Zooms before Zooms: Professional Learning in the Early Years

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.

It was almost a year ago, May 2020, when I facilitated my first webinar for early childhood educators on Zoom. At that time, it was hard to imagine that almost a year later we would still be faced with the challenges of COVID, and I would have subsequently delivered over 100 professional learning webinars. It doesn’t appear that 2021 will be much different as I have webinars scheduled right into the fall. How has professional learning changed because of Zoom? What will the future bring? Will we return to face-to-face workshops or will there be a continuation of learning through online webinars? How about a combination? What do you think? It has been a challenge to present webinars on topics like play, exploration and inquiry as I did recently! I have tried to make time for playful engagement during the session, but it is not ideal. What experiences have you had with professional learning through Zoom? What do you think could be improved? Your thoughts will help me in my present musings as I ponder the future and think back to the past.

When I retired from full time teaching in 2014, it was my intention to continue working focusing on engaging with professionals in the delivery of workshops. I vowed not to be the “sage on the stage” and I was committed to demonstrating respect and validation for those who work with children on a day-to-day basis. I recognized that I had valuable experience, as do children and their teachers. As learners we all have prior knowledge. I would engage others during workshops, hoping to activate that knowledge, by providing hands-on experiences and offering time for group dialogue. During webinars I work hard at providing opportunities for engagement and dialogue through the use of polls, breakout rooms and chats. When numbers allow, I love hearing from, and seeing the participants with cameras and microphones on! At the end of a session, I will stop sharing my screen, so I can see faces and hear words. Have you found learning through Zoom to be engaging or has it produced fatigue? Perhaps, if we think about Zooms before Zoom, we will realize that there was a life before the pandemic and that there will be one after!

In some of the face-to-face workshops, that I have facilitated in the past, I introduced something called “Zooms” which is a documentation technique intended to improve the capacity of teachers to respond,“to children in new ways and help children listen and learn from each other”. As described in the article, a Zoom is a panel that focuses on a “moment” from the classroom (Mardell, LeeKeenan, Given, Robinson, Merino, & Liu-Constant, 2009, p. 1). Over ten years ago, Zooms had a different meaning! Revisiting the article, has given me pause to reflect on professional learning in early childhood education. I am zooming out, looking for a bigger picture. At the same time, I am zooming in, to notice details that will help me improve my practice.

According to the article, “Zoom is both a verb and a noun. The dual usage encompasses a way of zooming in (verb) and creating a snapshot of particular moments of classroom life, and it refers to a specific type of documentation—a Zoom panel (noun)”. The goal of the Zooms panels “is to capture key aspects of the larger picture of unfolding relationships and understandings between children and between the teacher and the children”. A Zoom panel includes “photographs, quotes from children’s discussions with each other and from discussions between children and teachers, and children’s artwork representing their ideas” (Mardell, et al, 2009, p. 3). A Zoom is a panel that offers a close look, as with a zoom lens. The examination and ensuing dialogue between teachers about these panels help to support a culture of inquiry within the school. I invite you to read the article and consider Zooms before Zoom as a way of supporting your own professional learning.

In face-to-face workshops that I have facilitated, I have shared the concept of looking closely. With a collection of agates. we explored adding light and zooming in to defamiliarize the object in hand. The process of defamiliarizing is an artistic technique of presenting common things in an unfamiliar or strange way, in order to enhance perception of the familiar. It is a strategy that works with young and old. Looking closely at objects offers children the opportunity to engage in defamiliarization. When I use my camera to zoom in for a close-up, I see details, that were otherwise hidden. This gives me pause to consider what I am seeing. 

What does it mean to zoom in and zoom out in relationship to professional learning? What does it mean in relationship to practice? When I zoom in, I look inward. It is a time for introspection. When I zoom out, I learn from others. It is a time for dialogue and collaboration. Zoom out to engage in big picture thinking. Big picture thinking is the ability to grasp overarching abstract concepts, ideas and possibilities. Zoom in to look closely and notice small details and nuances. Zooming in and zooming out are strategies for professional learning and reflective practice. I invite you to apply these strategies. Perhaps, this expanded view of “Zooms” will help us navigate our journeys ahead in meaningful ways that will support our professional learning and development.

5 thoughts on “Zooms before Zooms: Professional Learning in the Early Years

  1. Thank you for sharing such a relevant reflection nowadays. Zoom to me, as many other realities of COVID, have put in evidence what is worth doing and what is worth learning. We can be so creative and find ways to even teach through zoom!… and definitely recognize the importance of being present, building relationships, and as you clearly point out: zoom in to see more, to see the person or the moment, and zoom out to reflect and take responsibility of our actions and our role in the group we belong to (family, class, school, community, the world..)
    I’ve seen amazing teachers in my career and the main common characteristic they share, is that they know their students and that they care about them. Learning takes place through meaningful appreciative connections.
    We’ll never stop learning, there’s always more to learn, and that’s how we should be expecting it to be. Anything static is not promising if we are talking about education and growth.
    Thank you for this interesting and reflective article.


  2. Love discovering new communication from you.

    You had a question about zooming- Most of the events I have listened to were webinars, where we could type a message on the side, while the speakers carry on. The most recent things I did were for a small group of co-workers(not like 100-200 watching you present). We were broken into rooms. We had questions to answer and we followed the path for that quite well–I think we should have been told how many minutes, in total, we would be in the room, rather than seeing a message that said we had 5 more minutes. It went better than the group discussions I have experienced at conference tables. At the most recent one we did, we didnt get to play but we all brought home a bag to open while on zoom–really missed the loose parts that we always have on our tables during our in-house pd sessions. Take care! Marcy ________________________________


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