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Is it time for a quiet revolution in schools?

As lock-down has eased, there’s been a great deal of chatter about how we might re-set our world for the better post-COVID 19. The pandemic has achieved overnight, that which working parents have struggled to achieve over many years - a revolution in business attitude to home-working. As schools are now reopening, is it also a chance to re-set how we approach the way our children learn?

As a parent new to secondary education, my overwhelming impression on attending my first

parents’ evening was how little things had changed since I was in school – which was I have to say, a great many years ago. The feedback for my son, who is very much on the quieter end of the spectrum, was dominated by ‘he really should put his hand up more’. There was only one teacher who talked about how she was going to create an environment more encouraging of contribution from everyone.

This is not to criticise teachers – who, it’s become all the more obvious during our attempts at home-schooling, do an incredible job - but instead to highlight the need for a societal shift in attitude.

We still live in an extrovert’s world. As the author of Quiet, Susan Cain, says – in this world, we have a tendency to picture the ideal, successful employee or student as having extrovert traits. So even inadvertently, schools (which of course only reflect broader society) can send the message that to be successful introverts need to turn themselves into extroverts.

None of us would want our children to grow up thinking they have to become something they’re not – and not to be able to play to their actual strengths. And given that business today recognises the value of diversity to success and is actively making moves to ensure workforces are more diverse, we need an education system that supports our next generation of diverse workers.

Whilst of course it’s a spectrum - none of us are pure introverts, ambiverts or extroverts - it’s estimated that 30-50% of the population are somewhere on the introvert spectrum. This is not a small minority. And it’s a population with a huge potential contribution to make to business and

society. As great observers and listeners, introverts tend to gain the insight necessary to problem- solve, are sensitive to others’ needs and score highly in self-reflection of their own work. They tend to be interested in the success of the whole, rather than their personal success and a predilection for alone-time makes them highly independent, focused and with the opportunity for the deep thought necessary for creativity and innovation.

Their thoughtfulness before they offer opinions or submit work minimises waves in the workplace and creates work of substance. I know from my own experiences in the agency world that whilst lots of fast response, quick-fire ideas often capture attention and impress, they do not always (but of course do sometimes) have a great deal of substance or relevance behind them. Taking time to think, shouldn’t be seen as a disadvantage.

We need a shift in attitude, so that all approaches are recognised and supported for the value they bring. So what does this mean for our schooling? Whilst we’ve clearly been missing the motivational kick of physically being in school, there have been some advantages to home-learning. For someone on the introvert spectrum, it’s been an opportunity for a taste of greater alone time and independent learning – without the draining (for introverts) always-on group-learning of school. Don’t get me

wrong, learning to work collaboratively is so important for

the working world, but so is the opportunity for solitude – if that’s when you get your best ideas.

So this is about thinking how we can achieve a balance that stretches, but also supports all kinds of learners. With this in mind, and in the same way that we have realised we don’t always need to be in the office – do our children of secondary age always need to be physically in school in order to learn effectively? As we think about different ways to structure our society, could we (and the future of business) benefit from a new approach?

Victoria Yates is an experienced PR/ comms director, writer and general fan of words. But she remains very much on a steep learning curve when it comes to comms with tweens (not least with her own two boys).

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