“People who seek solitude are more creative, study finds…”

In a world run by extroverts, how do we accommodate the creative, introspective, hyper-metacognitive, and solitude-quiet seeking students? And since all teachers were once students, school based administrators, who don’t already know, will soon find out (or they won’t); that a little bit of linguistic and behavioral ‘code switching’ is required when supervising music, art, drama and dance teachers, for they absolutely see the world in a very different (good) and interesting way. It is my experience as a superintendent that principals who fail to communicate with design, creative and performing art teachers, inside of their ‘language’ (world view); the results are that the school, and thus their students are unable to take full advantage of these teacher’s talents and gifts.

But back to students; how does this study* inform our pedagogy as to how we think about ‘paired’ and ‘group work’? If one of the learning objectives of the lesson is to: ‘teach students how to successfully and productively navigate working with others’; then this study could make the case that students who enjoy ‘working alone’ maybe telling us that ‘alone work’ is their preferred (most comfortable) learning style, and that it works well for them. It would also suggest that ‘wanting to work alone’ is not a negative or counter-productive approach to learning, and for practicing creativity. And further, being inclined toward introversion-inter-vision, may not hinder that person’s ability to be a good team/group member. Finally, does this study push back against the very popular (and in my view overstated) “peer socialization” criticism of the Home Schooling Community?

Over my 11 year tenure as a principal, without fail year after year, students approached me to complain about their problems with paired or group work. Also true is that their protest was focused not on philosophical-psychological principles; but rather on the unequal work energy and commitment on the part of students with whom they were joined. (Another reason why teachers must perfect that very difficult skill of accurately and fairly assessing individual students working in paired or group learning activities.) Now I would probably need to do a better ‘memory-analysis’ of these students since many of them would definitely score higher on the plus-extroversion scale. But the common factor for all of these students, was not wanting to work with the burden and/or discomfort of ‘others’. The way it was presented to me was that these ‘uneven yoking’ work relationships, could possibly lower their grade point average (GPA), and thus honor roll, class ranking (preferred college admissions and potential scholarships). However, perhaps based at the time on their limited knowledge of human psychology, they never defined their opposition to paired/group work to be based on personality preference reasons. But maybe the two reasons (academic and personal learning comfort preference) are not in conflict, and could in fact be co-related, and even co-dependent.

Every sociopolitical group upon gaining societal-political power, seeks to present its ‘personality traits’ as the aspirational normal state of being. And so in a world essentially controlled and managed by extroverts, because they are so loud and dominate the cultural-linguistic spaces where we live, work and play. Behaviors based on inter-version and ‘quiet reflection’ could be seen as a negative trait, thus the term ‘anti-social’; when in fact these ‘ingoing’ individuals (the researchers call them: ‘unsociables’); could be driven by many deep altruistic social concerns for which they opt to apply their creativity; a creativity that can best be cultivated in aloneness. We clearly understand how this plays out in the art (adult) world with writers, painters, composers, sculptures, etc. But what about the individual creativity and self-reflecting we are seeking to nurture in our classrooms? Are we getting in the way of our own metacognitive seeking learning objectives, and at the same time hindering the independent introspectively inclined learner?

*“People who seek solitude are more creative, study finds”:

Until proven wrong, reading to and by young children is a critical key to future academic success.

Most parents (teachers and principals), may not have been exposed to a doctoral level research methodology course. Which is why we must all be very careful not to make parental and professional decisions about educating children on every piece of research (peer-reviewed or not) that comes out. The other problem is that popular magazines, TV-radio shows and newspapers often ‘summarize’ the conclusions of research studies either incorrectly or incompletely. Sometimes even making claims that the researchers themselves have not made! And of course there is no ‘peer review’ process as to the validity and methodology of these studies that is performed by these reporters and commentators working for various media outlets. They are really going for that “important sexy” conclusion the study supposedly asserts, no matter how impotent the research methodology and/or conclusions that are being affirmed.

I read the abstract and briefly scanned this study, sent to me by a colleague, and reported in Inc. Magazine; the source, thus the motivation, also always matters:

“19-Year Study Reveals Kindergarten Students With These 2 Skills Are Twice as Likely to Obtain a College Degree (And They Have Nothing to Do With Reading)”… https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/kindergarteners-with-these-two-skills-are-twice-as-likely-to-get-a-college-degree-according-to-a-19-year-study.html?utm_content=buffer08aa1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

I plan a little later to sit and read the study in its entirety. But some methodological and theoretical ‘red flags’ immediately jumped out. For example the ‘front end’ data collection relies solely on ‘teacher observation-perception’. But teacher observations and perceptions don’t occur in some objective cultural vacuum. All teachers bring an idea of a ‘model student’ with them into the classroom, and very often that model is the teacher themselves, and/or the affirmation, some form of modification, or outright rejection of their own family-cultural upbringing! Student behavior is often in the eyes of the beholder. For when does ‘self-assuredness’ and ‘self-confidence’, as defined for little White girls; become seen and interpreted as ‘sassy’, ‘acting grown’ and ‘confrontational’, for little Black and Latino girls?

Being ‘compliant’, listening ‘passively’, or for that matter actively-dramatically participating, asking questions, and/or ‘sitting still’ during kindergarten reading time; may in fact reflect the child’s pre-school experience with parental ‘reading to them’ style, or no parental reading to them activities. And so, the format, or absence of the same, of home based pre-school reading activities, I maintain is a critical factor in how the child ‘shows up’ (looks like) to the kindergarten teacher.

