Searching for the Secret of Teacher Well-Being, Part 2: Introversion

Searching for the Secret of Teacher Well-Being, Part 2: Introversion

By: Matt Ehlers

As I read through the suggestions Curtis Kelly made in his June 2022 Think Tank article (“Searching for the Secret of Teacher Well-Being“) on how to improve teacher well-being, I thought they seemed useful—but, at the same time, like they were aimed more at extroverted educators than introverted ones, like me.  

So, I emailed him, told him my concerns, and made a few suggestions for looking after introverted faculty well-being based on my own experiences (such as not sitting with us at lunch if we’re alone), and giving us downtime after social events. He replied, said I’d piqued his interest, and suggested I write a reaction to his article. I was reluctant to do so—I didn’t know very many other tips for looking after the well-being of introverts, plus it had been a while since I’d read much about introversion—but doing that intrigued me, so I decided to do research online and see what I could find.

Before I started, though, I needed to review introversion first, so I went to Wikipedia: I’d been reading about web search for my Master’s thesis, and had learned that that online encyclopedia was a good place to look for doing background reading; plus Google research scientist Dan Russell had suggested using it in his 2019 web search guide The Joy of Search. And, its entry “Extraversion and Introversion” gave a good overview of the subject, plus it gave some facts about them, such as how introverts gain energy from solitary activities but spend it on social ones, and that they prefer to observe before speaking.

After that, I used Google (search term: introversion) to get more background information. An article at WebMD discussed its traits, such as how introverts prefer spending time around a couple of people rather than in crowds, how they do not like group work, and how they need time when making decisions. A Psychology Today entry made the point that introversion is not shyness (which is about being afraid to interact socially), since introverts prefer solitude or being around just a few people. Finally, Very Well Mind listed several signs of being introverted, such as feeling drained when around a lot of people, having a few close friends, and being distracted by a lot of stimulation.

"Introversion is not shyness."
Matt Ehlers
TT Author

As well, at Curtis’s suggestion, I read the Think Tank article “Embracing the Introverted Brain” by Heather McCulloch (February, 2020) since it was on introversion. It went over some differences between introverts and extroverts in detail, including how extroverts prefer more energetic activities to recharge after a hard week (such as partying or going to concerts) while introverts prefer more low-key activities (like reading or taking quiet walks), and that people’s personalities range from being introverted to being extroverted, with most being somewhere in between. Too, it discussed the cognitive psychology of this, including how extrovert and introvert brains respond differently to the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine, so that the former crave novelty and stimulation, while the latter hunger for relaxation and solitude; and how it appears that introverts rely more on long-term memory when making decisions, while extroverts depend more on working memory (which might help explain why introverts take longer to answer questions and make decisions than extroverts do).

From there, her article went over how all of these differences can result in introverts’ ideas not being heard during brainstorming sessions with extroverts, how being told to find a partner in class can be stressful for introverted students, and how class participation grades can cause them anxiety. Finally, she offered a few suggestions for teachers, including letting students brainstorm either on their own or in a group, assigning students to groups, having the class pause and wait after asking a question, and using the think-pair-share technique (where students first think about what they want to say, then discuss it with another student, and finally share it with the class).

By doing this review, I now remembered more about introversion, plus I’d gotten some good tips for looking after introverted educators’ well-being. So, to get more ideas for that, I decided to do another Google search on introverted faculty (search term: introverted teachers). And, I found a few promising results.

One, from the National Education Association, emphasized that introverted teachers can be easily overwhelmed and are vulnerable to burnout, so they should be careful about which activities they commit to. As well, it went over how, with introverts, some collaboration is good but that doing it constantly is not; that they should find a quiet place for recovering; and that it is possible for introverts to be good teachers, in particular as they can emotionally support introverted students.

Another (an article from Western Governors University) went over how interacting with coworkers can be stressful for introverted educators (though being able to do so in writing is helpful), how teaching gives them freedom to structure their classes as they see fit, and how important self-care—including getting enough alone time, sleep, and exercise—is.

Finally, tes (formerly Times Educational Supplement) went over how introverts need alone time to re-energize and recharge after social activities, how they prefer activities like talking one-on-one or working alone, and how, for professional development, they prefer independent research rather than working in groups, among other pieces of advice.

