As the weather turns colder (A record snowstorm in October? Who approved this?), many troops are choosing to move their meetings online. Just like how we strive to create a welcoming environment for every girl when we meet in person, we also want to ensure we’re recreating that sense of belonging in a virtual realm. Here’s how:
Check in With Families
Before you move ahead with virtual troop meetings, check in with your troop families to make sure you can include all your girls. Some folks might have limited access to technology (like devices), and/or have unreliable internet because of geographical or economic circumstances. Others might have disabilities that need to be accommodated.
Work together with your girls and families to find a solution that considers everyone’s various needs. For example, you might set up your virtual meetings so girls with spotty internet can still call in to the meeting and follow along. You’ll also want to go through your meeting agenda as if you were only able to communicate via the phone to make sure those who can’t see your screen can still follow along. If you have members in your troop who are deaf and who have required interpreters during in-person troop meetings, you can still request an interpreter to join you virtually.
Set Ground Rules
Many troops start their troop meetings by reviewing their troop agreement—i.e. establishing group expectations. You can do the same during a virtual meeting. Many of the ground rules you’ve created for in-person meetings (like “Wait until someone’s done speaking before you start”) will still apply for virtual ones, but you may want to add a few specific ones for your digital space. Think: Would it be helpful for girls to raise their hands if they have something to share? Will you still use the quiet sign to refocus girls?
Video: On or Off
Allow girls to choose whether they want to turn their video and audio on or off. Some troop members may be in situations where they don’t feel comfortable letting others into their personal space. While it feels meaningful to be able to see everyone’s faces, if the video is a requirement to participate, girls who don’t want to enable their video might just opt out of the meeting entirely—which you don’t want to happen! Try to respect their decision and encourage them to participate through the chatbox instead.
Offer Multiple Ways to Engage
When it comes to participation, some girls feel totally comfortable jumping right in and typing in the chatbox, unmuting to add to the conversation, and using emojis to express themselves. Others…not so much. Ensure that you’re hearing from everyone by giving girls various ways to contribute during your meetings: do a go-around so everyone has a chance to talk, respond in the chatbox, raise their hand and wait to be called on, or use the polling tool to get feedback.
Let Your Girls Know You “See” Them
This final tip comes from Jeanne Rewa and Daniel Hunter, two online training experts. When we meet face-to-face, we rely a lot on nonverbal cues to communicate. In person, for example, we can acknowledge others by simply making eye contact. This isn’t impossible to recreate on Zoom, but it does require more effort.
Taking note of what your girls aren’t explicitly saying helps them feel seen. One way to do this is to audibly let girls know that you’re noticing their nonverbal cues. Do some girls have a confused look on their faces? You could say, “Were my directions a little unclear? Who needs me to go over the steps again—give me a show of hands!” Did a girl just join ten minutes into the start of the meeting? You could say, “Priya just joined us! We’re just sharing our answers to our ice breaker question. I’ll give you a minute or two to get settled, then you can share when you’re ready.” If a few girls have been relatively quiet the entire meeting, you could say, “I want to make sure everyone gets a turn to talk. Amelia, do you have anything you’d like to add?”
Girl Scouts has and continues to be a movement for all girls, a place where girls can feel safe to explore their potential regardless of their race, ability, religious affiliation, or economic background. This holds true even as Girl Scouting shifts to a new virtual reality. Building an inclusive troop culture can seem daunting even during the best of times. But remember that especially now as girls search for connection during times of social distancing, it’s imperative that everyone feels not only included, but fully embraced.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (And rescue dog, Neil!).