From the Magazine

Building relationships with students in the virtual learning space

One of the greatest challenges of this school year has been building and maintaining relationships with students in the virtual learning space. 

Last spring, educators had worked with their students in person for months before going online. This year, many teachers still haven’t physically met their students – so they have to focus on virtual relationship building.

Strong relationships are imperative to running successful classrooms. According to a report  by Marzano and Marzano, the quality of the student-teacher relationship is the key to classroom management. This remains true in the virtual setting but presents new challenges. 

Here are some ways to build your student-teacher relationships virtually.

Morning Meetings 

Hold morning meetings. These are common practice in elementary schools, serving as a way to engage students and help build classroom community. Teachers and students will gather together in a circle for about 30 minutes and interact with each other, greeting each other by name, sharing important information in their lives, doing a group activity and interacting with a morning message prepared by the teacher.


Dominican University of California researchers found that morning meetings impact productivity in academic work by allowing teachers to identify and meet students’ social and emotional needs, making students feel a sense of belonging and connection. Maintaining the routine of having a morning meeting can also help students who long for familiarity in these anxiety-inducing times. Additionally, soft skills such as relationship skills, communication, relationship-building, social engagement, and teamwork practiced in morning meetings help students to maintain and develop key social and emotional skills.


Hold the meeting synchronously; or alternatively, via with a Zoom recording posted on the LMS for the students who do not log on in time.

Use Videos

Instructors who use personalized video content in their online classrooms build better relationships with their online students, according to a Brigham Young University study.


Record in a space resembling your in-person morning meetings. Try to maintain the same elements that a typical morning meeting would have. If the meeting cannot be done daily, go for a weekly check-in with students.

Share

Create a space on Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Padlet for students to share photos.. Share your world with your students and ask them to share theirs, too. Depending on grade level and content area, this could range from photos of the family pet to weird mugs to funniest pictures on their camera roll. Ask students to describe their work-from-home day, or to tell you about the happiest moment in their lives.


Community-building games are another important element of getting to know students, and can be challenging, although not impossible, in the virtual learning space. Focus on the 4C’s of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. For younger students, a GoNoodle movement break video or yoga session with Cosmic Kids might be effective. For older students, try a Would You Rather Question, Speak Out Carts, an engaging read-aloud, or a content-specific activity, like something that might be used for a bell-ringer in class.

Recreate the classroom

Although it can be difficult to get all of your students on Zoom at the same time for a lesson, it is important to recreate the sense of classroom community and teacher accessibility that would exist in a traditional face to face classroom. This can be done with a combination of synchronous live classes and various styles of face-to-face check-ins. Whenever students are on live calls, find ways to greet them by name and let them know that you are glad they are there, just as you would in face to face instruction.


With live lessons, try a flipped-classroom approach, offering instructional videos in advance, and using class time for hands-on games, individual or group projects, virtual field trips, engaging live activities, and academic check-ins. Make activities that will be completed on these calls live and interactive using NearPod or Peardeck for instruction and tools such as Quizlet, Quizizz, or Kahoot for practice. As much as possible, keep instruction interactive and interesting for students.


During lunch bunch, alternate between SEL activities, games, and conversation. Consider offering lunch bunch virtually a few times each week, inviting some or all of your students to eat with you on Zoom. Play games such as Would you Rather?, What in the Picture is Different, or Draw What I’m Describing. Or ask students questions to get conversations started.

Suzanne Williams is a high school teacher and publications director in Indiana. When she’s not teaching her students Journalism or Japanese, she’s reporting on education-related topics, crafting, longboarding or playing with her corgi.