Strong relationships are the cornerstone of the education system. The struggle to develop them virtually has resulted in decreased mental wellness for students and teachers, as well as an overall decline in student academic performance. Building strong relationships in the virtual environment can be challenging, but by adapting strategies that were effective in the face-to-face environment for virtual learning, educators can begin to make headway with forming healthy bonds with their students.
Ice Breakers and Surveys – A well-designed survey or clever ice breaker activity at the start of a new school year is a cheat-code to relationship-building. They may provide information on a student’s interests outside of school, their family environment, or even how Covid-19 has impacted their mental health. This equips the educator to show genuine interest and by asking questions informed by these activities, the educator can build a solid relationship foundation.
Greetings and Salutations – The act of greeting students by name as they log onto the learning platform lets students know that you “see” them. Initiate active participation in the chat by asking questions that are easily answered in one or two words such as, “in one word, tell me, how was your weekend?” or something fun like, “when you listen to music, what artist do you currently have on repeat?”
Proactive Communication – In the virtual environment, the chat feature can sometimes be more powerful than verbal conversation! In larger groups where the chat may be too much for the educator to manage alone, assign a rotating Teacher’s Assistant whose job is to alert the educator to any questions that require his/her attention. Encourage the use of GIFs and informal speech in the chat. Students are more likely to participate when they feel free to express themselves without the pressures that come with second-guessing their spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Small Groups – Breakout rooms are an effective way to encourage reluctant students to engage with a smaller audience. The use of breakout rooms also allows for students to form relationships with each other. They can work in small groups, similarly to group activities in the classroom.
Eye contact and Visibility – Encourage camera usage as much as possible. Being able to see each other helps to feel more personal and is the closest duplicate to face-to-face interaction. A shared smile or look of confusion goes a long way to find common ground and create bonds. Try to avoid making the lack of camera usage a “big deal,” as this often indicates a home environment that may bring the student shame.
While the first tip to building positive relationships in a virtual environment is best suited for the beginning of engagement with a set of students, the other four may be introduced at any time throughout the year. Consistent and sincere usage of these tips will result in improved student-teacher relationships, which is the foundation for student success at all levels.