10 ways to build student relationships from an online teacher

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Wednesday, November 11, 2020

10 ways to build student relationships from an online teacher

Even when we don't have face to face connections, we can still build and develop relationships with our students. Here are some ideas.

Paulino Brener has taught Spanish online for years. He has effectively taught students the language, developed relationships and maintained a productive educational environment. And he did it WITHOUT face to face physical interaction.

In fall 2019, Paulino (Twitter: @paulinobrener) went back into a face-to-face traditional classroom, seeing students in the same physical space every day. 

In March of that school year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to teach remotely, back to that online space where he thrived for years. He was uniquely positioned for that challenge that many of us faced.

How did he do it? With his experience teaching online, what suggestions does he have for us?

In this video, Paulino and I discuss the struggles and challenges -- as well as tips, solutions and strategies -- for teaching remotely and continuing to develop student relationships.

Below the video and infographic, I summarize some of my favorite moments from the video:

10 online ways to build student relationships

1. The secret is YOU.

The secret is you, the teacher, and what you bring into your classroom in person. Be that genuine voice and show that genuine interest that we have for our students. Your human self is the best gift you can bring to your students. 

2. Use what works best for you.

It depends on the medium you're using, and you're going to find ways to bring that in. Talk about music. Write and share it with your students. Record music -- "even if you're a bad singer like me," says Paulino! "I still send them that song." Share a Bitmoji of yourself to bring some personality. Create videos. Share print materials in PDF or documents. Whatever suits you best is what you should use.

3. Ask students about themselves.

It can't all be about the content. We need to incorporate social and emotional aspects, too.

"Teachers are afraid that students are going to fall behind. It's OK," Paulino says. "The more we continue that connection and that conversation, it's the balance that's going to support their stress, their anxiety, to be able to enjoy and interact with the actual content."

Some ideas: Do a survey about students' interests. If we already know, find ways to incorporate it. "You can have a casual conversation in the hallway when you're in person," he says. "Now we don't have that casual conversation. How can we bring those aspects of the social life of the school into our practice?"

Another idea: Provide office hours where students can drop in. They can talk. They can ask questions. But more importantly, they can feel noticed and appreciated.

4. Be comfortable in your environment.

If we are stressed and tense in our environment, students will notice that. Whatever we can do to feel more relaxed will cross over to the students. That might mean having visuals, props, or something else to bring into live video calls. Be relaxed, centered, and present, Paulino says. Start with the right mindset. It will set the right tone for class. Do whatever you need to do to be comfortable in your environment.

5. Find a way to recreate your warmth.

"The warmth that we are able to get in face to face, we find a way together to try to recreate that," Paulino says. That could mean taking a minute make sure that we're listening to each other. Clearly establishing the routines and procedures in class is important, but also take a moment to have that presence.

"You don't have that quick 'wink' moment so that people feel acknowledged," Paulino says of many online environments. "Find that way to give that quick wink to people who need it." It could be as simple as a quick message in the comments. 

Students want to see you, not your slides, Paulino says. He tries to do as little of slide presentation as possible and as much personal interaction as possible. "They can see and hear you. Why not use this time to have that human to human interaction? Start having the conversations. Have a little moment."

QUESTION: How have you built relationships with your students during online learning? Share your experiences and ideas in a comment below!

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  • Reueri Ioane says:

    I am the new teacher and I did nervous during my class so thank this tip where I can find my way to build my relationship with my students

  • Jack Milgram says:

    These tips are working for sure, but for teacher-student relationships. Any ideas on how to develop relationships between new students meeting online for the first time?

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