• Magen Rodriguez

Zooming into Equity: Tips & Ideas for Conscious Practices

The title is a catchy oxymoron. We all want to zoom into equity and get it right but it takes time, work, and trials. Becoming an equitable practitioner is a conscious choice and process. Currently, teacher training programs and teacher performance standards don’t require educators to be equitable BUT it is a plus! When the world of virtual instruction swept the globe, Zoom became the platform of choice for many schools, districts, and institutions. Now, as educators have grown fairly confident with digital tools, blue-light blocking glasses, profile pictures, and quick reaction clicks, there is a call for equitable practices on Zoom. Below you will find some quick tips and ideas you can try with your students and colleagues as you develop more conscious practices:

  1. Demanding cameras on is not equitable. I know this is a bit controversial because some schools and districts have implemented hardcore mandates that require students to have cameras on to participate in virtual instruction. Though the rationale is logical, it is also very traditional and rooted in authoritarian pedagogy. Thinking we have to see faces to know students are there is an issue. With Zoom-fatigue, it makes a teacher feel really awkward. In innovation and conscious practice, try reimagining your virtual classroom different from your physical classroom. The reasons students might not turn on their cameras are many and often valid. Ask yourself, how else can I engage and check-in with students regularly? Consider preparing a series of social-emotional or content-specific polls for students to engage with throughout your lesson. We talk so much about informal assessments, polls are great tools to use. Zoom also collects the data expertly- thanks, Mr. Yuan! Another idea is to stress voice and chat engagement with cold-calling name wheels or waterfall responses. Another great gain is that now we can have more kids with us, virtually of course by rerouting attention from the camera. We have to literally break down our walls in the new age of teaching.

  2. Play games WITH students. Kahoot! and Bamboozle are on fire with so many fun interactive games! If you have paraprofessionals, co-teachers, or other staff on your Zooms, ask them to engage with you and the students! Students love competition but they particularly like to beat adults. Fellow educators and students alike can learn a ton with games facilitated by voices. The voices generate energy but also dialogue! You will be shocked by what you might learn about students when you play games and offer them a place to connect with the questions and the responses. Using games regularly benefits attendance rates because kids may join and engage more regularly through these activities enticed by socializing. Games are a powerful way to build community and comfort. We can work on those cameras with time. To note, games don’t and needn’t be just for fun. Theme your games and build them into your assessment and skill-building practices. I can attest that kids love grammar in disguise.

  3. Find and use meme check-in grids. The meme gods have lent their special powers of humor to teaching as meme grids are being designed and arranged into ranking grids of emotions and connections. These super-quick grids can grace your slide decks as students join your classes and/or you take attendance. Layer the activity with the chat by having kids explain why they chose that image. Take it one step further and have kids share out loud. Building levels of comfort and offering kids the space to share is powerful. It also builds camaraderie through moments of storytelling. Oh, and don’t forget, adults should be joining in too! A former supervisor once taught me - “I do. We do. You do.” This starts with feelings, especially if we want to consciously be human with one another. Be equitable and be sure to spread the stories and rotate student spotlights.

  4. Dig into cultural connections. This may sound too specific for some content-teachers, but hear me out! In the name of equitable teaching, we ought to ensure that we consider our students as complex beings with histories. Yes, even our youngest learners have histories! Culturally responsive learning is a conscious practice that goes alongside equity work. They both enhance teaching but also make our teaching more powerful and effective. In a language class, you can ask the very basic, “What languages do you speak?” Challenge and develop your questioning skills by asking, “How does language impact your life?” Your teacher performance evals will love these big questions that incite critical thinking! In a math class, you may ask, “When will you use percentages in life?” To make more of a cultural connection, you may want to ask, “Where do you see percentages in your community?” For an English Language Arts class discussing narration, develop your questioning skills and ask, “How are you the protagonist in your own life’s story?” These questions should be designed to offer kids opportunities to reflect and storytell through their learning.

  5. Troubleshoot with your students and have them help YOU be a better educator regularly! We often do reflection circles or feedback surveys at the end of a unit or semester asking students to tell us what their experience was like in our class. We tend to frame these seldom moments as “pros and cons” or “glows and grows.” Particularly in the age of virtual instruction, we are all learning. It is perfectly okay to tell and remind students that we are all in this life-altering experience together. To build humanity and empathy, it’s imperative we take time to check-in and learn from one another in the process. This can be through quick polls that ask to select the most or the least helpful activity of the week. It can be in a Google Form mailbox that asks kids to recommend new activities or platforms for learning. We, adults, need to admit that technology comes as second nature to some of our kids. Who better to learn from than the experts themselves? Of course, we need to modify and adapt their suggestions but we should listen and adjust our curriculums for our ever-changing student populations and classrooms as we would in brick and mortar.

As virtual learning begins to seem a much longer haul than we all expected, it’s time to make choices and updates to our teaching practices. With so much time for reflection and so much revelation being cast in front of our globalizing eyes, equitable Zoom practices can enhance the experiences of both teaching and learning.

In the name of virtual collaboration, please share your tips and practices.

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