Photo by: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels
Let me take you back to the year 2009. Barack Obama was president of the United States, masks were worn by horror movie villains or children on Halloween, and Daytime Emmy Awards winner, Tyra Banks, coined the term “smize” on an episode of America’s Next Top Model.
For those who spent the late nights doing something other than consuming competition television, let me break it down for you. To smize is, simply put, to smile with your eyes. This talent could make or break the careers of fledgling young models and has found resurgence in the era of mandatory masks. But what if you can’t?
My inability to smize became clear to me as I walked, mask on, through the park near my home, and a man enjoying an alcoholic beverage wished me a good morning. I attempted to smize without verbal acknowledgement, and I was subsequently told (in language more colorful than this) to “go kick rocks.” My eyes are not as expressive as I once thought!
In the virtual classroom (VC), you don’t have the option to smize. Your communication with learners is based entirely around your ability to express yourself through limited means. In this way, adapting to mask-on communication will actually assist you in the VC.
Your voice is the strongest and most reliable tool you have in your belt—use it! Speak like you have a physically present audience, even if you don’t. Do whatever you need to get yourself into the “phone voice” zone because, whether you realize it or not, your learners—and your great-grandmother from beyond the grave—can hear that slouch in your back. Getting dressed can even lift your vocal timbre! Transitioning from nighttime pajamas to daytime pajamas counts. Had I used my voice to say good morning to the man in the park, the whole gosh-darned miscommunication could have been avoided!
There are other ways to express yourself in the virtual world beyond your voice. Take advantage of those status icons! Be over enthusiastic with your applause and your smiles. It’s the virtual equivalent of wearing a mask with leopard print and fringe versus plain black. In both situations, you’re engaging with the people around you in a way that’s easy to register.
Let’s be real. We’re all hoping we can go back to some form of mask-less life as soon as humanly possible, if only because some of us spent a lot of money on our lipstick collection and would love to bring it back into circulation. Until then, we can take this opportunity to beef up our communication skills, both in the virtual classroom and outside of it. Don’t forget, the time you spend with learners in the virtual classroom may be the most social interaction that person has all day, or week, or month! Find ways to connect whenever you can.
What is your tried-and-true method for expressing yourself in the virtual classroom? Please share your tips so I can give them a try!