One of my favorite aspects of teaching is being able to create amazing relationships with my students. That feeling when you walk into the room and you feel like a rockstar can’t be compared to anything else.
When I first started as a virtual teacher I had no idea how I would be able to achieve a bond with students I was not going to meet face to face. I learned very quickly that it’s impossible to develop a strong relationship with virtual students via email. They need human contact.
Over the last year, I have tried various modes of communication with my students in grades 6-12. Here is how I personally create a strong bond with my students.
Being myself. I’m a dork. I tell my kids all the time I’m a nerd. I’m loud, I’m dramatic and I know it. And when I show this side of myself my kids LOVE it. I use Zoom on a weekly basis for my read aloud (check out that post here) and while it was a little intimidating to be myself on video at first, now I embrace it. My kids have seen me drink Snapple during my read alouds, they have seen me recovering from a cold, they have heard the construction on my neighbor’s deck, and they love it. We have had conversations about our favorite Snapple flavors and what the weather is like. They are able to see me as a real person and we can connect in some capacity.
Listen to parents. I will admit that I was not a fan of parent teacher conferences in brick and mortar classrooms. I have had parents yell at me and make me feel uncomfortable, but I have also cried with parents as we discuss the fears they have for their child. I do not have parent teacher conferences in the virtual world, but we do make monthly progress calls/texts. I have had some students in four courses, so I’ve gotten to know the families very well.
A good chunk of my students take online courses because of health problems, physical and mental. When I call parents of these types of students I know I may spend 20 minutes talking to a mom about her other children and struggles she is dealing with. I listen every time. Even if she tells me the same story every month, I listen. Why? Because she’s trying to help her child to the best of her ability and at the end of the day my goal is to help children be successful.
When I let parents talk (sometimes vent) I always get more information about what I can do to help their child. One mom told me her son is just so overwhelmed by his assignments that he shuts down and has fallen behind pace. I made her son an individual calendar of what assignments to do on what day. He is able to focus on just one task to get him going, and sometimes that’s all a student needs. By listening to parents, I can individualize my approach, create resources and build trust with the family so we are all on the same page.
Consistency. My kids know they can always call/text/Zoom or email me. How? Because I do it ALL THE TIME. I send out my weekly newsletter with my office hours and read aloud schedule, I text or call to check in once a month, I have my read aloud every week and remind students. I put my contact information on every email that goes out to students. I tell kids I’m calling on my cell phone and they can call/text/or email me, whatever works best for them. I offer to meet with kids one-on-one in Zoom if they need help, even if it’s for every unit activity. It’s important to remind students you are there to help them.
Listen to the students. One of the perks about teaching virtually is that I don’t live by a bell. I make my schedule and have the flexibility to meet with students at all times (yes, even weekends). Some of my students are working and can only do homework at night. Some of my students are incredible athletes and train/practice for multiple hours a day.
Students today have crazy lives. They each have a story and sometimes they just need someone to listen to them. When I first started teaching students in Michigan, I called a student to do my welcome call. I have no idea how, but we started talking about life in general. She works part time at Burger King. Homeschooling was her best option because she has to pay for her college education and needs to work all different shifts to make that a happen. I was on the phone with her for an hour. We discussed how to manage time, how hard it is to adult (according to her I have adulting down), how to get the motivation to wake up an hour early to get an extra assignment done, etc.
After our phone call, she would check in with me regularly. If she had a question, she would shoot me a text. If she needed help with a course activity, she called me to walk her through it so she didn’t waste her time trying to figure it out herself. She passed my class. Halfway through last semester she randomly texted me to say hi and to let me know she was getting better at not procrastinating.
We’re a team. Whether I’m talking/texting/emailing/Zooming with a parent or student, I always reinforce that we are a team. We all need to work together in the virtual world to be successful. This looks different depending on my student.
I had a mom I called every week on Friday mornings so I could give her a progress report on her son. She told me in the beginning that she was not tech savy and preferred I spoke to her on the phone since she never read my emails.
I had a middle school student who was struggling to stay on pace. I was in constant communication with his guidance counselor, and we decided to meet in Zoom once a week as a team to check in. The student would ask me questions, we would review assignments and create a plan for the week. The student would also email me any questions/concerns during the week as well.
When I text with parents, they often tell me how frustrated they are. I always tell them we will get through it together as a team. It’s amazing how just saying that provides comfort to parents because they know they have a go-to person.
The virtual classroom has no judgement. Every student comes to me with a specific situation. A lot of them aren’t straight A students. For some of them, this is their only option to get an education. I feel closer to my students virtually than I ever did in a brick and mortar classroom because of the environment.