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Building Virtual Relationships With Students Isn’t as Hard as You Think

student learning from laptop

Why Student Relationships are Important

Building healthy relationships with students is an essential catalyst for student success. And it could be among the most underrated skills for educators today. Here are just a few of the reasons why these relationships are so important:

1. Improved Academic Results

While relationships alone can’t guarantee that a student will perform better, research has shown that there is often a direct correlation between more positive student-teacher relationships and higher levels of student engagement, both short and long term in a variety of ways (attendance, academic grades, fewer disruptive behaviors, etc.).

2. Motivate to Continue Logging In

Students enjoy being in a classroom where they feel personally connected with the instructor. And it’s true for teachers as well. A study in the European Journal of Psychology and Education found student-teacher relationships to be a strong predictor for increased joy and lower feelings of anxiety amongst teachers.

3. Boosts Good Behavior

A study by the University of Cambridge found that having a positive relationship with a teacher around the age of 10-11 years old contributes to “the development of ‘prosocial’ behaviors such as cooperation and altruism.” It also tends to significantly reduce problematic classroom behaviors such as aggression and oppositional behavior.

6 Ways to Connect with Students Virtually

1. Mastering the Soft Start Eases Students into Class Each Day

Replacing school bells with soft starts gives students time to settle in, mentally transition from home to school, re-engage their cerebral muscles by reading or doing a puzzle, and prepare themselves for the school day ahead.

One kindergarten teacher characterized soft starts as “an invitation into the day,” providing students some space and choice in their educational experience. The following are some easy soft start ideas that you can have your students do virtually:

  • Read an article or book of choice
  • Play a game together, like Sporcle trivia or Guess It
  • Talk to a classmate in a breakout room

2. Greet Each Student by Name Every Single Day

When you greet your students by name (or by a preferred nickname), you are sending a powerful message that you care about their arrival at school and that you are excited to interact with them. Some teachers ask each particular student to unmute and say hello back with a wave. This simple act of engagement creates the foundation for a good start.

3. Frequent Check-in with All your Students

When students check in by sharing either a positive or negative experience, the student feels validated that his/her experiences are important and feelings are as well. Be sure to allow your students ample time to be introspective before asking to share, and verbally acknowledge their contribution.

By keeping things moving along, the entire check-in can go quickly, perhaps even less than 5 minutes. At the same time, it fosters a meaningful connection for the students in your class by reinforcing to your students that their voice matters as does everyone else’s. Also, it allows for a safe environment for the students to share their emotional states and provides the opportunity for responses.

4. Share your World with the Students

It is well known that often nothing is more effective in opening the door to connecting to another than sharing yourself. Tell your students stories about your family, bring in the family pet, and share with them your favorite food or how you like to spend your free time.

Better yet, share with your students some of your struggles and challenges (that they can relate to). Students are excited to get a look inside their teachers’ lives and will love to get an insider’s look into their teachers’ lives, and will feel more connected to you when you share appropriate pieces of your “inner world” with them.

5. Get the Students to Write about Themselves

When you give children an exercise to write about their interests and values, you can have a significant impact as to how the child feels about school. Such a values-affirming activity can serve as a subtle psychological intervention that enhances both belonging and identity.

Should you decide to read their responses, you will have a wealth of insight to draw upon to better target your lessons and make them more engaging, which will foster further connection with your students.

6. Give High-Quality Feedback to your Students

Research by John Hattie suggests that feedback is one of the top 10 influencers driving student achievement. But it doesn’t end there. Besides achievement, feedback can have an important impact on student-teacher relationships, both positive and negative. Not seeing your students shouldn’t preclude taking advantage of this important way to connect.

This study in the British Journal of Educational Psychology gives guidance as to some of the key facets of effective feedback:

  • Focus on the process, not the person.
  • Praise effort, not intelligence or talent.
  • Give unbiased and objective feedback, handwritten or via computer.
  • Give feedback in as timely a manner as possible.
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