4 min read

Soon, we will know whether we are all returning to campus-based, virtual, or hybrid schooling. Regardless of what happens, we will likely be interacting professionally from behind masks to reduce the accidental transmission of the COVID-19 virus. On some level, we will also continue to interact virtually to limit gatherings or hybridize instruction.

I am not here to debate the mask issue. Required or not, I am “all in” on wearing them. Even if it only reduces the spread by a fraction of a percent, I feel that I have the moral obligation to wear one. So, instead of trying to argue my way out of it, I am proactively planning ahead to limit the impact of masks and the limitations of the virtual world. Let’s get productive!

We can put our minds to some very productive things, like figuring out how to interact with others when some of their most critical non-verbal cues are behind a mask. In turn, how can we assist our listeners with other signals besides those our full-faces typically provide?

There may likely be a virtual component to our teaching and administrative practices when we return. Whether you are involved in a hybrid model, part online instruction, or an entirely virtual model, there are some tips included here that apply to the virtual world. They may be able to see your face, but they lose some of your personality and full-body language. I note these below as well.

Building and Maintaining Rapport

Building relationships is one of the most critical factors for maximizing the effectiveness of teaching practices. So, I will discuss building rapport. I make an argument for being creative and theatrical in your teaching practices. Then, I share a series of random ideas. Perhaps something will inspire you!

  • Consider making a video or voice-over slide show that tells your students (or staff) about who you are. What are your hobbies? Do you have an interesting family history? What are you passionate about? Play it in class or virtually. This idea addresses the mask issue, as you can use images of you without you wearing your mask.
  • Watch this video on how to read another person’s emotions when they are wearing a mask by recognizing their micro-expressions. Now, get in front of a mirror and practice making your facial expressions more evident while wearing a mask.
  • Externalize the checking-in process. Try not to make assumptions when you see an individual who may be upset, sad, frustrated, or angry. Agree as a class (or staff) on how to check-in. For example, you could teach them that when you say, “How can I help?” you mean that you have seen that they might be upset or frustrated, and you are ready to problem-solve with them.
  • When in a virtual world, teach your students and staff how to send you private messages during class or a meeting. Encourage them to convey concerns, frustrations, and such in this manner to keep information flowing for the rest of the group. Just be sure to monitor that outlet!

Be Creative and Theatrical

Think about all the ways actors portray emotions and meaning when wearing a mask (body language, over-emphasized movements, voice tone, and props are an excellent place to start.

Here is just one example of tying non-verbals in with theatrical motivators:

  • Before making a critical point that ties in with the lesson objective directly, put your hands in the air and call out, “As you can see…” in an easily discernible way.
  • After you make the point or convey the skill, take a bow. Better yet, create a signature bow to inject some fun.
  • The bow signals the students to respond in-line with how confident they feel about their understanding of what they heard or saw during the instruction. 
    • Hands over eyes = I understand so well that I could teach it with my eyes closed
    • Snapping fingers = I kind of understand; could you review/do another example?
    • Clapping = I am pretty sure I understand; might need some practice

Random Ideas

  • Teach your students or staff ways to give you feedback on their understanding from a distance using signals, signs, or technology. Perhaps they can hold up a question mark sign if what you just said confused them. Maybe a stop sign if they need you to repeat what you just said. The Fist of Five strategy is an excellent and adaptable formative assessment you can do on the fly, even virtually.
  • Be prepared to face boredom and sleepiness. Get them moving now and again; even it is chair aerobics.
  • Make videos of yourself mask-free (record in a safe environment!) for use throughout the week. This video could be an opening message, it could be information they use for a homework assignment, a science demonstration, or it could be you making letter sounds so younger students can see the shape of your mouth.
  • Give homework assignments with the option to video record themselves (while mask-free). This option teaches public speaking and allows them to express themselves to their peers with their whole face in view.
  • Consider adding features to your lesson that are quality edutainment
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