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6 Ways to build meaningful online teacher-student relationships

As a teacher, one of the greatest joys is seeing your students’ eyes light up when they learn something new. We’ve all had that teacher who made us like a subject simply because their personality and enthusiasm were enough to spark an interest in anything.

A good teacher-student rapport positively impacts students’ learning outcomes, motivation, and socio-emotional development. Even in these uncertain times, when schools operate at least partially online, students have expectations about what online lessons should be like. Some might prefer more interaction with their teachers and thrive in a classroom environment with ample collaboration opportunities. Others might be more comfortable with remote learning.

Teaching remotely can be tricky since building relationships in a virtual classroom is a skill that comes with experience. Wherever you are in your online teaching journey, you can still make the best out of any situation.

Here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that can make building an online rapport much easier:

1. Give feedback to students

If you skip feedback in an online classroom, they’ll be perplexed. Students need instructions and goals to achieve to feel as though they’re not only going through the motions each day.

For example, you can use the school learning management system (LMS) to leave written or voice feedback on their assignments. Voice messages work great since it’s almost as if they can feel your presence. Try to make it as detailed and specific as possible, so they’ll know what to improve.

Even better, I like to ask for feedback from learners, who usually have great ideas for making classes more interesting.

Read more: How to give feedback to students in the online learning environment

2. Always check logistics first

This step is important since you have to know what you’re working with, especially in terms of limitations. You need to know your students and their specific needs very well. A good tip is to create an anonymous questionnaire to answer questions about the devices and software accessible to them. Try to reach out to parents if needed and find solutions together.

For example, if you want students to use any kind of software, make sure they’re compatible with multiple devices. If you’re holding a video presentation, the fonts should be legible, even on a tiny phone screen. Generally, it’s essential to make students feel comfortable and not like they’re missing out.

3. Involve students

A big mistake is assuming that students like to be passive consumers of online content. That couldn’t be further from the truth! They love to interact online, as long as the activities are interesting to them.

Allow students to make suggestions, even if they seem unrelated to the main topic. Even an online game such as Hangman can be a way to involve them and set the tone for the entire lesson.

Finally, be very open about what you want them to achieve in terms of learning goals and always tell them why and how these lessons will help them now and in the future.

Read more: 9 Tips for getting students excited about e-learning

4. Eye contact and body language

In the absence of a controlled classroom environment, many teachers find themselves at a loss. When teaching in a classroom, eye contact is essential for building rapport with students. Body language is also vital for classroom management.

In this case, you need to make the most out of video lessons, both recorded and during web conferences. Try to understand what your students see when they’re following you and make adjustments. Are you talking to the camera? Are your hands visible so you can express yourself through body language? In an online setting, the pace and tone of your voice are even more important.

It also helps to pretend that you’re in a physical classroom, which means that you might want to dress nicely and present while standing, at least until you’ve got the hang of it.

Read more: 5 Principles of effective instruction adapted for online teaching

5. Make room for fun

Your first instinct is probably to simply start the lesson since there’s so much to do. However, any experienced online teacher would tell you that it’s easier to start slowly, either by playing a short game or taking a few minutes for chitchat.

You might even notice that students get restless after a while, so there’s always room for an icebreaker activity, no matter how silly it may seem. You can join in as an opportunity to move a little since online activities are mostly sedentary.

Read more: 9 Easy mindfulness activities for the virtual classroom

6. Flexibility is key

Teaching is rarely about following a script. If something doesn’t work, change it. You might need to adapt to other styles, such as hybrid learning, which combines complementary synchronous and asynchronous activities.

For example, you can record video lessons, which students watch as part of their independent study time. Some schools now hold face-to-face and web conferencing sessions at the same time, on rotation, which is a great way to reduce class size.

Read more: The pivotal role of edtech in the hybrid classroom

Wrapping up

Building a relationship while teaching online allows you to shake things up. Keep presentations short and dedicate a lot of time to activities that involve collaboration, educational games, and online discussions. You can establish authentic online connections as long as students feel your presence and support.

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