Feb 01

How to Build Relationships with Students Virtually

Teachers’ relationships with students within a virtual learning environment can be as impactful as those inside a physical classroom. When learning remotely, students may even have a greater need for healthy social interactions and social-emotional support. Developing positive teacher-student relationships not only encourages children to engage and get the most out of virtual learning opportunities but can also have a lasting impact on their efforts, attitude, and motivation in the physical classroom. This post contains tips on how to build relationships with students virtually, create a sense of community online, and involve parents in the remote learning experience. You’ll also find a variety of activities to build relationships with students in a digital setting.

Why is it important for teachers to build relationships with students?

  • Research shows positive relationships are associated with higher levels of student engagement, encouraging better attendance and improved academic results.
  • Positive relationships are motivating for both students and teachers. One study says positive relationships with students are a strong predictor for increased joy and lower feelings of anxiety among teachers.
  • A University of Cambridge study says having a positive relationship with a teacher around ages 10 and 11 boosts good behavior for years and markedly influences a student’s development of “prosocial” behaviors such as cooperation and altruism. Meanwhile, problem tendencies such as aggression and oppositional behavior decline. The study says positive teacher-student relationships can be as effective as anti-bullying programs at improving young people’s well-being. 
  • Phone calls home, parent-teacher conferences, or other parent interactions become much easier and more enjoyable when teachers and students have good pre-existing relationships.

A lack of face-to-face contact and in-person interactions, such as a high-five or hug for students in younger grades, can be the biggest challenge of teaching virtually and developing relationships in a digital setting. Your classroom management strategies will need to be adapted as your classroom culture adjusts without in-person elements. Implementing some of the following strategies can help keep you connected and strengthen relationships during virtual instruction.

Connect often and use multiple forms of communication.

Learning is a social endeavor, and students are used to seeing, hearing, and talking with you every day in their learning. Staying in frequent communication assures students that you’re still “there” for them despite lacking face-to-face interaction. 

To keep connected and encourage engagement in a virtual setting, communicate in a variety of ways—emails, class message boards, group text messages, pre-recorded audio, etc., to allow students to communicate in ways most comfortable for them.

Live video conferencing remains the best distance-learning communication strategy for most teachers, classes, and subjects, and it allows more significant opportunities for nonverbal communication as well. 

It can be challenging to conduct casual one-on-one conversations or informal small-group discussions while teaching on a live video call. Utilizing “breakout rooms” in your video conferencing platform lets students connect with their peers and gives you needed one-on-one time with smaller groups.

Try a “soft start” to ease students into the day.

Rather than beginning with a lecture as soon as the morning bell rings, it’s helpful to give students a period of time to settle in and mentally prepare to start learning. These quick exercises and activities can stimulate their minds.

Soft start ideas that students can participate in virtually could include:

  • Reading a book or article of their choice
  • Reviewing Quizlet flashcards
  • Playing a round of Sporcle trivia
  • Challenging themselves with a math puzzle
  • Exploring online educational games
  • Writing a journal entry (or delivering a prepared response via video) to a daily prompt
  • Working on a jigsaw puzzle, artwork, or other activities from home

Show interest in their interests.

Give your students a few moments to be introspective and reflect before sharing something about their day, something they’re looking forward to, a highlight of their week, or responses to questions specific to your classroom or current lessons. Encourage each student to participate, and acknowledge every contribution to the group. The entire process can be reasonably quick, but also a significant source of connection for your class and reminds students that every voice matters, including theirs. 

Set aside one-on-one time.

In addition to interactions with small groups and the entire class, it’s beneficial to build relationships through individual one-on-one connections. Whether you host open virtual office hours as an option for students to initiate conversations, or weekly check-ins are required, these meetings are an excellent way to monitor students’ emotional well-being in addition to academic needs. 

Get insights from parents.

Don’t wait until an issue arises to involve parents in their student’s education. Keep parents in the loop of current classroom events and share positive examples of their child’s behavior or good work via quick emails or phone calls. Host regular opportunities for parent-teacher conferences or check-in conversations, and ask parents how you can better support their child.

Continue developing your relationship-building skills.

As a teacher in today’s always-online world, building relationships and increasing engagement in the virtual classroom is a critical and in-demand skill. Avanti’s library of resources includes more than 400 videos sharing proven techniques and age-appropriate strategies on topics relevant to today’s teachers—including building relationships in both face-to-face and online settings. Get started with a free seven-day trial today.

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