Building online rapport with students

Sep 5, 2021

by Jalieca L. Gadong

We know what an engaged student looks like: proactive, highly motivated, participates better, and deals with difficulties more effectively. That’s why student engagement is one of the most crucial aspects of learning. Moreover, it is highly influenced by the kind of relationship that teachers have with the learners. With this in mind, educators have to do their best to craft various strategies to establish rapport with our students.  

However, building rapport has become a lot more challenging in Online Distance Learning. Since interactions are all virtual, teachers are faced with the problem of connecting with the students and motivating them to open up and interact with the class more.  If you are experiencing this difficulty, here are five tips that you may consider to address it successfully: 

Discuss class rules and explain their purpose. 

To create an engaging environment, first, the virtual classroom has to be organized and free of chaos. During the orientation session, communicate the class rules you will observe for the entire term. Remember to help students understand the rationale behind each rule. This will place everyone on the same page when it comes to expectations and roles. Tip: It may be even a better idea if students can participate in the creation of the rules so that there is a sense of ownership among them. This strategy will also help them recall the rules better and understand the purpose more.

Make sure that your audio and video are clear and working well.

It’s not easy to build rapport with someone whom we can neither properly hear nor see. To effectively connect with the students, the teacher should be both visible and audible. If possible, choose functional gadgets or devices and adjust their settings properly. Choose a location where the lighting is good and background noises are minimal. Before the synchronous session, test your microphone and camera so that you can assess if there are issues. Tip: During your discussion, pause at some points to check with your class if they can still hear and see you well. You may also ask your students to message you in the chatbox or use the raise hand feature if they see problems with your audio and video. 

Start the class on a positive note.

Greet your students as they enter your online meeting. Have some fun by thinking of creative ways to check the attendance. Ask about their day or weekend. Invite your students to share about their experiences in accomplishing the asynchronous tasks. Tell fun jokes or share amusing anecdotes. Commend the class for their hard work and great performance. Appreciate their efforts to accomplish tasks and to attend the synchronous sessions on time. Happy moments bring people closer and the positive energy can inspire everyone to participate more actively in the discussions. Tip: Instead of saying “present” during the roll call, say the show you are currently bingeing or how you’re feeling today instead. 

Encourage students to turn on their cameras during the class.

Some students feel alone in the current setup. Seeing other students, even if just on- screen, may make them feel better. Having the camera on increases their concentration and attention as well. When the students feel good and are focused, they are more receptive and open to participate in the session. This also allows you to get their reactions to the lesson and respond accordingly. You will have an easier time connecting with them because you can see their facial expressions and body language, which are very helpful cues. This also gives you an opportunity to ensure that your students are safe and ready for the class. Tip: Set aside a day in the week when you can implement a theme while on camera: funny hats, bring your pet, or even breakfast in class.

Be compassionate

We live in very uncertain and trying times. Some students may be experiencing difficulties we do not know of. The pandemic has affected the mental health of everyone, especially our young students. Be more reasonable in giving assignments and setting deadlines. Assess the feasibility of the tasks and accessibility of your learning resources. Respond to their emails and messages. Hear your students out when they express concerns and issues. Try to understand and allow them to explain when they fall short to meet some expectations. However, this does not mean that teachers will have to tolerate bad behavior. Reprimanding when necessary is fine, but it should come from a place of concern and care. Be sensitive, and refrain from using harsh and cruel words. As much as possible, focus on making them realize the reason why their actions are not appropriate. If you have the means, gather feedback from your students so you would also have an idea about what works and what does not in your class. Tip: Instead of having them respond to a formal and lengthy survey, post a 1-question poll at the end of every class using your conferencing app. You may ask about the lesson, ask for suggestions, or post a thoughtful question like what they would do first if the pandemic ended tomorrow.

Building rapport may be tough in the virtual classroom. You may have to exert a good deal of effort and utilize several resources, especially that it has to be done online. It also entails stronger passion and commitment from you, and more willingness from the students. However, it is undeniable that creating rapport can bring impactful advantages to the class. When you and your class have a good relationship, your teaching objectives become more achievable and the learning experience of your students becomes a lot more meaningful.

About the Author
Jalieca L. Gadong is a Licensed Professional Teacher. She is a Google Certified Educator, Certified Apple Teacher, and Microsoft Office Specialist. Presently, she teaches business subjects at De La Salle Santiago Zobel School.

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