An Extrovert in Isolation

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I’m an extrovert. No wait, I’m not just an extrovert. I am a certifiable, put me in the spotlight, please give me attention, extrovert. That’s more accurate. Extroverts, in case you don’t know, are completely aware of their cravings for attention and are far from obtuse about it. I have no issues telling someone I’m an extrovert. I’m proud to be an extrovert.

I’m not sure if it’s a common extrovert trait, but I’m not a great multi-tasker. I sometimes think I can multitask, and my friends will likely tell you that being a work horse, which I am also certifiable, means I can juggle multiple ideas at the same time. I actually stink at multitasking. Usually, I seclude myself to do a really thorough job at one task, and then, and only then do I move on to the next thing. It explains why dinner is often overcooked during an intense Twitter edu-chat or why I don’t recall agreeing to the purchase of my daughter’s $200 soccer boots…hmmm. 

In our current state of quarantine/self-isolation/social distancing/physical distancing, separation from human connection, with the exception of my family, is my new reality. The truth is, I don’t mind isolation. The truth is, I don’t mind a small amount to isolation. Isolation usually results in fruitful progress. I need complete isolation to create. That means that the television must be turned down low (preferably off) and people in the vicinity don’t dare interrupt me unless they are throwing up, bleeding, or the house is on fire.  Even my adorable cats get chucked out of the room if they decide to crawl on top my keyboard looking for attention when I’m in the midst of hammering out a blog.  Why do they always want attention at the worst times?  I am at my most creative self when I am isolated for a period of time, alone in my thoughts and challenges, and free from distractions.

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Long periods of isolation, however, are stifling for an extrovert like me. Thankfully, it’s the 21st century and the digital landscape is my oyster. I think social media has actually allowed me to be more passionate about sharing my ideas with the world. Social media is a comfortable, urgent, and immediate form of acknowledgement. It fulfills a need to receive rewards and appreciation. I take what I put out in my blogs, Tweets, and Facebook posts very seriously. I often feel like I’m filling in holes that need to be filled, and as a progressive educator, I take great pride in my work.

 But what many don’t realize is how much extroverts love to collaborate and cooperate. It’s like a basic need to put an idea out into the world and get feedback so we can either trash that idea or move forward with it. It’s a myth to think that extroverts always want to be correct. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty nice to be right and the spotlight is great, but there is something a bit unsatisfying about receiving a simple “thumbs up” on Facebook or Twitter without a comment. It’s like hearing that your work is great but…I’m not going to tell you why. It also makes extroverts like me feel uncertain if what was posted was actually read and acknowledged, or if the post is receiving a polite retweet or like out of courtesy.  I’m human. I might kick up my heels or feel choked by constructive criticism sometimes often, but I always come back to my learning. I consider myself a work in progress and feedback is important for my journey.  I just need to know the specifics and detest ambiguity…and I’m absolutely positive that isolation is exacerbating these uneasy feelings right now.

I suppose I shouldn’t overthink it and politely thank those in my sphere of influence for their kindness (Thank you…please don’t unfollow me…), and I am grateful, but in the spirit of authenticity and honesty, I sometimes feel that after I have yoked my extroverted, creative spirit by pouring myself out onto a page, once I hit ENTER, I’m walking a tightrope and someone just might take away my balance at anytime.  Extroverts want to help, but they also want to know…need to know…the truth.

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Comments and information make me think….hard! I almost wonder if I have a sort of obsessive knowledge disorder. When I get feedback, good or bad, thorough or simplistic, I cannot help myself but get right to work on how to adjust and maneuver through both my successes and flaws. I have a hard time not tackling challenges set in front of me. And it’s not just literal challenges. I cannot read any professional resources at bedtime or the little hamster in my head takes its wheel out for a spin. Pro D workshops usually mean a marathon session of reworking and tweaking best laid plans. It’s a blessing and a curse. My classroom door is always open for any teacher who has a problem they need help with, and it sure fills my bucket to help. I’ll sideline whatever I’m working on just to support my colleagues with assessment ideas, a lesson plan, a project notion. They always apologize and feel badly when they interrupt, but when I tell them it really is no trouble, they need to know I’m not being polite. Helping and supporting others fires me up! I’m an extrovert.

