The Art of the Zoom Background
by Lea Ann Ross
Who enjoys staring at themselves on their computer screen?!? No one. The answer is no one enjoys staring at themselves on their computer screens. COVID-19 has made me inordinately aware of every extra pound, every wrinkle, and worst of all, every facial expression I make. I make A LOT of facial expressions. It turns out, I really do roll my eyes a lot. My arch-nemesis was correct. I should call her and let her know. A lot of insecurity can be dredged up with the reality of welcoming thirty or so people virtually into your home.
I was a classroom teacher for seven years, and am heading into my tenth year as a high school counselor. My work with students has taught me that kids are certainly not immune to the same self-doubts. Kids are almost universally self-conscious about their looks, their home life, and pretty much everything… and there’s nothing like video school to magnify it all. Maybe they don’t want people to see their room/ their bratty little sister/ their kitchen/ their dad’s Star Wars collectibles. If your kids are uncomfortable with being in a virtual classroom, it is important to turn that virtual space into their space. If it’s allowed by their teachers (for younger grades, they may be too distracting), sit down with them and come up with some fun/interesting backgrounds that will make them more comfortable when they log in. Find several so that their “space” is not always about school. If they are virtually meeting with their grandparents, there is no need for them to use the same background they would use for school.
I thought I would share some of the backgrounds I use. I have many….for the assorted people I now virtually meet with:
First, is an actual picture of my office at school: “Hmmm, yes. I hear what you are saying, and I am paying attention and want to help you.”
Next, I am a gamer. So when I meet with my gamer friends, I have a screenshot from one of my favorite games. “Over there! Tis a dragon! Let us vanquish it!” I bet your kids play Roblox, Minecraft, or some other game. Have them screenshot their favorite place in the game and background it!
Next, Cats in space? Yes, please. “Is that the rare Jupiter Tabby? How delightful!” I mean, there are very specific people who truly, truly appreciate this. You know who you are.
And finally, in honor of 2020 and all that it has to offer, “This fits.”
I had fun creating and using these backgrounds, and they make me feel more professional, funny, or fabulously courageous depending on when I use them and with whom. I also would prefer people commenting on my background than on my home, and backgrounds can “cover up” issues of equity and envy for kids with diverse economic backgrounds. Here are some quick tips when thinking about helping your child make their backgrounds as spectacular as mine:
- Check in first with your child’s school to ensure that backgrounds (and which types of backgrounds) are allowed. For younger kids, consider the challenges of distraction (and frankly for all ages, I’d discourage video backgrounds for the same reason).
Note to parents concerned about self-consciousness and equity in schools that are “anti-background” – suggest that teachers come up with their own “class background” for everyone to use. These can be not only helpful but a bonding, get-to-know-you, come-together-as-a-team moment for new classes that could help them bond from afar. If even that doesn’t work, grab one of those science fair posterboard tri-folds to stick behind your child as a non-virtual but helpful prop.
- Think through backgrounds that may help them through challenging school moments. What’s a background that will bring him joy to even the most mundane school lesson? What about one that will make her feel fierce when she’s nervous about a test or presentation? How about one that will distract the class from a terrible hair day or unfortunate breakout?
- Use the time you spend looking for backgrounds to talk to your kids about any insecurities they may be feeling, and tell them if you have any of your own. Acknowledge their feelings, let them know you truly understand, and put a positive spin on our situation in any way you can.
I have seen so much over the last 16 years. Truly, school is so full of ups and downs for everyone involved. Never did I expect video backgrounds to be an area of expertise. But then, this will clearly be a year like no other. Here is the thing: we can get through this. We can come out on the other side of this school year stronger and wiser for having experienced it. So let’s turn on our castle background, don our battle gear, and face this year with grit and humor. You, your kids, and their teacher/counselor/school will conquer this if we work together as a team! Rawr!!!!