Do styles change?

Look at me when I’m talking to you.

Every parent ever

I’m still so impressed with Melanie White’s Remotely Speaking post that I included in yesterday’s This Week in Ontario Edublogs post.

In the post, she described her efforts to try to reach out and include all students in her classroom. Rather than relying on a single tool, she’s pulling out many other things from her digital toolbox.

She had me thinking about how I handle myself in populated learning sessions like classrooms or lecture halls or online. I do indeed like to look at whoever is talking. That’s why my preferred seat was always at the front, right side of the room. Being right handed, I could turn to the left to see who was talking and still take notes. In online meetings, I like the feature that promotes the speaker to a bigger image.

Even in department meetings, I would arrive early and plop my laptop or other materials down in a primo seat before getting my coffee so that I was in a position to easily see everyone else in the room.

And, it’s not like I am always an actively vocal participant. It’s not that I’m detached either but I do like to listen and have always have a bit of resentment for those types that like to monopolize the conversation. I’m not a fan of going around the table and finding out how everyone spent their weekend. It always seems to be a time filler and I’ve been known just to “pass”.

I’m not saying that my style is correct; it’s just me. And yet, when the time calls for it, I can stand up in front of a group of people and teach or present or lead a meeting online. My first superintendent called me a “closet extrovert”. There are just those occasions when you’re expected to step up and lead. Then, there are those occasions when you could be a passive participant.

So, I visualize myself in Melanie’s class. I’m guessing I would be the Brady Bunch square in one of the corners listening to what’s happening but remaining silent for the most part. It’s a challenging environment as well as I can see people talking over each other without the visible cues that we would normally expect to see in a classroom. Courtesy still prevails and we see it when multiple people start to talk and then simultaneously stop when they realize someone else is talking.

Or, at least that’s how I think I’d react. I think I’ve mentioned before that I join a group of friends every week for a beer in a Zoom meeting. As per usual, I find myself quiet and enjoying the stories but there are times when the conversation lulls. It’s at those moments that I feel the need to join in and say something. Maybe that’s a good thing? Maybe that’s just a consequence of the tool that we’re using? Maybe there’s a desire to change because of the isolation that I’m experiencing?

Back to what Melanie’s doing, I can only think that her efforts to reach out and engage all students is so much more impressive and a tribute to her as a teacher. I know that I would appreciate being acknowledged and then allowed to learn as I normally would. At this time of the year, I’m sure that she would know what to expect from me and my habits. And yet, I’m sure that she would be flexible and understanding enough to recognize that it might change given any one of a myriad of reasons.

I’m hoping that you may have some observations about behaviour, consistent or changing, in your classes at this time. If so, feel free to share in the comments.


4 thoughts on “Do styles change?

  1. Good morning Doug!

    What an interesting post! There are so many little hooks throughout that allow the reader to connect with you—the opening reference to Foghorn Leghorn, the memory call to seating placement during lectures (I always favour the left-hand side of the classroom for the same reason you choose the right), the acknowledgement of introvert/extrovert preferences, LOL to The Brady Bunch reference because we used it as the ECOO board just this past Monday, and even the notion of checking in at the beginning of a meeting — I’ve never been one to enjoy ice breakers for icebreakers sake — but communication is always so much easier and open when folks know one another and trust is in place.

    I don’t know if you wrote your post yesterday morning and then scheduled it for this morning—I know that is something that you do very regularly—but the Minister of Education’s end-of-the-day/week passive/aggressive hand grenade lob out to the Ontario teaching community didn’t sit well with me when I heard of it at dinner time yesterday. It’s another example of him communicating to Ontario educators through the media, rather than going through more appropriate. His public call for educators to provide more synchronous virtual facetime with students is only one of many factors he needs to be addressing with the staff at the Ministry of education and with the leadership of the teacher federations as we work through May and June, and as we consider how best to prepare for the fall and beyond.

