The Conscious Classroom

Camera Up?

December 15, 2020 Episode 27
The Conscious Classroom
Camera Up?
Show Notes Transcript

Teaching in an online environment due to coronavirus restrictions has required us to deal with new and challenging questions. How can we teach if we can't see our students faces? How do we know if they are comprehending or struggling? Do we demand that they "camera up" or do we allow them to find their way? In this episode, Amy Edelstein talks about online teaching and how to invite but not impose a visual on students. She shares easy to implement techniquest that create relationship and encourage some kind of visual and also discusses equity and respect issues to allow students to keep their home lives private. 

Support the show

Camera Up? How mindfulness can encourage video use in the online classroom
with Conscious Classroom host Amy Edelstein


Hello, my name is Amy Edelstein. Welcome to this episode of The Conscious Classroom. 


In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, we're going to talk about the ubiquitous camera on camera off question. If you are like myself or hundreds of thousands of teachers around the country and around the world, you're probably teaching some version of all online or a hybrid of online and in person. 


And one of the big questions is, do you ask your students to camera up? Do you let them choose on their own or do you leave them with the option to always be camera off? It's very hard to know what your students are doing. It's very hard to see their faces if they're confused or bored or worried, if their cameras are off at the same time, we can't always require our students to come online. 


Many students, particularly in middle school years, are experiencing a lot of anxiety being on camera. As you know, when you're looking into the camera and you're on the other end, it feels like somebody is looking right at you. Middle school students who are already fairly self-conscious and challenged feel like other students are staring at them and they feel self-conscious. 


And sometimes our expressions are unselfconsciously bored or confused or our faces get scrunched up when we're trying to figure something out. Students can take that personally. They think that their classmates are making fun of them, which, of course, they probably are not. So do you require students to camera up? There are equity issues, students who come from more challenged backgrounds or who have a lot going on at home -- discord between parents, caregivers, siblings, teens don't want to reveal that on camera. They don't want to invite their classrooms into their houses. And forcing them to camera up can create tension between a student and whoever else is in the home who wants and requires that privacy. It can be embarrassing to them. Maybe they don't want to show their background. Maybe it's not as tidy as they would like it to be. Maybe there are too many people there. And maybe some are undocumented. There are many challenges to students, particularly those who come from families of poverty, where they don't have much choice about the room they're in or their background or who's with them. But students of affluence also have difficulty with camering up as well. 


In this session, I'm going to share some ways to increase participation, to encourage students to become involved. When they become more involved, it's easier for them to camera up. They'll feel like they're in an environment of friends. They'll feel like they have a teacher that they are in a relationship with. Then they'll feel more comfortable being on camera, rather than just being told to reveal themselves. When you are part of a group, connected with other people, it minimizes that sense of standing exposed in front of a screen. It's much easier to feel inclined to turn your camera on and see everyone else and get to know them. 


The way I like to start my online classes these days is to ask a personal question that's not too personal and have all the students as they come in enter their responses in the chat. So this could be having them give a Rose, a Thorn or a bud or all three. A Rose is something really good that happened. A thorn is something that's irritating, not so good, and a bud is something you're looking forward to. I always share first something classroom appropriate. It helps humanize me, get the students to know me and it encourages them to share as well. 


And oftentimes what I get for the rose is "I got a good grade on my project." A thorn is "I'm worried about my presentation later today," a bud is, "the weekend is coming up." 


These answers give you cues that you can respond to -- if you are worried about presentation, the mindfulness exercises we're going to do today are going to help ground you. And as we do them, I'm going to remind you of how you can use them right before your presentation. You can use the things that the students share to make the mindfulness more relevant, more immediately useful. 


I've had students share, "I'm worried, I have Coronavirus, I'm waiting for my test." "My brother is coming home from the hospital today." Those are  cues to comment on and follow up the next week. "I hope you don't have Coronavirus. I hope you're OK." The next week, "how are you doing? Did you get your test back?" "Yes, thank you. It's negative. Thanks for asking." My brother's coming home from the hospital. "That's wonderful. I'm so happy for you. You must feel so relieved." You can give quick responses like that to help create some relational engagement without requiring students to come on camera. Questions like these, where students respond in the chat help the online classes feel more personal, and enable you to respond in a natural way that you would if the students were walking into the class and you were saying hello to them as they walked in. 


