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5 ways for teachers to build relationship online

This past year was not easy! For so many reasons! But arguably one of the biggest challenges we faced as teachers was having to switch to remote learning during a global pandemic.

Now, if you're anything like me, your teaching is relational and built on being able to 'read the room' and identify if students are struggling at a glance. You feel the vibes and adjust your plans accordingly!

So, how do you do this when you're teaching online? The fact of the matter is, you can't.

Our students are experiencing a myriad of disruptions not only to their learning, but also to their lives. Although our first instinct is to reach out, check in, and be there for them, how will we do that in September when we haven't even met some of our students yet? Or when we're only seeing them once or twice a week (at most... because lets face it, some students struggle in a whole new way when they lose their routine and consistency).

I don't know about you, but if I'm getting an email from a person I don't know that says "Hey *insert name here,*! I noticed you're not engaging in material! I hope everything is okay!"

The reasonable response is definitely "Um... it's obvs not. Do you not read the news, you crazy person I don't know?"

Fair enough.

Many of our students will have multiple barriers to their education at the best of times; particularly if you work with marginalized populations. Some students won't have access to technology at all, and if they do, they may be sharing it with their parents or siblings. Some students may have disabilities that prevent them from online learning. The bottom line is, if we want buy in from all of our students, they need to know us. And not just know us, but like us!

So here are some great ways to make connection with your students in the fall!

1. Use Video! (And no, I don't just mean Zoom or Google Meets)

Create videos at the start of each week to check in with students and give them a goal for the week. This video should be friendly, warm, and informational, but it should not include a full break down of all of their assignments! No different than when we set an agenda at the start of a week with our students, our video can do the same.

In class we spend a lot of time just checking in with students, finding out about their weekend, their likes and dislikes, their pet's names, etc. If we don't allow space for that in online learning, we are missing a fundamental piece of the puzzle! (Check out my podcast on why relationship is superior to curriculum!) By allowing students to at least hear your voice regularly, they will feel more familiar with you when they are back in the classroom!

2. Get students to do the same, and encourage them to post publicly on your class page so that students can get to know one another, too!

You can tie this into an assignment if you wish, but you can also just allow students the freedom to share information about themselves, share responses, and respond to each other's posts! Of course you'll need to be clear about expectations for posting on each other's videos, but in my experience, students are actually quite supportive in this environment!

Here's an example of how I engaged my learners this year in Drama 11/12. I created an elaborate interactive role play to be played on Zoom. (Big shout out to Mr.Gray for the Role Play idea pre-Covid - I really ran with it!) Students attended the meeting as often as possible, in character, and completed the weekly challenge while on the video. At the end of each game, students were encouraged to post a "confessional video" on an Instragram they made for their character or on our Google Classroom. This kept students engaged throughout the week, even when they were not physically in the same space as me!

When I hosted "office hours" I was lucky to get 3 students show up (hello secondary school...), but when I hosted Role Play? I consistently had 14-16 students attend!

(Interested in learning more about this role play? You can check it out on my teacherspayteachers account!

3. Create self-paced interactive assignments!

How can you create an interactive assignment that also allows the flexibility needed for our students with the barriers I mentioned above? Create assignments that involve students creating videos or slide shows that they can post publicly to your class page, but that asks their classmates to participate somehow.

For example, in my junior English class during our short story unit, students had to read 3 different short stories. They then had to create a character sketch slide-show involving pictures of their character performing their day-to-day activities. The images had to be clear enough that classmates could guess which character each student was representing, and which story they were from! This assignment could be done at leisure, and students could respond as soon as they were able, but it allowed for engaged learning and participation!

4. Mail your students personalized cards!

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but a colleague of mine this year had felt like she missed seeing students' writing. Not their typed essays and stories, but their handwriting (as illegible as it sometimes is!) She then thought that perhaps they felt the same way.

She sent them personalized hand written cards once a month. I LOVED this idea so much that I did the same. I then had a student write me a letter back and send it the school, knowing that I was going back before them!

It's important to find ways to reach out to students who do not have access to technology and give them ways to reach out back! (In some cases it may be appropriate to hand deliver your cards or homework, but please make sure you are being culturally sensitive and aware that this could feel like a huge invasion of privacy for some families).

5. If possible, schedule a socially distanced activity, ideally every two weeks!

In my example of the role play above, students had consistently attended the game for 6 weeks! Given that restrictions in my area were loosening up, I was able to have our finale of the role play take place on our school field, socially distanced. Now, I have a BIG voice, so it worked for us, but it was a great way to be face to face!

It's worth it for this activity day to have little to no weight on assessment. I have always done a weekly check in with my students on Monday mornings, and we continued this via Zoom. When I was able to see them face to face the first thing students asked was "Can we do Monday check in?!"

Seeing your students, even in smaller numbers and in a different capacity, puts "eyes" on your kids. It's an opportunity to read all of the important cues we miss online; such as body language, whether or not they're unkempt, or if perhaps there are more serious things going on that their healthy adult needs to see.


The first and foremost way of engaging your learners is being kind to them and to yourself! Consider their barriers to learning and your own! If you're typically a stickler for late work, perhaps now is a good time to review your policies.

Remember that they are doing their best - and it may not look like the best we're used to seeing from them! These are trying times, and our best looks different too...

What are some useful ways to engage your reluctant learners remotely?! Subscribe, and with your permission and full credit to you, I'll add your ideas to the post!

Don't forget to find me on Instagram!


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