Understanding your quiet kids

Teacher, author, keynote speaker Chrissy Romano Arrabito was the student who always raised her hand first, always had the answer, was eager to share, was well-behaved, and made good grades. She was, from any teacher’s perspective, a well-adjusted child. Little did most, if any, of her teachers realize, Chrissy was a quiet kid–an introvert. She struggled with her emotions constantly. How did her teachers miss this?

Are you misunderstanding your own quiet kids? Find out in this excerpt from Quiet Kids Count: Unleashing the True Potential of Introverts.

Introduction: A Message for Educators

A teacher sits in her rocking chair, her students gathered on the rug. She is reading aloud to the class, stopping to ask questions, and discussing the text. The same three students are the first to raise their hands each time, though other hands begin to pop up one by one. Some students look on, hang back, and just listen while another gazes out the window, appearing oblivious to anything that is happening at the moment.

Which student do you think is the introverted one? I bet most of you would be quick to say the students who are reluctant to respond or the child who appears to be daydreaming. Guess what? Any of those students could be an introvert, as you will soon see.

As a child, my parents would inevitably hear the same thing at every parent-teacher conference—a variation of: “She sure is a spirited one!” or “Participation isn’t an issue for her” or my mother’s personal favorite: “She needs to give others a chance once in a while.” Growing up, I was the student others wished would stop raising her hand and instead give the other kids a chance—and I was considered a robust and engaged student because of it.

Chrissy Romano Arrabito, author of Quiet Kids Count (Times 10, 2019)

Today, I am still the one who sits front and center and is usually the first to volunteer. Those who see me presenting at conferences, giving keynote addresses, and conducting professional development training aren’t surprised at these behaviors. However, most people don’t know that “striking first” is a coping mechanism I developed early on, and have maintained, to manage my anxiety in social situations.

If I made my contribution early on in a discussion, it took a massive weight off my shoulders. I could focus more on the lesson instead of the butterflies in my stomach, my racing heart, or my tapping foot—all telltale signs that the anxiety of possibly being the center of attention, if only for a moment, has taken hold.

To this day, if I want to add to a conversation, I have to do it early or forever hold my peace. Once it’s done, I can sit back, relax, and actually learn.

This “striking first” tactic is one I have been employing since elementary school, and is well-documented by social psychologists. I never complained about the perks that came with it, either. According to Susan Cain, an authority on introversion, “The ideas of people who speak up first in a group tend to carry the most weight.” Since I was responding so quickly, teachers thought I was a diligent student and an active learner. This was not always the case, but perception superseded reality and worked to my benefit.

It wasn’t until I watched “The Power of Introverts,” a TED Talk by Cain, that I began to understand more about who I am and what I am all about. I now know that I am an introvert. Not exactly the classic stereotype of an introvert—who is generally thought to be shy and quiet—but what is known as a “restrained introvert.” This is one of the least-known types of introverts. We take time to warm up in social situations, but do enjoy being around people. “Reserved” is the perfect word to describe introverts like me.

My son is a different story. He is quiet and reflective. He sits back, watches, and listens, never the one to try new things or start a conversation. Christopher has been a textbook example of an introvert since he was born. His temperament began to emerge as a baby and during early childhood. He was more sensitive to stimuli such as loud noises and more cautious when presented with new toys and people. He is what is known as a “social introvert.” He prefers to be alone and keeps his social groups tight and close-knit. Social interaction drains him, and he prefers solitude over time spent with other people.

During holiday celebrations, he is most often found in his room, waiting out the craziness, or more recently at a family wedding, sitting off to the side with his earbuds in, trying to find solace from the high spirits and merriment of the day. Predictably, I now hear the same thing year after year at parent-teacher conferences: “He needs to participate more” and “He’s a smart kid, but I would like to see him add to class discussions.”

My usual response: “Have you tried to find another way for him to contribute other than raising his hand?” My husband and I see a different Christopher. Yes, he is indeed quiet at home. But he surprises us with his quick wit and curious mind when we least expect it. He is always observing and thinking when we don’t realize he is paying attention. As parents, we know that if the right environment is cultivated in school, his teachers and peers will also see what we adore in him.

Click image to look inside

Throughout the years, however, few teachers bothered asking why my son was so quiet and hesitant to share his thoughts. It wasn’t until his fourth grade year that a teacher helped him come into his own. What made this teacher special? He took the time to talk with my son and get to know him personally, even though Christopher was quiet. The teacher made an effort to find ways for my son to contribute without being the center of attention. Now my son is in high school, and while he’s still my shy guy, he may raise his hand a few times a year without prompting. Progress!