Now, after we do that and go into the beginning of the class, you can find an activity where you can invite them to open up their cameras and say hello just for five seconds. "I just want to be able to put a face to a name. I haven't met all of you in person, so I'm not sure who I'm talking to. So quick. Five seconds. Open your camera. Let's all wave. Hello. Thanks very much."


Most students will be willing to do that. It's a flurry of activity. You can't really recognize everyone that quickly, but it's a very low bar of entry. It's noninvasive. It's not authoritative. You're inviting in order to be in relationship. 


And most students want to know that they're seen they don't want to be stared at, but they want to know that you as their teacher know who they are. So a simple invitation like that can help be an icebreaker. 


Sometimes I invite them to come on camera. "We're going to do some mindful movement and I want to make sure that you're working your neck and your shoulders in a way that's not going to be cause strain. So if you feel comfortable, if you like, you can put your camera on, but sit back from the screen, find a nice shape or color in the room that you can focus on or put your gaze outside the window as we do some mindful movement." So you're inviting them to be on camera so that you can help guide them without forcing them to look at you or anyone else, allowing them to sit back. And when they sit back like that, then they feel less exposed. You don't need to have your students on camera to do mindful movement, let's try a little mindful movement right now just with this audio podcast. Of course, if you're driving, please don't do this. But if you're not driving, put down your pencil or pen and the list you're making or sit back from the keyboard and the email you're writing. And let's take just a short two minutes to stretch our bodies out and you'll see that you don't need your students to be on camera in order to work with them in this way. 


So take a deep breath in. 


And as you exhale, extend your arms straight up over your head so that your elbows are hugging your ears and your fingers are reaching towards the sky. 


Let gravity stretch your spine, pulling your lower back in down so that you're seated solid on the chair while your arms extend up. 


And let your shoulders drop that so they fall away from your ears while you keep your fingers reaching towards the sky like branches in the spring, growing that extra leaf at the edge. 


Turn your palms towards the floor, let your arms flow down, your sides stretching out. Make a T with your arms and your head in the middle. Let your shoulders roll back. Extend your arms even a little bit more, feel the tingling as your muscles wake up and your blood flows, and let your arms float all the way down to the sides of your chair. 


Let them relax. Let them be loose. Give your shoulders a little shake. 


Take a deep breath and a deep breath and feel the energy that's activating in your arms, you stretched your capillaries, you stretched all the little nerves, you're waking them up. And now drop your right ear to your right shoulder, feeling this stretch on the left side of your neck. Letting gravity coax your head down towards your shoulder without strain. 


Lift your right hand and let your right hand touch your left ear so it's folded over your head, just kissing your ear with your hand, letting the weight of your arm gently stretch the left side of your neck. 


And release your arm, let your head float back to center. And drop your left ear to your left shoulder. 


Feel the stretch in the right side of your neck. Lift your left arm up, let your left hand just kiss your right ear. Putting the weight of your arm gently pull your head down to your shoulder, stretching the right side of your neck. 


Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. 


Release your hand, let your head float back to center, give your shoulders a little shake, give your head a little shake, side to side, up and down. Yes and no. And bring it back to center. 


Now, hold on to the edges of your chair or the arms of your chair and press your lungs and ribs forward, arching your back. Pulling your shoulder blades together. 


And now make a C with your body, allowing your spine to push back towards your chair, rolling your shoulders forward, doing a seated cat and cow. Pressing your chest forward, your shoulders back, looking up and rolling your shoulders in, allowing your spine to make a C, dropping your head forward. 


Let's do it one more time. Pressing forward and coming back to center. 


And for our last movement, take your right hand over your left knee or onto the left arm of the chair and twist your spine, wringing out your spine like it was a washrag, looking over your left shoulder. Come back to center, take your left arm, reach it over to the right side of your chair, look over your right shoulder, wringing your spine out like it was a washrag. And coming back to center. 


Notice how you feel. Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out. You can encourage your students to invite anyone else they have in their house to do the mindful movement together with them. We all need a little more exercise than we're getting these days. So you can welcome them to invite those who are in the house with them to take a little mindful movement break. We're normalizing what's happening with other people being around. Students usually don't have their families around when they're in the classroom, but they're having to learn with their families literally right over their shoulders. So we can encourage them to include their families without us invading their home space. 


