Teachers’ huge mistake with online learning- their tone!

Educators are underestimating the power of amplification which happens online.

Teachers, students and parents are all experiencing some level of frustration- particularly with online learning. Different age levels come with different challenges, but there is one common denominator I don’t hear mentioned- online platforms amplify vocal tone and facial expressions. Sad looks depressed; happy looks super excited and frustration looks angry.

Technology frustration, hybrid learning, and parental pressure leak into the online classroom and hurt teacher/student relationships.

I can hear my freshman’s online classes in the next room. Some of the dialogue I have heard from teachers:

  • “Some of you are consistently late. The next time you aren’t on time, I won’t admit you into the classroom until I have finished the lesson.”
  • “If you don’t have your camera on during class, I have been told to mark you absent. If you aren’t on screen, I don’t know if you are present.”
  • “If you have not gotten into Quizlet and completed the flashcards, it is not my problem. You have to figure out how to use the software I am using for this class. I am not here to babysit you.”

Ouch! Are educators really wondering why students aren’t engaged?

Online frustrations come through the screen.

Did you see the recent Huff Post where teachers were asked what they wanted the public to know? There was a lot of talk about patience and “we are in this together.” But is that the message the teachers are giving to the students and parents? More than once, my kids have complained of “being yelled at all day.” Teachers are being perceived as drill sergeants barking orders while I’m sure students are being perceived by teachers as disinterested lumps.

The start of the year is difficult for everyone. I have been on a soapbox preaching student/teacher relationships and creating community- even online. Honestly, I have not seen any of that with my two sons. Their classes are 80 minutes long- plenty of time, it would seem, to encourage class community, conversation and social emotional learning support.

As a body language expert and communication coach. Here is what I know is part of the perception problem:

  1. Facial expressions-particularly micro facial expressions are amplified and will be perceived as negative more often than positive. Teachers who are scowl and frown more than smile are turning off students.
  2. Vocal tone– frustration, disappointment, sighs etc. quickly morph into the perception the teacher is angry. While the educator may be upset at technology or something unrelated to students, they take it personally as they are being “yelled at.”
  3. Sharing screens minimizes the teacher and lets more of the tone and facial expressions up to chance and only the perception of the student.

On the flip side- here is what teachers are experiencing:

  1. No energy– kids (particularly middle and high school age) come in with little energy which is made worse by the computer. Small signs of life won’t be detected which may have been seen in the classroom.
  2. No verbal response– begging students to have a discussion or forcing them to respond by calling on them is a real drag for teachers. Dividing students into breakout rooms with other kids who are still basically strangers is not working either.

There is help! As a communication consultant, I have many ideas and ways to engage students. I will be posting some in future blogs. Also check out my other blogs for tips already posted. All the ideas are in my new book, Closing the Distance in Distance Learning: A Teacher’s Guide to Online and Mask Communication. Get your copy now!

As one of only 22 Certified Movement Pattern Analysts in the world, I am available to bring the Closing the Distance programs to your school. Learn to read and tune into body language for parents, teachers and students. One thing from the Huff Post we can agree on is working together to make virtual better for all.

Want to see me in action? Check out my TedX talk on virtual body language on Ted global.