Online learning has been on the rise for a while, but it became the norm for almost everyone at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most students have returned to in-person learning, many have remained in the online classroom. Some kids who homeschool also solely attend classes online.
While there are plenty of benefits to online learning, there are also some challenges – especially for educators. One of the biggest hurdles you can face as a teacher is keeping your students engaged and interested. When they’re at home behind a computer screen, that’s an even more difficult task.
So, what can you do to connect with students in the online classroom? How can you foster healthy relationships from behind a screen and keep your students motivated?
Developing a strong relationship
One of the best things you can do to connect with your students online is to foster a healthy relationship with them. Focus on building connections by trying things like one-on-one meetings or weekly check-ins where you give them a prompt to write or talk about, and you discuss it together.
These times of connection can help you to learn a lot about your students, including their learning preferences and personalities. You can also learn more about their home life and any struggles they might be going through. Having an open-door policy as a teacher, even online, can make a big difference for your students. They might be struggling with risky things like:
- Bad influences;
- Negative parental relationships;
- Unhealthy relationships of their own (if you’re teaching older kids or teens).
It’s not easy to see a child or teenager facing adversity, but when they know they can count on you to listen and be a support system, they’re more likely to stay engaged in your class and listen to what you have to say. Sometimes, all it takes is for a student to develop a sense of trust in an educator to stay engaged.
Read more: Transforming our schools through empathy
Encouraging a sense of community
Whether your entire class is online or some students are there in person while others are doing virtual learning, one of the best things you can do is foster a sense of community within your classroom.
How can you connect all of your students in ways that make everyone feel involved? One of the best ways is to lean on technology for help. Online conferencing is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. They also allow you to keep daily classroom routines that everyone can be a part of.
Even applications like SeeSaw are useful for asynchronous learning. Programs like these allow students to comment on another student’s work and engage with others even after class is over. Other programs, like BookCreator, take “book reports” to a whole new level by letting students collaborate online to actually create a book of their own – no matter where they are.
Online discussions are easy to have using video chat platforms or even chat rooms. You can host these discussions after a major project, talk about a book, or simply check in with your class at the end of the week to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Finally, consider gamifying some of your classroom activities. Using online educational games is a great way to connect all of your virtual students, but your in-classroom kids can connect with them, too. Online games can improve engagement, boost a sense of community, and teach your students how to work together and the importance of everyone having a role on a team.
Getting creative with connections
As an educator, you already know how important it is to be creative. Some students don’t respond to “traditional” learning methods, so you have probably one out of your way before to adopt different methods and techniques that work for them.
Consider doing similar things for students who are attending a virtual classroom.
That doesn’t just mean adapting things to fit their learning preferences (though that’s important!). Rather, it means getting creative when it comes to making them feel like a part of something bigger. If you’re not sure how to get started, consider some of the following fun ideas:
- Hosting virtual birthday parties for each student;
- Having a “spirit week” with a different theme each day;
- Sending video postcards to your students during breaks;
- Including virtual students in classroom games.
You can also keep everyone on the same page by creating informal video content. How often you do it is up to you, but one example might be creating a video every morning for the daily announcements. Make eye contact with the camera and utilize your body language to let the students know that you’re comfortable and engaged, so they’ll be engaged with you, too. Informal content is a great way to make everyone feel more relaxed and eager to pay attention.
Building authentic connections online
Online learning is clearly here to stay in some capacity. As technology continues to advance, it may become even more popular. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome the common hurdles of connecting with students in the online classroom. Keep these ideas in mind to stay engaged, build better relationships, and be an educator they will never forget.