So why am I sharing our stories? It has to do with you as a fellow educator. Another school year will begin, and a new batch of students will sit before you. No matter what grade level or content you teach, you will have them sitting in your room: the introverts, the quiet kids, and the not-so-quiet-but introverted-just-the-same kids.

They’re not troublemakers, and for the most part, they earn good grades. But these are the kids who tend to fade into the background unnoticed. They are the ones who are so often overlooked, or like me, misunderstood. We are doing a disservice to our introverted students, our quiet kids, by not seeing them for who they truly are.

To be the best teachers we can be, the best leaders of children, we need to understand our quiet kids, teach them, and nurture them. It behooves us to learn how to identify them and support them. We all have these quiet kids in our classrooms, as well as introverted colleagues down the hall or in the room next door.

Use this book as a guide to help you better understand the nature of all types of introverts, allay the many misconceptions, and gain useful tips and strategies for helping them reach their full potential.

Most importantly, use this book to become the best teacher and leader you can be, by working toward the better good for all children—especially your quiet ones.

Look inside Quiet Kids Count now

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Throw Out Your Office Referral; Circle Up Instead

Traditional discipline calls for rules and consequences, detentions, suspensions, and other carrots and sticks. Most teachers and school leaders know this ancient system does not work. What’s the answer to poor student behavior and school and class disruption? It may be as simple as inviting students to Circle Up!

In this excerpt from Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility using Restorative Justice, teachers and school leaders Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein explain how the Circle Up restorative practice can help you reimagine school discipline and build a community of learners, filled with students who are always responsible and accountable for their own behaviors.

The Problem: Classroom Issues Aren’t Dealt With in the Classroom

The negative behavior du jour can bring your lesson to a skidding halt and put you in a predicament. You are pressured to address the problem quickly and appropriately, with all eyes on you. The quickest and easiest solution is a referral to the office.

After all, you have a whole class to teach, a new activity to pass out, emails to answer, and daily attendance to take. We all get it. But how can we expect our students to do any better in the classroom if we just remove them when they do something wrong?

When the student returns from his field trip to the office or from in-school suspension, the behavior has been addressed, but the relationship has not. There may still be tension between the student and the teacher or the student and the classmates.

Best of all, circles invite shared power and responsibility.

You haven’t addressed any harm the student might have caused to the class as a whole, and that leaves the classroom climate damaged. The entire class is still sitting on the edge of a knife, and will be distracted by the tension.

The answer? Fix it—within the classroom. And to make sure it sticks, involve the entire class.

The Hack: Circle Up

The first thing that we as teachers need to do is to stop offering students the easy way out through removal from class.

Many school districts maintain a goal of keeping the students in the classroom, where they’re adding to and taking advantage of the learning experience. When kids are in class, we see higher attendance rates, increased test scores, and positive climates.

Give restorative justice to your students today

That goes away the second we send kids to the principal’s office for misbehaving.

Instead of giving them that out, seek new ways of handling bad behavior, including classroom circles. These circles allow you to enforce the classroom expectations without losing one of your community members.

As you might expect, circles are gatherings in which all participants sit in a circular shape facing each other to facilitate open, direct communication. Circles provide a safe and supportive space where everyone can talk freely about sensitive topics, work through differences, and build consensus. Best of all, circles invite shared power and responsibility.

This is a collective investment into building culture.

Circles don’t have to be used only during times of conflict, either. Start your class with a “check-in circle” as a great way to begin the day, and invite students to share their feelings and listen to others.

  • Have all the students sit in a circle.
  • Teachers should include themselves in the circle to signal that they are facilitators and listeners during these gatherings, not authority figures.
  • Start with a check-in question, such as “What’s one interesting thing you read online yesterday?”
  • Add mindfulness exercises to help release tension and build focus on the present moment.
  • Devote at least five minutes to circle time each morning, and gradually expand as students get more comfortable, or decrease the time if you have other items on your agenda that take priority.
  • Always allow students to opt out if they choose. Remember that restorative practices center around respect.

What You Can Do Tomorrow

Create a safe place. Students should be able to sit face-to-face in a circle, either at their desks or in free-standing chairs, and should feel safe doing so—and safe in the circle itself. Establish right away that this is a no-judgment zone; there will be no assumptions or subjective statements, and the students can feel physically safe.

Establish expectations. Use a “talking piece” as the identifier for the person who currently holds the floor. This keeps everyone from talking at once. Set strict guidelines for “facts only” talk. Tell students that they can openly discuss issues, but only if they use affirmative “I” statements.

