How Do You Become The “Guide On The Side” When Everything Is A “Stage?”

Today was our first day of Online Camp Power. While I’ve been one of the site leads for this camp for four years now, this is the first year that the camp is online, and that definitely changes some things. Although I anticipated a few differences, one observation from today is really causing me to reflect tonight.

As a site lead, I have numerous responsibilities, one of which is to support instructors with programming, planning, and delivery. When camp took place in a school, I found a way to fulfill these responsibilities that aligns with how I teach: I worked beside instructors. I used to quietly go into the classrooms, observe kids, get down, talk to them, and then begin to extend learning based on my observations and conversations. Often what happened is that as I worked with a few kids, the instructor in the classroom began to watch me.

  • I observed children. Instructors observed me.
  • I questioned children. Instructors questioned me.
  • I extended learning based on my observations and conversations. Instructors extended learning based on their observations and conversations around my interactions.
  • Slowly we both made changes to our practices based on our dialogue, our shared teaching, student responses to our approaches, and our new learning.

As my teaching partner, Paula, knows, I am not a fan of long full group meeting times, and I would way rather support kids and provide mini-lessons in small groups. The same holds true when working with adults.

Imagine my surprise then today when I realized the struggle with this kind of approach online.

  • I can no longer just speak quietly off in the corner with a small group of children. Everyone in the meeting room sees and hears everything.
  • I can no longer observe from a distance first. I can watch, but the camera is always in the front of the room. There is no more side or back view. When kids and instructors are hyper-aware of your presence, it changes the sound and feel of the conversation.
  • I can no longer join without making an entrance. When I started working with Paula, she taught me the value of a quiet entrance. If you call kids together, you interrupt the flow of their play, and it’s hard for them to resettle again with this same deep focus. In the classroom, I became good at sneaking in quietly. I would watch from the doorway for a little while before I entered. I would pick a space, go in from behind, sit down, and just observe for a bit. Now if I turn my camera on, I’m making an appearance. A big one! I went into many groups today with my camera off, but then I stayed hidden. Revealing my face would also draw attention to me and away from the learning in the room.

Now what? Staying quiet and invisible today helped me observe, BUT …

  • what about forming relationships with children and adults (instructors and parents)?
  • interacting with kids, instructors, and families?
  • modelling different intervention and instructional possibilities?
  • teaching alongside instructors?
  • engaging in pedagogical conversations with staff?

I truly believe that adults and children benefit from a “guide on the side,” but I wonder how we make this happen when an online platform turns the whole meeting room into a “stage.” I wonder if any support staff, consultants, or administrators experienced a similar dilemma over the last three months of school. As I try to figure out an undercover back entrance to a front-facing camera, I would welcome any tips, tricks, and advice from those that might have already worked through a similar struggle.


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