Teachers – be careful with that mute key

One of the hardest parts of teaching online is so many of the tools we use every day in the classroom to help build relationships aren’t there.

We can’t physically move our bodies to be closer to a child whose actions are telling us they need our attention.

We can’t easily use eye contact to redirect or tell the child that we see them.

But that ‘mute’ button can be a quick and easy way tool for classroom management in an online environment.

But what does ‘mute all’ do to online relationships?

During a small group discussion, I watched a child repeatedly move the conversation off-topic and interrupt others.

When I asked the child about their actions, the response from the child that as the teacher I could just hit mute if I didn’t like their actions.

Less ‘secret teacher’ business

What the child was telling me was that they felt unheard and, as a result, didn’t feel any responsibility for the impact of their actions.

My response to the child was that I don’t want to use those tools.

In the classroom, I can’t push a button to stop children talking and I didn’t want to get into the habit of doing it online.

More importantly, I wanted everyone to feel heard.

I took this problem to our morning meet.

The children responded that they really didn’t like being muted by a teacher.

However, I explained there still might be times where muting might sensible. For instance a large gathering, or when we were singing songs and it would difficult for me to play if I could hear the music coming back from the speakers as well as from my instrument.

Others chimed in that some people’s background sound can be distracting but by simply asking it makes the online class feel a little more heard.

So the class came up with an essential agreement for me to follow around the use of these technological features.


Do I think my Grade 3 are going to be perfectly behaved angels now that we’ve made this agreement?


Children are going to muck up and make unwise decisions about their interactions with others in online school just as much as in a physical school.

However, those online tools that I have to shut down and lock up bad choices aren’t without consequence.

By quickly muting microphones and shutting down chats at the first sign of trouble we deny our children the opportunity to learn and grow.

Which what school – whether you are teaching in a classroom or online-  is really about.

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