Blogs for the Foreseeable: How not to be a severed head

Written by Helen Beecher Bryant

Be assured, people – contrary to popular belief, there was Zoom long before there was COVID-19.

Our first session for Guides was via a Facebook Live, but it quickly became clear that it would also be our last. The Guides want to be able to interact directly with each other; to see each others’ faces and hear each other. Therefore we swiftly moved to Zoom for our weekly Guide meet-ups, plus had planned to use it for Rangers anyway.

The first Zoom meeting is entirely experimental – whilst many adults may be used to Zoom in normal circumstances, in my experience, it’s not something which most teenagers have really used before now; it’s not a platform of choice for them in normal circumstances (if anyone remembers those). It’s all about Snapchat and Insta, in between making TikToks.

Therefore, expect to spend the first Zoom meeting letting everyone get their head around virtual backgrounds, how the camera and audio works, or doesn’t, the chat function (which can be useful, or distracting, depending on how you look at it) and most importantly, the mute function.

Please be sure that all the parents and carers have given their express permission for their Guide to partake, via the consent form for virtual meetings which is available on the Girlguiding website. It is a big deal to allow people into what is usually your personal, private space, and others in the living space must be made aware that the call is taking place, particularly if cameras are being used. We must never take off our Safeguarding hat as Girlguiding volunteers.

If you have not used Zoom much before, it’s worth spending some time familiarising with it prior to organising your first call. I used it quite often, back in the day, but had not used the ‘waiting room’ function much; awkwardly one of my Guides spent most of one of our early sessions in the waiting room as I missed the notification then got distracted in the conversation.

Five meetings in, we still do ‘ground rules’ at the start – mute one’s microphone unless you are speaking. ‘Raise your hand’ if you want to say something. Make sure everyone has the chance to contribute to the conversation.

There are all sorts of things that you can do on Zoom which you might struggle do in a meeting place. We did a ‘Bring your pet or something which matters to you’ evening. We had guinea pigs, a tortoise, dogs and cats, photo-frames and assorted relatives. I wanted to bring my pet worm Harriet, but she wasn’t happy to leave the compost heap.

We are for all girls. This is more important now than ever. Within every unit, there will be girls that live in places that could pass for National Trust properties; there will be girls who live in tiny flats with no outdoor space. Online access has the same principle; whilst more people in this world have a smartphone than running water, it doesn’t mean that everyone has seamless broadband access. Therefore you might consider recording your Zoom calls (with consent, obviously), then circulating the recordings so that people can watch in their own time if they are not able to join in real-time. Inclusion is key at the moment. All of the activities we are suggesting can be done with things which everyone will have access to, or be able to improvise.

And finally – check the angle of your webcam. Don’t be a severed head.

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