Promote communication. Praise open dialogue and productive conversations, and thank anyone who feels comfortable enough to share. Example: “Wow, that must have been tough to admit in front of everyone that you feel embarrassed coming into class sometimes. Thank you for letting us know. I appreciate you.”

This is a collective investment into building culture. It invites shared power into misbehavior, creating a strong sense of classroom community.

Praise empathy. Praise any student who demonstrates empathy, to help build appreciation for it. When students can recognize emotions, their emotional literacy goes up and this helps them build a circle that cultivates empathy. This also trains students how to use empathy in other situations.

Overcoming Pushback

Circles take away from lesson time. Yes, they do. It’s by far the largest con of holding a circle. The great thing is that you are in charge of when they occur. You can call an audible to get the class back on track, like “ELMO” (Enough, Let’s Move On), or simply pause.

This takes too long. Investment in classroom climates and school cultures doesn’t pay off overnight. The time you put into facilitating a circle is advantageous to your climate, the students, and the number of redirections you will have to do in the future. We normally start the school year using one to two restorative circles per week. By the end of the first quarter, we’ve seen the use of circles go down to one every other week, and then even less.

Isn’t this a collective punishment? This is a collective investment into building culture. It invites shared power into misbehavior, creating a strong sense of classroom community. The classroom community promotes self-responsibility and effective action after a circle takes place. Instead of viewing it as a punishment, frame it as an opportunity for all students to be heard and for behaviors to improve.

This excerpt from Hacking School Discipline is published with permission from Times 10 Publications. 

Learn more

Find 8 more ways to create a culture of empathy and responsibility with restorative justice in Hacking School Discipline, by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein.

Join the discussion

Weigh in on the Circle Up strategy and restorative justice on Twitter at #HackingSchoolDiscipline and on the Hack Learning Ambassadors Facebook Group.

More podcast episodes

Browse the archive and subscribe to the show at HackLearningPodcast.com

Visit the Times 10 Library

Browse our collection of books for teachers and school leaders here.

The Power of Unanswerable Questions

Let me begin with full disclosure: Before I learned about Unanswerable Questions in Hacking Mathematics, by Denis Sheeran, I thought just about everything math related was unanswerable. Admittedly, math has always been pretty elusive to me.

After reading about Unanswerable Questions, though, I’m looking at math and pedagogy differently.

Rather than talk around Denis Sheeran’s concept, I thought I’d just share it straight from the mathematician’s mouth–or at least from his book.

From Hacking Mathematics: 10 Problems That Need Solving, with permission from Times 10 Publications



You’ve just about finished a chapter in your textbook

or unit in your curriculum materials and then

you notice it, right there, staring you in the face. What

is it you see, menacingly staring back at you? The last

section of the chapter: the statistics section, sometimes

called “statistical connections” or “data around us” or

“modeling.” No matter what it’s called, it gets translated

by a lot of math teachers as “Skip me, you don’t have

time.” But don’t jump on the skipping bandwagon.

Find the mean. Find the median. Find the mode. Make

a bar graph or pie graph. What’s the probability of flipping

heads on a coin? Twice? These are the instructions

and questions that encompass the complete statistical

learning many of us received in middle school, mostly

with data sets of five to ten pieces of information. Some

of us who had more adventurous teachers may have even

made graphs of bivariate data and tried to come up with

our own lines of best fit using completely non-statistical

methods by employing our understanding of writing a

linear equation using two points.





We live in a different world now, where large data sets

are available instantly and calculation tools can organize

and calculate all we need to know in less time than it takes

to sharpen our pencils. It is no longer useful to spend our

time teaching arithmetic and calling it statistics. In today’s

classroom, the mathematics teacher has the opportunity

and responsibility to create statistical thinkers.

Unanswerable Questions will develop statistical thinkers

in your classroom.

Rather than dwell on the past, let’s look at the present

and the future for most of us. Our standards and materials

spell out the statistical concepts we are to teach. What has

changed for our students is that the standards no longer

ask for students to calculate and find statistical values,

but instead to recognize relationships, understand variability

and its effect, and make predictions based on

interpretation of data. In short, true statistical thinking

is missing. Statistics in today’s schools should be based on

Unanswerable Questions.


When we ask students to find the mean of the heights of

the twenty-three students in our class, we are asking them

to average numbers together, which is a very easy question

to answer and an even easier question to grade. Instead,

when we ask, “How tall is the seventh grade?” our students

must begin an investigation that takes them much deeper

into statistics. They will discuss how to obtain the necessary

information, devise a plan (one that likely won’t work

or is completely unrealistic), refine that plan, measure each

other, standardize their measurements, find means, graph

information, and maybe even come across the idea of a distribution

of data. That’s all before the teacher even needs to get involved.

