George Lucas Educational Foundation
Online Learning

5 Ways to Build Connections with Students Online

A high school English teacher shares ways to create genuine connections online.

September 4, 2020
High school teacher conducts distance learning class via video chat
UPI / Alamy Stock Photo

As many students are at home during the pandemic, teachers are searching for ways to connect with students in the online classroom. In Jennifer Gonzalez’s “Creating Moments of Genuine Connection Online,” from Cult of Pedagogy, teacher Dave Stuart Jr. shares simple ways to develop relationships with students, even in a digital classroom.

The process is one Stuart developed when he first started teaching high school and found himself devoting hours to relationship building—leaving him with little time for lesson planning, grading, or curriculum development. Under necessity, Stuart came up with new, shorter ways—even in just one to three minutes—to make meaningful connections with all of his students. “The moments are embedded inside the work you’re already doing as a teacher,” says Stuart, who now offers a mini-course for other teachers on the topic.

His guiding parameters are that the interactions, whether they are personal or academic, should feel authentic to each student and be genuine. While you may not hit it off with every student, “what you’re after in these encounters is that set of feelings: valued, known, respected,” Stuart says.

Though online learning creates new barriers to communication and connection, Stuart says these practices can transfer online and describes five ways to do so:

1. Waiting Rooms: Some video conferencing tools permit the host to put a group of participants in a waiting room while they have a separate conversation with a single participant in a breakout space. “If you conduct synchronous class meetings, you can use this feature to have quick chats with a few students as they enter the larger space (this may work especially well with those who arrive early),” he writes.

2. Office Hours: Set aside time for individual or small group student video conferences. Going through the roster alphabetically can help ensure you interact positively with every student on an individual basis at least once during the year.

3. Feedback: Incorporating moments of genuine connection in assessment can be a useful way to build relationships with students. Research has found audio or video feedback can have a more profound impact on students than written feedback, so consider adding a short clip of encouragement or praise on an assignment, Stuart suggests.

4. Video Postcards: Individual, short video messages let students know you are thinking of them. While Stuart admits it’s a more time-consuming option, he’s found it to be an effective and personalized way to engage.

5. Phone Calls: One of the most direct methods to connect with students is a phone call, which reminds students they have support and provides space for them to share concerns, Stuart says. The conversation doesn’t need to be long. He offers a simple script: “Hey, I’m checking in. Is anything getting in the way of your learning right now?”

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George Lucas Educational Foundation