Yesterday was the first day of school, and my principal and I launched a remote kindergarten class we will be co-teaching this year (in addition to our regular jobs as principal and instructional coach). I’ll spare you the long story of how this came to be. . . and get right to the moment that matters. 

I was reading aloud The Big Umbrella, a picture book by Amy June Bates about an umbrella that is always the right size to welcome anyone who needs shelter. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a wonderful metaphor for an inclusive community.) 

The whole time I was reading, I was focused on the screen—on my reflection—making sure the book was in the frame, ensuring that kids would be able to see the stunning illustrations as I engaged in that awkward I-think-I-need-to-go-left-but-really-I-need-to-go-right-because-the-image-is-mirrored-dance. 

Now I couldn’t do this online and see kids’ faces at the same time. And because kids were muted, I couldn’t hear them either. 

It was very strange, sitting in an empty room, reading aloud to what felt like myself. 

After the read aloud, I went back to gallery view so that we could talk about the book. Kids had plenty to say—they seemed engaged—but something didn’t feel quite right. 

As I was closing the lesson, one of the adults managing a pod of five students got my attention. She let me know that due to tech issues, they hadn’t been able to see me at all during the read aloud; the kids had missed the story. (Ack)

I walked her through a quick how-to on pinning a video, and then I reread the book. 

As soon as I started reading, I realized that she had not muted the microphone, and although I still couldn’t see the kids, I could hear them. They reacted almost immediately in the way that kindergartners do to a read aloud: they oohed and aahed at the pictures; they made little exclamations of surprise; they whispered to each other. It was so clear that they were caught up in the story. 

All of a sudden I felt the magic. I felt that thing I had been missing but hadn’t been able to put my finger on until that moment. I felt the interplay between reader and audience that brings a book to life. 

That one moment filled me up for the entire day.

Experiencing books together is a part of building community. When we silence the group in an attempt to streamline the tech, we change that read aloud experience for everyone—teacher and students. 

Those authentic reactions to story—the ones we are practically biologically programed to have as humans—the ones that pop out no matter how hard we try to keep them inside—we need to hear them. We need to share them.

This post was written as part of the Slice of Life Challenge on Two Writing Teachers Blog. I encourage you to check it out and add your voice to the community!


  1. Writing to Learn, Learning to Write

    First of all, I love that you and your principal are co-teaching a class! I may be teaching some children who are staying home along with doing my literacy coaching work. I have already jotted a note to myself, “Do not mute the kids during RA!” Thanks. I look forward to hearing all about how your work goes this year (in both areas).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

    I wrote down the title as a book to order! This is all so hard. Teaching and learning are all about interaction- and read aloud is my favorite thing to do as a teacher. I love sharing books with students and hearing their reactions. I’m so unsure of how to do this in person- through a mask- as kids sit separately at their seats. I was thinking of doing my read aloud as videos and having kids share their responses digitally but maybe I will lose that magic moment you describe here. This will be a year of so much learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. hezgee

    I find this so inspiring, despite the “technical difficulties” – I mean, that’s what led to that great moment of being able to hear the kids. I teach high school, so thanks for giving me a window into the little ones’ world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. cmargocs

    I pride myself on my interactive read-alouds; give me a picture book, and I can pull any number of lessons out of it, knowing when to stop and wonder aloud and question my audience based on their participation and attention. In contrast, I experienced every bit of that silent read-aloud you describe this past spring, as I recorded story after story for the classes who would have been sitting in my library’s Book Nook. By the fifth or sixth one, the process was depressing. In an act of self-preservation, I reached out to one of my kindergarten teachers who had pre-K twins at home (also my students), and asked if I could read aloud live to them. She happily agreed, and it was the best twenty minutes of my shelter-in-place.


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