Forget About Learning How to Zoom, I Need to Learn How to Smize

As part of my preparation for this semester, I had to make sure I was comfortable with the various features of Zoom.

I didn’t want to be fumbling around in the middle of a live Zoom session with a roomful of students trying to figure out how to record the session, share a screen, or use the whiteboard. So I attended a few training sessions and I practiced, practiced, practiced, often asking my wife and son to serve as students in my pretend class. After several such sessions, I felt like I was ready.

Shortly before school started, I found out that my class was 100% face to face, which was great. No need for Zoom (sort of).

But teaching in the classroom does involve making sure the students are socially distanced from each other and that everyone in the room is wearing a mask.

While there is the physical inconvenience of wearing a mask, such as constantly pushing it up and squeezing it so that it stays on my nose, there is another issue that is a bit more challenging.

And that was the focus of the A-HED story in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.

Masks create a communication problem.

Prior to wearing masks, people could use their facial expressions to communicate many things with other people. Since we have started wearing masks, this has become much harder. I noticed today while students were sharing their thoughts on the topics of globalization, corporate social responsibility, and universal basic income.

When a student spoke, I wanted to convey my gratitude for their contribution, which I would usually do with a smile. But now with the mask on, they don’t see me smiling.

So what to do?

Smize, of course.

Smizing is s term coined by supermodel Tyra Banks in 2009 on the television show β€œAmerica’s Next Top Model.” Smizing means smiling with your eyes. It involves bringing life to your eyes while keeping the rest of the face neutral.

And apparently, during the pandemic, many people who deal with customers are being offered training on how to smize.

Here’s a video from Tyra that explains how to smize:

I tried to follow her instructions, but I felt more like Clint Eastwood when he squints than like Tyra Banks smizing for the camera.

So maybe, like Zoom, it is going to be a matter of practice, practice, practice, enlisting my family for help.

And maybe our school can start offering some formal smizing training sessions.

My goal is that at some point this semester students will recognize when I am smiling behind my mask, and not just mumbling incoherently to myself.

Just remember: smize, and the world smizes with you.

*image from Jezebel

76 thoughts on “Forget About Learning How to Zoom, I Need to Learn How to Smize

  1. Good luck! Facial expressions are so helpful with communication for sure! But hey there may be a positive side. You can’t see bored expressions on your students faces. πŸ˜ƒ
    I am sure they aren’t there though, don’t worry!
    I still smile even with my mask on, it just comes naturally. Smile big enough and it will light up your eyes! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know the bored look all too well, mask or no mask. It’s all in the eyes – the closed ones…

      I’ll work on my big smile, but talking debits and credits isn’t exactly conducive… πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anyone who has to lip-read…and most of us do to some extent… now struggles with communication. The lack of expression adds to the sense of isolation.
    And if that woman thinks that is a genuine and communicable smile, I’m a monkey’s uncle…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. One of our writing group is now totally deaf. Since she’s been partially deaf all her life her lip-reading is amazing, but we have to remember to look towards her when talking around the meeting table. While the rest of the group were struggling with Zoom, Jane loved our Zoom meetings where she coud clearly see the lips of the speaker. Now we’re restarting meetings, she’s pushing for us to Zoom them too for the benefit of those who can’t get there or are isolating, and so that she can see all our faces when talking

      Liked by 2 people

  3. My hearing isn’t great, to begin with, and masks make communication more challenging. I’m picturing what it would be like to be on the receiving end of a smize. If done correctly, I think it could work. On the other hand, you might get a lot of “What’s up with the accounting professor who keeps staring at me?”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. yes, some students speak very softly, and with a mask on I’ve noticed it’s quite hard to hear what they are saying. So I just nod and hope they didn’t say anything that requires a specific response. And I don’t think students would notice if I was staring at them; no one is listening or watching me as it is…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that a lot of our facial expressions are lost with masks on. I’m afraid this minute smize thing might go over my head most of the time… Good luck with your smize practice. You can always start off with “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky” while you squint at the mirror. Hahaha…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. i’ve thought about this too, with my littles soon returning. maybe we need those masks with the clear insert in front, but to me, it looks rather creepy. i need to get some serious smize practice going –

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve thought about those clear masks as well, and I had the same reaction as you, they seem kind of creepy. And it’s also weird how many smizing videos of Tyra Banks I came across while researching my blog post…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with some of your other readers. If you smile genuinely, even while wearing a mask, your eyes communicate that fairly clearly all on their own. I encountered this while grocery shopping. I would smile at people as we passed in the aisles and it was easy to tell those who smiled back. But the thought of you practicing “smizing” all day seems entertaining too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My problem with masks is I’ve realised how much I recognise people by nose/mouth/chin. I’ve been caught staring at a few people I thought I knew. To add to the awkwardness because they can’t see my facial features I just look like a creepy stalker!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I hear you, bro. I’m in higher ed too and run a writing center. We went from having no plan last spring to having a Frankenstein monster of a plan now. I’m fortunate to be fully remote. Now, back to the topic at hand. Hand gestures would be a nice substitute. A thumbs up or a brief bit of quiet applause. I also liked the idea of putting some sort of straight line on your mask and then using your fingers to turn up the corners.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Do you have Zoom sessions with students when they want help with their writing?

      I like the idea of the thumbs up – I may start using that. Thanks for the suggestion!


  9. I’ve always smized, not that I had heard of the term before now. And I’ve never zoomed. That clear mask I wrote about cannot come to market soon enough. However, I love babbling under my breath at stupid people in the supermarket. I have a mask that ties behind my head with a toggle. It stays up that way.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You haven’t experienced the pandemic until you’ve Zoomed πŸ™‚
      yes, those clear masks seem like they would be quite useful, although at first they may seem a little strange compared to the types of masks we wear now.
      And yes, the masks are nice cover for muttering under your breath… πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Here in Alberta we don’t have a mandatory mask requirement at the Provincial level. Some cities in the Province do but they do not say under what circumstances it would be lifted other than to say “A series of indicators and measures need to be considered.”

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Well I’m not sure I can make my eyes smile when I am trying not to roll them. Bad habit. Seriously though learning to communicate with your eyes, arms, and hand/head gestures was very important when I was ER nursing and wearing a mask. It is amazing how certain eye looks can let your fellow nurses know that yes this is an emergency or I need you in here now etc.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It has been a struggle to hear clearly and be heard. Tone of voice has become even more important because you can also smile with just the tone of your voice. I find that my eyes smile better when my mouth does. It’s helpful when passing people In hospital hallways to match the eyes and tone to the real smile, even though it’s hidden – and if all else fails… wave cheerfully πŸ‘‹ πŸ‘€ 🎢

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Smize! Now I have a new word to add to my vocabulary. But seriously, your discussion highlights the challenges of teaching in this new environment. My youngest daughter is experiencing how to implement changes in her normal and effective instruction at her middle school.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Interesting, Jim. At the start of the pandemic, I noticed – and read others saying the same thing – how little eye contact people made with folk they passed in the street. I consciously tried to catch people’s eye after that. Now I’ll try smizing with my steamed-up glasses. Cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

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