    I am assuming that you will have heard my personal ”aha” from the day one webinar experience in episode 8 of the Ontario: Learning Together at Home podcast: that being able to see and hear the learners while working with them remotely makes a huge difference in one’s ability to know where the learners are at and customize the learning to the individuals. There’s no doubt that working remotely significantly decreases the usual channels for positive communication, as we are potentially limited in the modes of communication/feedback that are so present, instantaneous, and automatic when we are face-to-face in a room with people.

    In reading Melanie’s post, I was struck by her reference to her background in Communications. It triggered a memory of my first academic introduction to that concept — something that came after years spent in classrooms/contexts as a kid practising it in all sorts of modalities. The basic metaphor was simple enough — a game of catch — but it made all the difference in emphasizing the importance and the requirements of successful two-way communication.

    “Look at me when I’m talking to you (son/boy)!”
    • If you’re not looking at me, you may miss the fact that I am throwing the ball and am expecting you to catch it.
    • If you’re not looking at me, and I throw the ball at you, I run the risk of hitting you because you’re not prepared. I need to wait until you’re looking at me.
    • Ideally, I don’t throw the ball until I know that you are ready and waiting to catch the ball.
    • I need to watch after I throw the ball and see that you catch it. Eye contact is really important in a good game of catch.
    • Once you have the ball, my job changes to that of waiting and watching for you to throw the ball, and then focus on catching it.
    • Rhythm and enjoyment are probably two key components in playing catch. Learning to anticipate the arrival of the ball, and appreciating the satisfaction of catching it in the glove are probably old-school variations on the dopamine micro-hits that people get addicted to these days with video games and social media likes.
    • “Monkey in the middle,” and changing up the throws (like a pitcher would do for the catcher) can interfere with the success of the catch — although I dare say the catcher normally knows what to expect because they have pre-signaled to the pitcher on the mound, and frequently a game of monkey in the middle winds up working to either favour or frustrate the monkey. Regardless, the idea of interference with the communication of the message—the throwing and catching of the ball—is a key component of the metaphor that is critical to recognize.
    • We need to cooperate in playing this game. We’ve all been there when we’ve played with someone who loves to hurl the ball extra hard such that it hurts to catch it, or who purposefully throws it so that it can’t be caught. Maybe someone throws extra balls so that you don’t have time to catch them? Sometimes the game isn’t just a game of single catch back-and-forth, but rather a cooperative one that involves the whole class. It’s important to understand the nature of the game.
    • Sometimes someone takes their ball glove and goes home.
    • Sometimes we choose new partners to play catch with.
    • Sometimes the presence or absence of a positive parent/coach to support makes all the difference in the world and how successful the game goes.

    With synchronous virtual meetings, there are so many sources of potential noise/interference that can make the communication such a challenge:
    • I have a slow Internet connection
    • my hardware can’t handle this platform
    • it’s noisy at my end
    • it’s noisy at your end
    • I’m not sharing my screen, or I’m not using my mic or my camera
    • I can’t type my question fast enough in the chat
    • I don’t know how to type my question
    • I don’t know what my question is and I really need you as a teacher to be able to perceive that with the teacher superpowers that you normally have when you are in the classroom with me.
    • I’m not in the right frame of mind for learning right now
    • I don’t have the support at home that I need to make this work for me
    • your teacher Federation has advised you not to do synchronous virtual classes
    • The Minister of Education has said my marks aren’t going to go down, and i’ve been in the education game long enough to know that it’s more to my advantage to get a job now than it is to spend time online in a compromised learning situation.
    • The Minister of Education hasn’t provided me with any of the supports that I need to be successful, and given that I’m already failing, and I can’t see how I can improve under these conditions, I’m just giving up.

    Circling back to all the different modalities, it really is important to look for a new mode of communication if the one in play isn’t working. It makes sense to attempt to replicate the positives that a face-to-face classroom experience provides — sight, sound, the ability to make eye contact and to read expressions and body language, the assistance of a third-party EA help accommodate and modify where required. If there are too many barriers to communication, it becomes frustrating for everyone.

    I’m going to post this response on my own blog as well. These really aren’t easy issues, but we as educators have the capability and skills to see that they are sorted out. #OntarioEducatorsUnited


Please share your thoughts here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.