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7 Tips on how to adapt teacher-student rapport while teaching online

Teachers have always been focused on building rapport with students. They want to develop a harmonious relationship with all students in the classroom so that students should feel comfortable to share their thoughts and ideas without any fear or shame.

The classroom opens tons of opportunities for rapport building activities. Teachers can encourage discussions and hands-on team projects. They can observe the reaction of their students as they speak, so they can adjust the tone and give breaks for questions when appropriate.

The online learning environment makes building a rapport more difficult. The lack of a controlled classroom environment comes with a disadvantage: teachers cannot instantly see the students’ reactions and adjust their tone and pace accordingly.

We have to change that.

How to adapt teacher-student rapport while teaching online

The relationship between the learner and the educator is crucial for academic achievements and motivation. How can we create that close connection between teachers and a group of students who learn online? Are there any precise rapport building activities we should rely on?

Let’s explore a few ideas on how to build rapport with students online:

Use the force of eye contact

When teaching in a classroom, eye contact is essential for building rapport with students. During online lectures, you’re usually faced with a group and you can’t exactly establish contact with them, one by one.

But you can talk to the camera. Look at the camera instead of the computer screen. This is how your students will see you directly in the eyes.

Address individual students

Discussion is part of the process. Focus on building rapport questions by addressing each student individually during the lectures. This is how you’ll show that although you’re communicating through the computer, you still pay attention to each and every student.

The process of building rapport with students should include questions addressed to individuals. But try not to overwhelm them! Students shouldn’t feel like you’re interrogating them, and they shouldn’t get the impression that this is all for a grade. Make them feel comfortable! Leave some space for casual talk. That may not be part of the lesson, but it means a lot to your students.

Make sure students are comfortable with the online activities

Many teachers fail to realize that not all students have the conditions to follow online lectures. The situation with the pandemic imposed the need for online education even for those students and teachers who were only used to the classroom environment.

Read more: On challenges and opportunities: Emergency remote teaching

When these educators start teaching online, they forget that building rapport with students depends on the comfort and convenience that the student feels.

You can’t use a Mac-specific program and ask everyone to install it. If some of your students use Internet Explorer and you’re sending screen recordings with instructions, you should use Internet Explorer for Mac, so you’ll make sure you’re making your guidelines specific.

Ask each and every student if they have access to a computer or a tablet during the scheduled time. You shouldn’t make the answers public. If some of your students have difficulties getting a computer at the time, ask if they can follow recorded lectures. If not, do your best to provide a tablet for them.

Start each online teaching session with a game

Take your time at the beginning of each online lesson to greet your students. Be calm and cheerful. Your attitude is the foundation of building a rapport. You will set the tone of the entire lesson, so your students won’t be intimidated by the online teaching process.

You can use simple rapport-building questions or even games to make your students feel comfortable. For instance, you can ask them if they prefer football or basketball and then use the answers as votes and have a dedicated history lesson for the sport that most of them prefer.

Stay simple and communicative. Although you’re teaching online, you shouldn’t look at your students as icons on the computer screen. They are real people, who expect a lot from you.

Teach your students: There are no stupid questions

Do you feel like your students ask fewer questions when you’re teaching online? That’s because they have the time to think before they write a question in the chat. Their minds start reasoning: “What if it’s a silly question? It’s better if I stay quiet.”

Read more: 5 Reasons e-learning is perfect for introverted students

The online teaching process makes it difficult to get your students to open up. Explain that there are no stupid questions. Never underestimate the questions you get. It means that you didn’t explain something well enough, so take the time to cover those aspects of the lesson. Always attend the questions with enough attention and enthusiasm.

Praise the results; not the individuals

You got the perfect assignment or answer from someone? You should never say things like:

  • You’re so smart
  • You’re brilliant
  • You always give the perfect answers

When you praise an individual student, the others get intimidated. You make them feel like they
are not good enough.

Use phrases like these instead:

  • That’s a great answer
  • This assignment is outstanding; I want all of you to see it as an example of good work
  • Well done

When you focus on the result instead of the person, you give students proof that excellence can be achieved with hard work. Anyone can make the effort to a better outcome, and you should make your students believe that.

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

Let your students participate in the process

You’re doing your best to introduce rapport-building activities in online lessons, but don’t forget: you’re not alone in this process. Your students are part of it. You can ask them: “We covered a lot of the material, so we have some space for fun today. What game would you like to play? Is there a discussion you want to have? I’m open to suggestions!”

Always have a back-up plan in case no one opens up. But allow your students to make their suggestions, no matter how silly they are. They want to play Hangman online? That’s fun! They want to make an attempt at baking and photograph the result? No problem! Just make sure that everyone is into the activity and don’t make it mandatory.

Online learning is fun

There’s one main advantage of online learning vs. the classroom setting: it gives you potential to spice things up. You can concentrate the lessons on the essentials, so you can make the theoretical part shorter. Then, you can leave space for communication, interesting videos, and fun activities.

Now that you know how to build rapport with students, it’s time to get to work! Move away from your standard practices and do what your students want you to do: connect with them and make the online learning process more fun.

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