Quiet Revolutionary David Wiggin’s Story
Since the age of 5, when I started school, I’ve known I was an introvert. I was the only boy in kindergarten who cried most of the first day of school. I grew up being regarded as shy, quiet, and a bit slow. As an introvert, I take time to respond to people who throw new ideas or comments at me. I am the person who always thinks of all the good comebacks hours later.
Despite these feelings, I’ve gone through life making myself face situations that force me to be more open and expressive. In college, I didn’t force myself to participate in activities, like debate, because my fear of speaking in public pushes my brain into a panic mode, blocking thoughts. In the proverbial “fight or flee” situation, I usually choose the “flee” option. The reaction causes my thought processes to shut down until I can get my emotions under control.
I chose teaching as a career because I wasn’t sure what else I wanted to do and because I love literature and the arts. I also admired the best teachers I had in school. After several years of teaching high school English and French, I decided to become a school principal and later a superintendent of schools. Obviously, these professions attract extroverted people. To succeed, I had to overcome my reservations of speaking in groups. The challenge was immense, but I succeeded because of my ability to empathize with young people and adults in the school community. One of my most rewarding moments occurred when a colleague mentioned to my wife that I was known as the “go-to” person in the school because when anyone wanted to find out information or to get help with a problem or a situation I was the trusted administrator they would seek out.
As a superintendent of schools, I found myself speaking before many different groups. Perhaps the most daunting were large town meetings when I was presenting and defending a proposed school budget. These events almost always went well because I’d prepare clear audio-visual displays, print budget info, and provide lucid explanations of the budget process and the effects of budgets on school programs and local communities.
Other, even more difficult, situations occurred behind closed doors between me and teacher representatives in contract negotiations or when I was dealing with student/teacher conflicts, often involving several parties. I found these situations emotionally draining, but I also found that an important key to success was building mutual trust by understanding all parties’ positions and knowing when to give something in return for something else.
When I got ready to retire as a superintendent, members of the school board came to my office individually and in groups to try to dissuade me, but I knew when the time had come to move on; however, on a couple of occasions, I was coaxed to return to a position I had left because of the difficulties the schools faced at the time. In looking back, I sometimes marvel at the successes I achieved, but I understand that my thoughtful demeanor and ability to empathize with others were great assets in resolving conflicts and leading diverse groups. Although I would never be the life of the party or the most popular person, being an introvert was not a deficit because I learned that people would trust me when I listened and cared deeply about their concerns.