My colleague was talking about a news video about the recent US Presidential televised debate. In the video, a body language expert was weighing in with his thoughts about which candidate was using their physicality more effectively.
The conversation got me thinking about how I am using my reduced visible presence within my tiny Zoom screen to best engage and connect with my students. As classroom teachers, we are masters of communicating to students who are live in the classroom. We use our bodies to communicate a host of ideas and to model behaviors.
But, when that physical toolbox has been taken away from us, what is available to us?
Here are some gestures I have begun to employ and the thought process behind them:
Hands reaching out – I use this to invite students into the discussion
Counting on my fingers – I use this when showing students that that I am making a list of ideas
Pointing directly at the camera – this gesture is used to grab attention
Making open palmed hand explosions – I use this as a non-verbal “wow!” to punctuate a concept
Pointing to opposite sides of the screen – I point to one corner and then move to the opposite corner to underscore opposite points of view
Stirring in mid air – this is my “stirring the pot” gesture, for when a student says something potentially provocative in a group discussion
Showing numbers on my finger – this is an important tool for me! I use this to underscore numbers (such as “There were five reasons why this happened…”). I also use number fingers for having students place themselves on a spectrum (for instance, “On a scale from one to ten, show me how anxious you are feeling…”).
Prior to teaching, I used to host a live television show in Toronto, Canada in the mid 1990s. It was amazing how the screen presence techniques came back to me when my school switched to virtual instruction. And, where I still felt I was lacking, I began to look to successful show hosts for tips on how to command the small screen. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, for example, is a great TV communicator to watch. Just don’t pick up his habit of swearing – no one will beep your words in Zoom!
Look how Ramsay leans in to engage the viewer. He is one master chef, and one master communicator!
I still have a long way to go. But, I feel that as long as I am conscious of the differences in how I am projected live versus on Zoom, and remain open to new ideas, I will continue to improve my classroom engagement.
As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas! So, please contact me if you can help me grow!
Take care out there!