Teaching in the New Normal

How is teaching going to happen in the “new normal?” My heart goes out to educators in the impossible position of teaching our kids in a matter of weeks. With school systems and government agencies at odds, lack of funding, and polarized parents, what is a teacher to do? Both of my parents were teachers. I can tell you neither of them wants to come out of retirement!

But this blog isn’t about issues or the “new normal.” It is about supporting educators to survive and even thrive in their impossible situation. So far, I see quite a bit more press and discussion on the logistics of back to school than I do the social and emotional impact on students and teachers.

As a body language expert, my goal is to support teachers. I have taught both in person and on-line courses as a college professor and I have taught many after school classes and camps for kids. The difference between university and primary is very real. My experience in both age groups tells me there are some tips just for primary grades, and some for high school and college age.

Virtual communication and mask communication must be part of the training support for teachers. It is one thing to mandate when and who must appear on screen or what ages must wear masks. It is an entirely different challenge to command the virtual classroom or read student expressions behind a mask. Why is there not more discussion helping teachers teach?!

I held a discussion with teachers from Chicago, IL; Durango, CO and Leesburg, VA to see how I could help and what their concerns are for going back to school. Each school system has a different plan, but there are some universal needs. Teachers are most concerned with the emotional and physical well-being of their students and continuing their learning. This means creating a community of trust and safety (and in some cases, asking parents to butt out!) Teachers and students are nervous. How will they create community and trust when they haven’t met before and now will meet on a screen or in a mask? Last March, at least teachers already knew their students before navigating on-line.

3 Tips for Virtual

Set Up Class Rules

Just as there are class rules on the wall of your classroom, work with the students the first week to develop your own list of “to strive for” in the virtual meet up. If you have high school students or higher, it can be an agreed upon contract for class. Shirts vs. pajamas? Must kids sit at a table or is laying in bed okay? How about snacks? Maybe no watching videos on phones and turning off the television. Videos on or are avatars okay? You get my point. Students are used to structure and rules. Each teacher will need to think about what works for their students.

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

For the full explanation, watch my TedX Talk on Virtual Body Language. Involve young students in singing this song to remind them of good body language on Zoom, Teams, Google Classroom, etc.

Head: Be expressive and use active listening. SMILE!

Shoulders: Sit back so we can see shoulder body language

Knees: Wiggle your legs if you are antsy because we can’t see you from the waist down

Toes: Take a walk between classes or between subjects to clear your brain and transition to something new.

Model what you want to see

Movement is contagious! To keep control and command of the room, have more energy than you think you need. The computer takes away some of your perceived energy transferring your image from 3-D to 2-D. Try standing up because that can make you feel more like you! Physically move and gesture to give body language signals to your students and give them something to watch.  Your animation will encourage students to be more expressive. Maybe there is a prize for “communicator of the day.”

Three Tips for Masks

You can’t simply be you with a mask on because covering facial expressions changes how you communicate. 

Speak Loudly and Clearly

Most speakers are lazy. We don’t use our lips, teeth and tip of the tongue (our articulators) effectively. Ever ask someone to repeat themselves because you could hear them but not understand the words? This is lack of clear consonants. Behind a mask you must use your mouth more. Have students start with a tongue twister every day and tell them to “chew their words.”

Cartoon Faces

Since you can only see eyes, you must overdo your expressions to make sure the surprise, disgust, anger, joy, etc. comes through your eyes. Show students cartoon faces where the eyes “bug out” for surprise or become downward slits for anger. If students aren’t being animated, remind them to use their cartoon face! High school students may need movie stars to emulate. Each student is assigned an emotion to find a photo for to get them thinking about being “bigger” with their expressions.


Body language with a mask needs to fall somewhere between bad acting and pantomime! You must amplify your usual gestures. Play “guess my emotion” and only let students use their bodies. (Cover their eyes with dark sunglasses.)

2020 teaching will be full of adjustments. Please be patient and tell your teachers how much you care about them and support their work!

Please comment if these suggestions work for you. Contact Moving Image if we can bring training to your school or educational foundation.