We're not asking to see who's there. We're not asking them to come on camera. 


We're inviting the students to welcome those they live with to do the mindful movement with them. So their families are being asked to do the mindful movement by the student, not to do the mindful movement with us as the teacher. 


So this creates a little bit of a bridge, and it also helps with bonding between the students and those in their household over something that they wouldn't ordinarily do together. 


If you are inviting students to camera up or they do camera up and there are issues happening in the home around them keep your comments only related to that student and to the work at hand. So if there's yelling in the background, if there's cursing in the background, if there's crying in the background, without calling this student out, without bringing more attention to their situation, which they may already feel embarrassed about, you can include them, you can keep going, you can mute them. If it's very loud, you can invite them to chat. You can invite them to put their answer in by text. Be sensitive to what's happening for students and remember that they're very self-conscious around their environment, they're very concerned about being judged. 


They're very concerned about what others will think of them and what their family members may think of being exposed online. 


Be sensitive, let them remain as anonymous as possible, and obviously, if there's anything that you become aware of that you feel needs further investigation, take it to the counselor, take it to the principal and follow up if you feel that there may be harm towards your student or towards anyone in the household. But that's not something to bring attention to in the class. 


The final way I want to share with you to invite students to be on camera is to do an activity in class that requires some kind of drawing. It doesn't have to be artistic, but making a diagram or a chart and then sharing that on camera. So they're not exposing their face or their surroundings, but they're sharing their work. Now with the mindfulness, one way we do that is with the body scan. 


So you can invite students to get a blank piece of paper and a pen or some art materials that they have -- crayons or markers -- at home. Show them how to draw a stick figure and then take them through a beautiful guided body scan. Invite them to illustrate that stick figure with color or shape, according to what they noticed. Our bodies are experiencing sensations all the time as we practice mindful awareness. We're noticing good sensations, bad sensations, and how physical feelings move and change all the time. It's normal. You can put a rectangle where your body felt dense or heavy or stiff. You could put a star where you felt like your body felt light. You could illustrate with color or in any other shape. Just noticing the sensations and the blank spaces that you felt in your body. 


When you finish the body scan and you give them time to work on their diagrams, now let's all open our cameras, hold your illustration up so we can see, "oh, look how many people had sensations in their arms. Look how many people had sensations in their neck. Oh, look, somebody had bright yellow spraying out from their hands. That must looks like it felt good. Was that a good feeling?" 


So you can comment on the drawings. 


You can point out the similarities. You can point out the commonalities. You can point out the differences. You can ask questions and invite further response. 


In this way, very low tech, you can encourage students to become relational, even in the online world. 


Learning how to teach in the virtual environment is an art and it's an iterative process. We're going to try one thing on one day, it's going to work for periods one, two and three and periods four or five and six, it's going to flop. We just keep trying. 


Resist the temptation to turn your evenings into an Industrial Light and Magic or Disney studio where you're trying to create video and audio and complicated shapes and colors. Few of us have time for that. And it's not necessary to create relationship. 


The most important thing is addressing your students by name, coming up with questions they can all write into the chat, sharing appropriate pieces of yourself so that in ways that would invite them to share. And creating some positivity and some relational engagement without forcing the cameras on. 


At the same time, the more you can encourage cameras on, the more students will be able to bond with each other, to have easier discussions, to make friends with students who they might not have met yet. Especially for freshman in high school who are navigating new schools, new environments, inviting students to find ways to meet each other, talk with each other, wherever you can facilitate that in small groups, in breakout rooms, putting the cameras on just with two or three other students visiting the rooms yourself to create safety is all helpful at this time. 


We can see the end in sight where we're going to be able to spend time with each other again in person, but these next months are going to be a challenge for students as well as for teachers. The more close we feel, the more we feel like we're in this together, the easier it's going to be. And the more you can use the practice of mindfulness to help students feel comfortable with being alone, with being still, with being quiet, creating intimacy and friendship, connection through the stillness the better the students will be able to navigate these months ahead. 


So I wish you all well. If you have any suggestions that have been working for you in your classroom, please do email me through the website 


And if you like this web, this podcast do leave a five-star review to encourage others to listen in. Stay healthy and be well, till next time.