Connecting with students in the online classroom

young person using computer

Many teachers would agree that one of their great joys of teaching is the relationships that develop in their classrooms.

Check out our top tips for how you can continue to cultivate those relationships and maintain connections if you're teaching in an online environment.

1. Use video content

Keep your virtual lessons and feedback engaging by adding videos where possible. Visuals that closely replicate the actual classroom are effective ways to break up written lesson plans. Video platforms such as Youtube and Vimeo (paid access) allow you to keep videos unlisted so that they don’t appear in public searches. You might choose not to film the whole lesson, but including a personal introduction will help you to maintain strong relationships with your students.

2. Add a personal touch

There’s been a lot of uncertainty in our lives recently, which young people will have picked up on. Anything that is familiar will provide some measure of comfort in times of uncertainty. For example, personalising lessons where possible will reassure students that you are still there for them and care for them. You could record a video message to the class, use chat functions, write emails to individual students, or include class-specific details in your worksheets or activities.

3. Focus on relationships

Classroom relationships are a hugely important part of student learning. While it can be more difficult to build relationships in a virtual setting, it is still very important to do so. Try to share yourself with your students in ways you are comfortable with and while maintaining your own personal boundaries. Consider introducing students to your pets, or showing them a plant you’ve grown from a seedling or an activity you’ve been working on outside of teaching. You might also want to share with your class some things you are finding stressful and the ways you are coping. Giving students glimpses of your personal world will go a long way towards maintaining and strengthening your relationships with them.

4. Encourage a sense of community

Physical distancing can leave students feeling isolated and upset by the loss of connection with their classmates. These are feelings that many of us have experienced. Setting your students challenges to work on during the day, and encouraging them to share their progress and results with the class, will help them to feel a sense of connection to their peers. Art, origami, cooking, video and dance challenges can easily be recorded through photos or videos and shared among the group. Students who get involved in these challenges and share their progress and finished products will form new relationships and strengthen existing ones. In addition, challenges foster healthy competition and community spirit.

5. Make a classroom playlist

There are many different ways to connect with people virtually. For instance, music is a great way for students to connect with their peers. Ask your students what music they are listening to while studying, and build them a class playlist. You can share the playlist through a music-sharing application such as Spotify or SoundCloud. Engaging and collaborating with students through their interests shows them that you see them as more than just a name on a class roll or a screen, and will help them to stay connected to you and the rest of the class.

What can I do now?

  • Check out our classroom resources for coping during coronavirus.

  • Read our advice for schools coping with coronavirus.

  • Remember the importance of taking care of yourself. Check out our 10 tips for teacher wellbeing.