Sparking Connection with Online Students | Imagine Learning

August 9, 2022 8:00 am

Sparking Connection with Online Students

Stephanie Reilly, the Teachers’ Lounge educator of the month, shares practical tips for creating a positive rapport with students in an asynchronous, fully online classroom.

I’ve been in my role as online learning coordinator for the Fox Chapel Area School District, located in suburban Pittsburgh, for three years and wanted to share some things that have worked for us. Our online students are either fully online or have a flex schedule, where they are in school for most classes and take an online class or two. The flex schedule allows the student to come into school late or leave early. Many students take advantage of this flexible schedule for sports, jobs, or just the amazing ability to sleep in and arrive at school two hours later.

High schooler studies on their bed with headphones

“Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said people don’t care what you know until they know you care. Showing these fully online students that we care about them is the key.”

Stephanie Reilly

Each group of students has their unique challenges. The fully online students can be really challenging to reach. How can you connect with a student you only communicate with via email, especially since some students avoid email when they fall behind? Teddy Roosevelt had it right when he said people don’t care what you know until they know you care. Showing these fully online students that we care about them is the key.

Give “caught being good” notes

Catching kids doing something positive and emailing them or (even better) mailing home a note about it shows that we are watching their progress and we are on their side.

Send snail mail 

Snail-mailing school resources and information home so the students know what’s going on at school and still feel part of our school community is helpful.

Invite them to campus

Inviting the fully online students to come in and join a club or attend a school meeting and facilitating that happening can encourage the student to get out of their house and get involved.

Respond to their schedule

Responding to their needs on their time schedule as an asynchronous student can go a long way to showing the student that this isn’t school as usual. If I can quickly log on and help move a student along who is stuck at night, I am glad to do it, and that student can keep working and making progress. Some students are really struggling with various issues, so removing obstacles helps show them that we want to help.

Make feedback meaningful

Providing meaningful feedback to their written submissions, even if it’s feedback about plagiarism, shows the student that it’s not just them and the computer, but there is a real live teacher at our school who’s reading their work and available for help.

Create a warm, optional workspace

We also encourage students who are struggling online to come into school and work in my room. My room isn’t a typical classroom, it’s a relaxed environment complete with a Keurig, snacks, beautiful view of landscaping, plants, seating choices, etc. working here helps the student remember that they are indeed still a full-time student and allows me and other teachers to get to know the student, their work habits, and their struggles, and to start to build the relationship. Once we get that relationship growing, the student will respond to my emails and will even initiate emails to me and other teachers when they need help. The power of a conversation over a cup of tea cannot be underestimated.

I’d love to hear from other teachers and administrators about how they reach fully online, asynchronous students. It’s a journey! Let’s talk about it in the Teachers’ Lounge.

Stephanie Reilly

About the Author — Stephanie Reilly

Stephanie is the online learning coordinator and online teacher at Fox Chapel Area High School. She currently teaches online physics, earth & space, and SAT prep.

Stephanie’s first career was as a mechanical engineer. She worked in the nuclear power and telecommunications fields for 12 years, then stayed home with her children for about 10 years. She then went back to school for her teaching certificate. She taught math, physics, and computer science for about seven years before moving into her current position.