Since up to this point in their mathematical education,

most questions have had numerical and final answers, the

desire to answer an unanswerable question will continue

to motivate the students to work and think and collaborate.

Finally, they will come to a point where they are

satisfied with their inexact solution to the problem, therein

revealing the heart of statistics: using what we know to

infer about what we don’t know until more information

comes along and either changes our minds or gives us a

reason to reopen the question. Unanswerable Questions

will develop statistical thinkers in your classroom.


There’s a reason your textbook or curriculum source

has the stats section where they do. It’s very likely that

it ties into the unit you’re teaching in a deep, meaningful

way. Here’s how to start harnessing the meaning

and inspiring your students to think statistically.

Look at the statistics section first. See what

statistical concepts are connected to the lessons

you’re teaching in this unit, and work

backward. Find an Unanswerable Question

that you can share as you open the chapter,

and refer to the question throughout.

Find claims in the media to discuss. Every

single day, you can find stories in the media

with claims made about a company, a government

office, an auto manufacturer, or a

school. Present students with the opportunity

to debate those claims. It’s likely that in little

time, they’ll need a statistical process to back

up their claims.

Share the unlikely. Lottery winners, survivor

stories, and game show outcomes will foster a

statistical conversation in a hurry. When you

read about them or see statistics in the news,

make note of it and bring it to class to start

those conversations.

Find Unanswerable Questions in sports.

Don’t ask answerable questions, like what

a player’s batting average is now that he’s

struck out three times in a row. Dig deeper

for the Unanswerable Question, like asking if

batting average affects salary in baseball. Or

which baseball stat has the biggest impact on

player salary? Those are tough, if not impossible

to answer.


One of my favorite Unanswerable Questions comes from a

TV commercial that aired during my childhood. It involved

a cow, a fox, a turtle, an owl, and a boy. The Unanswerable

Question: How many licks does it take to get to the center

of a Tootsie Pop?

Show the old commercial to your class—it’s on YouTube.

Then, after fending off questions like, “Why does the

owl eat the lollipop?” and “Is this some kind of fable?”

and “Why isn’t the boy wearing any pants?” you can get


The Answerable Questions:

What are the characteristics of a Tootsie Pop that we

need to take into consideration?

What is a “lick” for the purpose of the experiment?

What needs to be measured, and how?

In sixth grade, students need to be able to recognize that

a statistical question is one that anticipates variability in

the data. While the class is discussing and defining the

components of the Answerable Questions, they will see

that variability exists, even in their definitions, and as such,

will exist in their data. Even when they come to an agreement

on definitions and procedures, they will quickly find

that during the data gathering, different students are following

the procedures differently. This leads them directly

into the next question: What do we do with our data?

Students may have enough mathematical acumen at this

point to be able to make good, if not entirely correct, suggestions

as to what should be done with the data—so let

them. In my experience, by the third or fourth suggestion,

they come up with “Average it all together,” or “List it from

smallest to biggest,” and even “Graph it.” At this point, I

may break the class into teams to complete each of the different

valid suggestions and report back, or I may take one

of the suggestions and run with it, depending on the focus

of our previous and upcoming content instruction.

Click image to learn more

Sixth graders need to be able to describe the distribution

of the data using its overall shape, center, and spread,

and recognize that its center describes all the data at once,

while the spread (variation) describes how all the data is

different from each other. They also need to be able to

display the data on a number line (dotplot or histogram)

and describe the distribution in context.

I expect my sixth graders to be able to say: “After

licking both sides of our own Tootsie Pops until each student

reached the chocolate center, we counted the number

of licks per student on each side. The mean number of

licks was ##. This was more/less than I expected. When

we graphed the data, the distribution was almost symmetrical

except for one point which took many more licks

to get to the center. The median, or middle value, was

less than the mean, and I think that’s because of the large

number of licks it took on one Tootsie Pop. No one licked

more than ## times or less than ## times before reaching

the center.”

Remember, the goal with sixth grade is not to pass the

AP Stats test, but to introduce data-gathering methods,

require correct statistical language, and to develop the

ability to describe sets of data. To extend this to higher

grades, weigh the lollipops first and compare weight and

number of licks as a linear relationship. (There’s a surprise

ending to that one that I won’t divulge). Students

should also discuss whether or not the Tootsie Pops could

be called a “random sample,” and what randomness is

and why it is important.