So, it’s no wonder that I’m really concerned about my extroverted students in all this Covid19 disarray. 

I’ve worked really hard over the past few months, especially with my Humanities 8 kids, with whom I have shared space since the beginning of September, to build a community of learners who have established aspirations to work harder, learn more, and achieve their own personal goals. Grades are insignificant in my classroom.  Students don’t ask for a grade or their overall mark, because they know the journey is theirs and theirs alone.  You’d think that extroverts would detest a gradeless classroom, but that is simply not true. Extroverts love feedback in the same way I crave feedback for my work. They need to know, immediately, what they’ve done well and what their next steps are.  

Extroverts tend to have pretty sensitive egos, but that shouldn’t be misconceived as am extrinsic desire for carrots and sticks. Don’t misinterpret an extroverted student for a student with a fixed mindset. Extroverts just need to feel appreciated in an assertive way.  They don’t need grades to fulfill that need. They need opportunities and gracious, thoughtful feedback so they can shine.

21st Century English Education

Extroverts also make great classroom helpers because they get to cast their edu-glow of knowledge on others.  I’m not suggesting that extroverts are smarter than introverts. I’m suggesting that once a teacher figures out an extrovert’s niche or expertise, they should give them opportunities to share with others. It will fill their buckets.

When given voice and choice, extroverts almost always choose a form that allows them to show off their talents uninhibitedly. That doesn’t mean they always want to act out a play or present a speech.  They will use the quiet of their own active thoughts to polish and perfect their work but get really excited to share and show off their hard work.  They crave an audience, much like I crave people to read my blog (wink wink).  Extroverts want to be heard.

How, then, will I give my extroverted students the opportunity to sparkle in isolation?

I don’t know. I have some kind of idea as to how my “perfect online learning world” will look like for my students, but that is based on speculation as to what we’ll actually be doing. Right now, we simply don’t know what is expected of us. Because of this uncertainty, we must be careful not to plan too far ahead or consider what will be without all the information in front of us. By the time you read this blog, BC teachers might have a clearer path to navigate, but right now the path is pretty much non-existent. It’s unsettling.

This unknown trajectory is really scary for an extroverted teacher who is trying to manage feelings of seclusion and fears of separation from their students, all whilst battling the little voice in their head that is desperate to start managing, planning, supporting and sharing. Challenges are one thing. Bring it on! I got this! But lack of a challenge is totally another. It makes me feel like I am going out of my mind!

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In isolation, days feel more like weeks. Weeks feel more like months. Spring Break isn’t even over yet, and it feels like it has been an eternity since I’ve seen my students. I get emotional thinking about what it will feel like to set foot in my classroom on what would normally be a regular class day. The bell will probably ring because the office staff will forget to turn it off. I’ll politely but awkwardly chuckle to myself to calm my nerves. There won’t be the usual morning music in the hallway that plays while I greet my students, one by one. There won’t be the same hallway clatter of chatter among staff members.  I won’t have to tell all my students to settle in for mindfulness, or that we need to remember to listen while we share smiles and frowns. I’m terrified of the quiet that will thunder through my room.  I suppose it might feel something like when the children in “All Summer in a Day,” held their ears when the rain stopped because the silence was deafening.

I look to you, my community of educators and my friends to virtually hold the hands of extroverted educators during this tough time. In the meantime, I will make the following resolutions. I will practice patience that our clear trajectory will be painted in front of us very soon. I will trust myself that I will find ways to challenge myself. I will learn how to enjoy the silence and not battle it. But most of all, I will work hard to support all of my students, not just my extroverts, to find joy in isolation and keep learning.

Fail Forward: Are we getting it wrong? — Teachers Going Gradeless


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