Recently I was reading ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain. More about this book athttp://www.thepowerofintroverts.com. The concepts of extraversion and introversion as basic temperament ‘sets’ were first conceptualised by Carl Jung, the famous contemporary of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Introversion and extraversion are considered the two most strongly defining characteristics of temperament. Organisations that I’ve been involved with have sometimes put staff through the Myers Briggs personality screen which is derived from Jungs categories of personality, extraversion and introversion being the most powerful. The main point in ‘Quiet’ is that the Western world (specifically the North American business world), has come to value the qualities of extraversion much more than introversion and that in the process, the many positives that introverts bring can be overlooked.
This has made me think about my work environment and culture at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. HPSS is a huge, high- ceilinged building full of open plan, flexible spaces. It is nothing like any high school that most people have been in before. The concepts behind learning space design are to foster collaborative teaching and learning and to break down traditional silos of learning. Ultimately this should foster the ability of students to take charge of their own learning in a way that is much less achievable than the traditional high school setting. The flexibility and openness of spaces has the effect of breaking down barriers in relationships. Everything is visible, there is little in the way of territorial space. I find this also has an effect of blurring hierarchies. Its a lot to get used to! My mind goes back to the very first taste of HPSS I had when I was approached by Maurie Abraham the principal after sending in a job application for the position of counsellor. Here is an anecdotal account:
Maurie called me to ask me in for a ‘chat’. OK, I thought, he must want to talk to me informally before deciding whether to formally interview me (mental image of board room, BOT members, sheets of pre-agreed questions). Maurie appeared at the door to meet me wearing a bright coloured shirt and a clashing sequined bow tie. Later I noticed that he was also wearing striped socks with more than a passing resemblance to those you would see on a clown.
We sat down at a table in the midst of much people traffic. Because I perceived it as a chat, I was less nervous than I would have been if I thought it was an interview. Funny isn’t it? Anyway at the end of the chat, Maurie said that there would be a decision about the guidance position within a few days. It was then that I realised that I had just been interviewed!
I went away intrigued and with my head spinning somewhat. My heart immediately sang at the fluidity of the space and the gentle humour of Maurie taking the mickey out of formal principal attire. At the same time I felt a nervousness in my fingers and toes as I contemplated the possibility of no corner of space to call my own, no door to close, no privacy… All my work spaces in school have been my islands, accumulating special pictures and poems and definitely with doors that could close, even lock. When I later read Susan Cain’s book, this nervousness made more sense and raised many questions that I have no answers for yet. How do you have private space in an environment like this? Does this culture value the qualities of introversion?
What about the counselling space itself? When dealing with people’s inner stuff that they are exposing, sometimes for the first time, features of security, predictability, privacy are really important, partly for the person being counselled, but for the counsellor too. This can be lighting, the exact placement of the chairs, the box of tissues, the sound levels around the place.
Its one thing for the students to be able to move a few beanbags around and snuggle up in a nest behind some library books. The staff spaces are open at HPSS. Even the senior managers sit in a large space, their desks against the walls, their computer screens visible to all who walk through. There have been many times I have gone into their space to talk to one of them, usually Maurie. There he is, busy. Do I interrupt him? Well the space invites this. There is no polite door knocking going on here.
Everyone can hear the conversation, unless you make a point of saying can we go somewhere to talk in private, which makes a point of the need for privacy. As I write this, I can see how much of my own self-consciousness is involved. I have hated the feeling of schools and institutions where the administration and senior management block consists of a row of intimidatingly closed doors. But it is familiar, so you know where you stand (cap in hand, on the back foot in my experience). When you don’t have this hierarchy embedded into the physical spaces, you wonder where it is. Well I do. To me it is difficult to conceive that there is no hierarchy.