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.

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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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What’s the Lead Forward Mission?

What’s the Lead Forward Mission? Times 10 Publisher Mark Barnes explains.

Lead Forward Series: Publisher’s Foreword

Encourage, evolve, empower. Mentor, move, motivate. Create, innovate, elevate. Always be listening. Always be learning.

These are the qualities of someone who leads forward. They’re not just my words or those of the educators who write leadership books. The words belong to teachers, principals, parents, superintendents, and other education shareholders. Perhaps they are your words, too.

Some time ago, those in my circle—friends, colleagues, and other professionals—discussed ideas around great leadership and the traits of effective leaders. A recurring theme emerged: forward movement. It may have been that moment, during that chat, that “Lead Forward” became more than just words.

Qualities of forward-thinking and forward-moving leaders turned into strategies. Those strategies created experiences and stories. These stories are told by some of education’s most dedicated foot soldiers—teacher leaders. Like “be excellent on purpose,” a statement Sanée Bell uses often in this book, “teacher leader” is a phrase I use with similar intentionality when discussing the Lead Forward Series.

Lead Forward isn’t about just school district leaders or building principals. It’s about the journey of teacher leaders doing amazing work in many areas that impact the lives of our children daily. Books in this series are written by people in a variety of roles, including teachers, principals, mentors, and others who possess a unique skill set or idea that can make any Lead Forward reader a better leader, no matter what role they play in education or beyond.

Chrissy Romano-Arrabito is a classroom teacher who has a unique understanding of introverted students and adults. She calls them Quiet Kids, and in her Lead Forward book, she explains who they are, where they are, and how you can give them a voice.

Jessica Cabeen steered an all-kindergarten building into regional prominence, before taking that experience to a middle school. In Lead with Grace, she explains the soft skills of leadership from a unique lens that few possess, but anyone can learn to adopt.

Suzy Brooks and Matthew Joseph bring Modern Mentor principles from longtime mentors and mentees. And Sanée Bell shares fascinating stories and powerful strategies that will help you embrace excellence every single day, in this Lead Forward Series flagship book, Be Excellent on Purpose: Intentional Strategies for Impactful Leadership.

Stories and Strategies

I am proud that part of our mission at Times 10 Publications is to listen to our stakeholders—the people who read our books, listen to our podcasts, engage with our authors on social media, and implement the strategies we share—and give them what they want and what they need. So, we bring you their Stories and Strategies, punctuated by a simple charge at the end of each chapter, called Moving Forward.

Lead Forward Journal

The books in this series are designed to be interactive and we invite you to write on the pages and share your jottings on social media, if you wish. You’ll find a Lead Forward Journal section at the end of each chapter, with guided questions and space to write your thoughts and learnings. As a built-in bonus, the journal pages serve as study guides and supplemental tools for book study groups.

Like the Hack Learning Series, the bedrock of Times 10 Books, Lead Forward brings teacher leaders a simple, but powerful, formula for success. Each chapter contains a variety of stories from the authors—part of their continuing journeys to successful leadership in various spaces. Each story is followed by a Lead Forward Strategy, accompanied by several steps you can use immediately to bring the strategy to your school or classroom. (If you’ve read a Hack Learning book with its What You Can Do Tomorrow section, you’ll recognize the similarity when reading strategies in a Lead Forward book.)

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find the aforementioned Moving Forward section—a brief summation, along with a takeaway or challenge for you, as you return to leading in your own space.

The Lead Forward Series has been years in the making. Our creative team, along with your input, considered many ideas for what these books should look like to provide the highest value, and invested many hours discussing the topics, authors, chapter format, design, and other facets of this series and our mission. You’ll notice that many Lead Forward books have female authors or co-authors. This is by design, as we believe it’s important to amplify the voices of women, often underrepresented in education, in spite of women composing roughly 70 percent of the jobs in the profession.

The Lead Forward Series helps each of us to be the absolute best we can be. These are our Stories and our Strategies. Yours, mine, and all of the teacher leaders who are doing excellent work to teach and shape our kids and our future. Now, let’s Lead Forward.

— Mark Barnes, Teacher Leader and Times 10 Publications Founder

Learn more

For more about the Lead Forward Series and movement, visit WeLeadForward.com

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