A Further technical research problem with the study is that the child would be exposed to perhaps 10-20+ teachers by the time that student becomes a college ready, or not ready senior in high school. And we do know from other studies that children being exposed to two or more consecutive incompetent and/or ineffective teachers in a row; or being in a school setting where they have a competent and effective teacher (i.e. 4th grade) in between two incompetent-ineffective teachers (i.e. 3rd and 5th grades); could in fact be a greater determiner of that child’s college chances, regardless of the ‘behaviors’ they exhibit in the early childhood educational classroom setting.

How many of us as superintendents have visited a school and watched the joy and excitement; particularly in the body language and facial expressions of Black and Latino boys in Kindergarten, only to see those same students look lost, miserable and unhappy when they reach the 1st , 2nd or 3rd grades. In other words what variables are in play between Kindergarten, upper elementary, middle and high school 12th grades that determines a child’s academic options and path? And again, I suggest that a critical factor is reading skills. On a positive teacher note the study also does not measure or account for the Efficacious Quality* of all of the post kindergarten teachers that a child may encounter on their way to the 12th grade!

Finally, and granted I still must read the entire study, the researchers in my view don’t prove that being read to, reading, loving to read and loving books are totally disconnected from the child’s building of their conceptual understanding of the world; the behavioral skills they exhibit once in the Pre-K to Kindergarten setting, and/or the quantitative and qualitative level of their linguistic-vocabulary skills. And these linguistic-vocabulary skills are (according to Vygotsky, and I believe him!) inextricably linked to the child’s thinking and reasoning skills; as well as their moral-ethical decision making skills (Piaget). The young pre-school child who is exposed to book stories, over and over again because they like the book, and then request that the parent read it every evening, and often again in the same evening. These message rich stories that teach values like ‘stick-to-itness’, determination and perseverance, i.e. “I Can’t Said The Ant” or “The Little Engine That Could”; could very well mean that the child is absorbing these values, and incorporating them into their out of the home social setting decision making process.

I could say a lot more, like a standard and proscribe psychological developmental stage does not automatically kick-in on the child’s first day of kindergarten, but I will stop here. But my humble advice to parents is that by all means keep reading to your young pre-school child, and continue to engage and encourage your child (from the cradle to high school) to fall in love with books and reading; until some study (and this one does not seem to be it) comes along to dismiss that approach as the best way of creating an environment where the child will be academically successful when they attend any school.

*The Efficacious Quality in teachers: A belief and skill whereas the teacher essentially ‘takes matters into their own hands’ (capabilities); and does everything in their power to correct academic deficiencies, and past mistakes and misses by their colleagues who taught the child before them; all in a determined effort to make the child academically successful.

We need to close the parent information gap when it comes to choosing the right high school for a child.

Every year as a NYC principal I would get calls from the NYCBOE high school placement office (Jackie Charity, a most appropriate name for a wonderful child advocate!) In Washington DC I would get the call from a parent. Usually after the 2nd or 3rd marking periods of problems. Some young person and their family thought they hit the educational lottery by being accepted to a highly acclaimed admissions restricted specialized high school or program*.

These students were surely academically capable, but for complicated social-psychological-cultural reasons I won’t go into, “things were not going well, and getting worse by the day”. However, there was always a happy ending to these stories as all of these students who transferred to my schools (SSCHS/Phelps), went on to do well in high school, college and professional careers. Sometimes it is as simple as having a school administrator or faculty member who actually knew their name, and constantly checked in, with and up on them. These students were clearly academically capable; for when I looked at their middle school standardized test scores and course grades, their score on the specialized high school entrance exam (SHSAT); I’d say to myself (but not to the parent): “In what kind of crazy school system world are we in that we are not able to get this kid to pass 9th grade biology or algebra?”

Often, all these students needed was to be surrounded by other smart students who looked, talked and lived like them; as well as having culturally aware and efficacious teachers/administrators, for which many of whom they shared a cultural link. In essence we modeled the traditional HBCU mission of seeing student academic success as a political and social activist calling—educating the next generation of servant leaders!

And then there were those students (especially at SSCHS); who were accepted to a NYC specialized high school/or a specialized program in a comprehensive high school, but chose instead to attend SSCHS. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a parent who against the passionate advice of her child’s middle school counselor (one of the few GC’s who mistakenly advocate not for the child, but rather to boost their “placement stats”); decided to send her child to SSCHS and refuse the NYC specialized high school acceptance. “I know my child better than anyone”; she said, “she was the top in her middle school, and one of the reasons was the tremendous support, inspiration and encouragement she received from the ‘old school, in your business’ Black principal, and the diverse caring teaching staff; if I let her attend _________; she is going to be lonely, isolated and get lost”.
The student like so many like her did go on to do extraordinarily well. The point here is that selecting a high school (not an option in most of the nation); should be a carefully thought out decision, utilizing the same strategic thinking and energy that goes into a choice of a college.

Every school (no matter how ‘good’ and ‘exciting’) is not for every child. Which is why the below article and referenced study published by The Atlantic Magazine is so important. The conclusions it presents are very much aligned with the smart intuition of that parent who explained to me why she was turning down a specialized high school seat for SSCHS.

Importantly, it challenges the concept of ‘high performing school’ (which is worth its own posting as a topic); and whether that school is high performing on behalf of your individual child? More pointedly, does that school have the capability (mission-philosophy, operational practices, leadership and staff) to make your individual child a high performing student? Or, do you just become one of those calls a principal receives asking them to now, academically save your child from a specialized high school underperformance performance!

*Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School Of Music & Art and Performing Arts in NYC, and Duke Ellington School of the Arts in DC; are the two schools for which I would not receive calls.

“Why Parents Make Flawed Choices About Their Kids’ Schooling: A new study shows that families act on insufficient information when it comes to figuring out where to enroll their children.”–The Atlantic