Zoom: A different perspective

Over the last month, I’ve watched my son’s preschool class and preschool teachers transition from in person to online. Sometimes it seems like having 12 4-5 year olds on a call is working well and other times, I don’t understand how they make it through the 30 minutes. But listening in and getting emails from them about the activities they are doing has given me an interesting and different perspective on zoom, especially as a manager, who spends almost all of her days in zoom calls.

One of the things the teachers have mentioned that they struggle with frequently is the idea of muting the children. They talk about muting “out of love” and helping the children understand why they need to mute someone sometimes. They dislike muting the children though because, in their eyes, it is literally taking away their voice and their ability to share about themselves.

This week, however, they decided to use it as the trigger for one of their class discussions. The email home started by explaining: “Loris Malaguzzi, the founder or of the Reggio Emilia approach said, ‘The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking.’ Well, the Zoom meeting is our 101st language and we should explore and learn about it just as we are exploring, learning and discovering any other new language that we are introducing in the classroom.”

What a fascinating conversation! I spend all day, every day on Zoom, with peers, with managers, with my team, and I honestly have never thought about processing for myself or with others what that is like. What do I love about video conferencing? What’s great? But also, what’s not so great? What is frustrating? and what is more exhausting about zoom meetings when compared to in-person ones? The teachers mentioned they would cover all of this with the children as well as ask them how they prepared for meetings or what kinds of things they did before coming to a Zoom meeting?

Well, needless to say, I was very excited to listen in on this conversation and hear how the teachers facilitated it as well as how the children reacted to it. I didn’t catch the whole conversation (because my son wanted to take most of the meeting in his room with the door closed) but I did catch the end, which was a fascinating pivot. I honestly assumed that the focus on this conversation would be to help the children process why they were being muted and what the benefits were to conducting a class BUT INSTEAD, the teachers focused on personal responsibility. They took notes throughout the call (on big pieces of paper with a :-) or :-( … hello retro!) and then used those to help empower the children to realize their own power and responsibility related to the mute button. They helped the children figure out where background noise was coming from and how background noise impacted the class discussion. They had different children muting and unmuting themselves so that they could get a sense of the difference and talk about it together. And they ended with helping the children be excited about helping one another to be heard and recognizing their own power, ability, and responsibility to the rest of their classmates and friends.

I’ve been thinking about this all week and waiting to find time to write a blog post about it. In summary, what an interesting concept and perspective? While this is an example on a preschool level, I’ve been thinking about it in the professional world as well. How do we exercise our responsibility and power to ourselves and to our friends related to muting? How can we more effectively notice when someone unmutes and give them space? How can we recognize what our background noises are (either real or metaphorical) in order to be more present or also just be aware of when we may not be able to speak because the actual or mental/emotional background noise is too loud at the moment.

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