— end excerpt

Learn more about Unanswerable Questions and other problems that need solving in Hacking Mathematics.

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Finally! Education Books that Actually Solve Problems

front and back cover

Are you tired of the same old education books? You know the kind: Literacy training, Leadership strategies, Classroom management, Test preparation. . . . The list of been-there-done-that education books is longer than some interstate freeways.

You work hard. You have problems, and you deserve better. You need real solutions, now. Another 5-year plan isn’t going to cut it.

Welcome to the Hack Learning Series: Education books that solve big problems with simple ideas.

We are a few short months away from launching our first Hack Learning Series book, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Not long after Hacking Education drops, our second book in the series will be published.

In 2016, we plan to publish four Hack Learning books, and every one will solve your biggest teaching and learning problems with amazingly simple ideas that you can implement immediately.

Support the HLS

These powerful books are currently being produced by some of the best education hackers in the world, but we need your support to launch this groundbreaking series.

Please take a look at our fundraising campaign, linked below, ending soon.

Support the Hack Learning Series, and we’ll add you to our Partner page and send along other outstanding perks. In fact, our Partner Level contributors receive Hack Learning books for life.

Thanks for your support. Keep an eye out for Hack Learning books, coming to Amazon, Barnes &  Noble and a bookstore near you.

Don’t miss the new Hack Learning mobile app. It’s free and loaded with amazing content for all education shareholders.


5 Reasons We Need You to Support Our Crowdfunding Campaign

Not long ago, I had an idea to recruit experts to write a series of books on hacking learning. A few weeks later, I created a project plan that included many expensive parts. I needed money, and a friend suggested crowdfunding.

At first, I was dubious; I wasn’t sure this was evening a real thing. Then, I began researching crowdfunding and quickly learned that not only is it a legitimate way to raise money, people use crowdfunding for anything from buying a laptop to starting a software company to producing a movie.

After much contemplation, long conversations with partners and plenty of doubt, we decided to create a crowdfunding campaign. Is it a crazy idea? I thought so, at first.

Then, I realized something truly remarkable about crowdfunding–it has very little to do with raising money.

5 Reasons we use crowdfunding

1-To build awareness

I share massive amounts of content to millions of people every month on social networks, in order to inspire and help people solve problems. The Hack Learning Series is designed to do exactly this: Solve big problems with simple ideas. Crowdfunding sites, like Indigogo, can be more powerful than Facebook or Twitter. Not only do crowdfunding platforms provide social environments, they build awareness about what might just be the next great thing.

2–To provide purpose

You want to be part of something special; we all do. You want to contribute. Whether it’s your family, your school, your church, or your book club, you are proud to contribute to your special group or cause. A crowdfunding project gives you a glimpse of something before the world sees it. Even better, you can contribute to a vision and become part of the project or cause. When you donate, you invest in something you believe in; you now have one more thing that makes you feel special.

3–To avoid bureaucracy

Two years ago, I left my classroom, so I could write and present full-time. I had a grand vision of making the world a better place by helping educators improve how they help kids. Soon, consulting companies came calling. They invited me to push their products, to teach people how to integrate the Common Core or to promote someone else’s idea. I declined plenty of lucrative offers, knowing that in order to realize my dream, I need to work outside of the confines of organizations that have agendas that are different from mine. Crowdfunding will help me avoid the bureaucracy and promote what I know teachers, students and parents around the world need most.

4–To build community

Social networks have connected me to hundreds of thousands of teachers, parents, students and thought leaders from all over the world. We rely on each other to improve teaching and learning. Crowdfunding will, I hope, attract these existing community members and many others outside of my social networks. With a shared interest in improving teaching and learning the network that is created in the Hack Learning Series crowdfunding campaign should prove to be one of the most powerful communities in education. These people will be dedicated to changing the world.

5–To create 

In a world filled with regurgitation, standardization and accountability, creativity is often lost. Corporations and venture capitalists want cookie-cutter projects that mimic something that’s already been successful. Conversely, crowdfunding provides a chance for visionaries to create something original. People who contribute to crowdfunding campaigns look for what’s new, different, and creative. Teachers, parents and college students certainly don’t need another How to Pass a Standardized Test playbook. The Hack Learning Series crowdfunding campaign provides a path to something new, something visionary, something that is a true game changer.

Now that you understand why I chose crowdfunding, I hope you’ll consider contributing to not just me and my team but to a project that can change the world and create better teaching and learning forever.

A version of this post also appears on Brilliant or Insane.