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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Bethune

Introversion in the classroom: Time to speak up?

Updated: Nov 21, 2022

Introversion is a topic that Richard Etienne is very familiar with. As a self-proclaimed introvert, Richard has become a welcomed voice for introverts in the professional world. He has published numerous books on the topic of personal brand and is a regular speaker for the Guardian Masterclasses series on self-promotion for introverts. He is also founder of Black Introvert Week UK who have recently led a research project on the impact of introversion in the classroom.

We caught up with him to find out more…

Tell us about you.

I film. I write. I talk.

Visit my website and those are the words that greet you. That’s because with so many life passions, it was a struggle for me to pick the one I should do for a living.

So, I chose all three.

Richard Etienne filming ex-Prime Minister of England, Teresa May
Richard was Teresa May's videographer

I’m currently Director of Internal communications at Elsevier, a healthcare data and analytics publisher, and have been working in communications most of my career. My first appointment was MySpace (remember them) and since then have had the privilege of creating and managing the content for the Cabinet Office, Buckingham Palace and Downing Street as Prime Minister Theresa May’s official videographer and social media writer. My first film release, The iD Project - My Dominica Story, won Best Documentary award at the 2019 British Urban Film Festival and was entered in global film festivals.

One reason I particularly enjoy this business sector, and the challenges that go along with it, is the opportunity to connect with audiences from all demographics and orchestrate global conversation. It's this connection with people and driving forward positive change that led me to creating the Black Introvert Week initiative in the UK and start a personal branding coaching business. I also host the Guardian Masterclass series sessions 'Self-promotion for introverts' and 'How to succeed as an introvert professional'.

Why is introversion such a big topic for you?

Black and white photo of Richard Etienne standing with 5 cast members of the film Let it Rock.
On set for Vivienne Westwood's biopic 'Let it Rock'

I know how much my confidence took a knock because I was misunderstood at school, labelled as shy or thought of as struggling in class when that just wasn’t the case. It took me a long time to find my confidence when I entered the workplace, and I don’t believe my experience is unique. That’s why it’s become a passion of mine, not only to help individuals to use their introversion to their advantage, but also to encourage society to embrace introversion as a strength to be celebrated.

Tell us about Black Introvert Week UK.

I launched Black Introvert Week UK in 2021 which falls on the last week of Black History Month in October following a growing rise in requests from attendees of my Guardian Masterclasses to address the intersectionality of personality and race. It was only after doing research on this topic along with several discussions with Jeri Bingham, founder of Black Introvert Week US, that the potential for positive change in the UK was realised.

Our aim is to encourage organisations and educational institutions to think in greater depth about personality diversity and how this intersects with Black employees and students.

We know that extroverts achieve a higher earning potential than their introvert colleagues, are more likely to gain promotion and achieve higher performance evaluations. We also know that black professionals are woefully underrepresented at senior levels of business in the UK.

We wanted to explore and challenge the implications that black introversion has in the debate on race disparity, equality of opportunity and how best to tackle the ethnicity pay gap.

We’ve developed a toolkit for businesses to use to help educate and navigate some of the key issues and throughout the week we have some inspirational speakers and thought leaders on the topic sharing their experiences and ideas.

This year, we’re also taking a much closer look at the impact of introversion in the classroom setting.

You recently published a survey aimed at teachers about introversion in the classroom. Why?

We know that many of the issues we see in the professional world begin within the school system. Modern teaching methods encourage group discussion and pupils are urged to speak up in class but that can leave students with an introvert personality at a disadvantage.

Our aim with our ‘SpeakUp’ survey was simply to gain a clearer picture of teachers’ lived experience of introversion in the classroom (both theirs and their pupils) as well as what, if any, formal training teachers receive on the topic from the DfE or elsewhere.

Ultimately, we want to try and provide educators with the tools to nurture introverted students, no matter their colour, and provide an environment in which they can thrive and fulfil their potential.

How does this link to the topic of Black introversion in schools?

In the same way that introversion intersects with race disparity and lack of opportunity in the workplace, we can see the same scenario playing out in our education system.

Research in the House of Commons library shows that at GCSE level young people from ‘Black major ethnic group’ on average have the lowest combined maths and English pass rates of any major ethnic group. And young people from Black ethnic groups, while they are more likely to go on to HE than average, are less likely to obtain higher grades, go to prestigious universities or end up in high skilled jobs.

Now add to that a layer of exclusion that introversion can bring for Black pupils who already underperform in key areas. The impact on their education, their springboard into professional life, is huge and something urgently needs to be done about that.

What have the results shown you?

The final results haven’t been published yet, (there is still time to fill it in here) but it’s really interesting to see some early trends coming through. We’re seeing that the majority of the teachers who have responded identify as introvert themselves and that most have never received guidance from the DfE or other sources on how to support introverted students.

If this trend continues, it begs the question not only how are we supporting our students, but also how can we better support our teachers in a system geared up to favour extroversion?

What recommendations are you making to schools off the back of this survey?

Our full recommendations are yet to be published but, we plan to use the survey to produce guidance for teachers to better understand how personality diversity can impact learning and how to support introvert students. We'll also be campaigning for the DfE to give more formal guidance or training for teachers on the topic.

This is guidance we’re working on right now so if you’d like to hear more about this then join our LinkedIn community page or email our press office Kirsty Buchanan on to receive our latest news.

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