"Introverts need alone time to re-energize."
Matt Ehlers
TT Author

At this point, I had an even better understanding of introversion, plus I had more useful tips concerning improving introverted teachers’ well-being. I then remembered that Curtis had told me about an interview with author Joe Keohane in the April 2022 Think Tank and said it was on what I was researching, so I decided to read it. In it, Keohane argued that, based on research, people felt better if they talked with strangers and that they should do it more. Though this intrigued me, I was unfamiliar with his book or the research he discussed, so I decided to investigate.

Using the search term “research people feel good talking to strangers,” I found a 2022 PsyPost article that went over experiments involving complete strangers meeting and talking for short periods of time, and who reported feeling happier afterwards. Another one—a 2014 article on research I found at Chicago Booth Review (University of Chicago Business School)—had a similar finding. Finally, a 2021 meta-analysis of seven studies by Gillian Sandstrom demonstrated that people were afraid of what would happen if they talked to strangers, which was reflected in how often they did so, but that there was less to their fears than they had expected.

However, I had questions about these findings. Among other things, I wondered if they had included people with depression, anxiety, or PTSD, or if they had looked at how tired participants had felt afterwards. I also wondered in what settings the experiments had been done, or if they had scanned subjects’ brains during these studies. Finally, I wasn’t sure if their findings were valid or reliable, or if they could make predictions about future behavior. In other words, there was a lot I didn’t know about their methods or findings.

I wanted to continue investigating this, but the clock was ticking. So, since I hadn’t proven to my own satisfaction that introverts should talk to strangers for their own well-being, I decided against including that as a tip for introverted educator well-being, and moved on.  

At this point, I remembered Quiet, by Susan Cain. And, though it had been several years since I’d read it, I recalled that she’d made some good points about introversion. So, I decided to review it in the hopes of getting more tips for improving the well-being of introverted teachers. And, in chapter 9, I read something very interesting.

After summarizing the debate over whether people’s personality traits (such as introversion) were fixed or dependent on the situation, she wrote about what retired Harvard Psychology Professor Brian Little had said about it, namely that even people who are strongly introverted can act extroverted, provided they are doing something that is very significant to them. However, as he made clear, it had to be something they genuinely cared a lot about rather than something they had convinced themselves was important, or they would be hard-pressed to pull it off.   

On top of that, she wrote that it was essential to have what Professor Little referred to as a restorative niche (a time or place for an introvert to take a break and be who they actually were), or else burnout and other potential health problems would likely result—even if they had been doing something very important to them. And Cain used him as an example of this: He had been a highly engaging and entertaining professor while at Harvard, but, because he was also an introvert who hadn’t taken breaks or used restorative niches, he had once nearly died from double pneumonia.

I wanted more ideas for improving introverted faculty well-being, but I’d run out of time to look for them. And, paraphrasing what Dan Russell had written of The Joy of Search, when doing web search, you should stop if you have no more time—even if you haven’t answered your question yet. Thus, I had to break off my investigation.

Even so, I’d still found a number of useful tips for looking out for introverted teachers’ well-being, plus I’d also found some on improving introverted students’ welfare. And, I realized that I had answered my question, plus I’d also complemented Curtis’s original article on improving teacher well-being.



For dealing with students, the tips include the following:

And, for teachers, they were as follows:

  • Take some time after a social activity or event to be alone and to recover—even if it requires hiding in a bathroom stall. (Source: tes)
  • Communicate with coworkers and others in writing. (Source: tes)
  • If there’s a project or task that your school’s faculty has to do, try to do your parts of it on your own rather than in a group. (Idea inspired by WebMD)
  • Do independent research for professional development. (Source: tes)
  • Tell students to be quiet in class. (Source: tes)
  • Someone who’s introverted can act extroverted at times—if it’s about furthering something truly important to them. However, it is important to take breaks from that (that is, have restorative niches), so as to prevent burnout and potentially serious health problems. (Source: Quiet)


Above all, the most important tip is to remember that good teaching is independent of being introverted or extroverted. In other words, both introverts and extroverts can be good teachers.

Matt Ehlers is an MA TESOL candidate at SIT Graduate Institute who is fascinated by web search and evaluating information sources, and who wishes to teach others how to better find what they’re looking for on the internet. He thinks of himself as being a learning engineer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *