I can vividly recall moments of utter silence during my childhood, and while some of these memories are positive, many are equated with shame and humiliation. While thoughts of devouring Little House on the Prairie on my lime green bean bag chair warm my heart, those of sitting alone in the corner at social gatherings are not so uplifting. I had no idea that there was nothing wrong with my need to recharge after a pumpkin carving contest or take time to reflect before commenting on a passage from Shakespeare. Alas, I grew up in a world where children were supposed to easily adapt to new situations, and boys were expected to speak up more than girls.
Earning top grades or a perfect “10” on my gymnastics floor routine were my ways to compensate for what I increasingly viewed as a failing. Eventually, I found my voice in a foreign language and culture: in high school, French became my preferred language and Paris the best place to live on earth. It was not until after I graduated from Haverford with a degree in French literature, however, that my desire to share everything I adored about France trumped my innate proclivity to be quiet. When teaching French at NYU, or European History at Cooper Union, I discovered just how much I loved to be in front of a class: I opened up with those kids, and we laughed together while learning irregular verb conjugations or exploring hidden messages in Voltaire’s Candide.
I moved on to teach History in several independent schools in New York City, including Dalton, Berkeley Carroll and Nightingale-Bamford – for over two decades. As school activities swirled around me on a daily basis, I was careful to carve out restorative niches (it’s okay to eat lunch alone) and to send out agendas in advance of meetings as history department chair (so that everyone has a chance to prepare). When traveling with my World Religions class to Dharamsala or my Fragile Goddesses to Zambia, I attempted to nurture the leadership potential of every participant. I designed Closing the Gap leadership workshops to teach girls the skills needed to be self-aware and confident individuals, prepared to lead through authenticity. Students who excelled at expression through the written word became part of my Time Regained staff, a journal dedicated to student opinion about current affairs. Overall, I associate my teaching career with the opening up of a world of possibilities for introverted students.
During those years of teaching, I had an internal mentor to whom I am eternally indebted for teaching me to be both courageous and resilient: the French explorer-yogi Alexandra David-Néel (1869-1969). In 2010, I took a leave of absence to write her biography, and those delicious days of creative solitude enabled me to get fully reacquainted with my quiet self. Fast-forward to a sweltering summer day in 2013: I was sitting on the beach with my son, who was preparing to leave for his freshman year at college, and we decided to spend the day together reading Quiet. We took the personality quiz, consumed the book, and the rest is history.
It is my passion to unlock the leadership potential of each and every student by guiding school communities in cultivating more inclusive, Quiet cultures. As I pursue this calling, I am fortunate to have the loving support of my husband and children (and two quirky cats).