipping" that no one should want to see.