Relationship Building

Remote teaching has been an overall success. It has been great getting to know our students better. Our relationship is even closer now than it was in person. They have all met my dog, noticed that I have an awkward number of house plants and that I drink way too much coffee. I also met their dog, see their families regularly, and notice that they drink Mountain Dew for breakfast!

- Sheri Mistretta, High School Special Education Vocational Coordinator

Developing and establishing a relationship with your students is, first and foremost, the most important step to take when creating your remote learning environment. The power of relationship building builds trust within your classroom, generates a feeling of belonging, and in turn, can increase achievement and learning. Students want to connect with you, and they want to know you!

Looking back at their days of remote instruction, students will probably not remember the math lesson you spent three hours creating in hopes that they learn long division. But they will remember the day you called them personally when you suspected they had a tough day. They will remember the silly hats you wore because you wanted to see them smile. They will remember the funny story you told them about your cat eating all the birdseed from your bird feeder. They will remember that you had faith in their abilities. They will remember your kind words of encouragement when they struggled. They will remember you and the way you made them feel. The relationship you establish will your students is the foundation of a successful remote classroom.

The approaches outlined in this chapter are all-inclusive strategies applied to the remote learning classroom, regardless of ability and disabilities. This chapter focuses on establishing a foundation for building a strong relationship with your remote-learning students. Regardless of ability or the diagnosis of a disability, a positive educator-student relationship is the foundation of a successful year.

In educational settings, research suggests that positive and established student and teacher relationships can foster student engagement, influence motivation, increase participation, and improve student achievement (Cook et al., 2018; Cornelius-White, 2007; Hughes & Cao, 2017; Lee, 2012; Vollet, Kindermann, & Skinner, 2017). Positive student-teacher relationships include mutual respect, open communication, warmth, and affection. Specifically, research proves that positive student-teacher relationships increase participation in the classroom setting and have resulted in a greater interest in school for all students, with and without learning challenges and behavioral difficulties (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Tsai & Cheney, 2012). The same classroom research and strategies apply in a remote setting.

Developing a relationship with students builds academic success in a positive learning environment, shapes a classroom community, creates a student's self-worth, and minimizes behavioral challenges. As educators, the importance of relationship building with students is reinforced throughout teacher preparation programs, department meetings, and professional development activities. Small gestures, such as standing at the door while students enter with a smile and high five, can change the day. Remote learning thrives on engagement, and engagement can be achieved and improve through relationship building.

A The Research oo

Throughout the various surveys of educators, relationship building was a reoccurring theme. The responses suggest that time spent building relationships improves the effectiveness of remote learning. When asked to share a successful remote teaching strategy, many participants pointed to a relationship-building theme or component such as sending an email, working one-on-one, constant communication, home deliveries, check-in parades, mailing items home, sending notes, engaging in games, check-in times, having fun together, and sending occasional text messages. Research and interview results both suggested several reoccurring strategies found to be effective, outlined in the following sections.

Distance Learning Relationship-Building Strategies

How can we apply relationship-building strategies to the distance learning model? The following techniques can be used with students who exhibit various ability levels and can be modified depending on their cognitive ability and individualized needs. Here are some successful strategies shared:

0ne-on-0ne Virtual Meeting

Start the year with a virtual one-on-one meeting with each student. Act as if it is a semi-structured interview and have a set of questions to learn more about each student while leaving time for probing questions. In this meeting, find one mutual interest where you can connect with and expand the discussion. Here are ten sample questions to explore with your students:

  • 1. What is your favorite activity to do when not in school?
  • 2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • 3. What makes you happy?
  • 4. What makes you angry?
  • 5. What would you change about yourself if you could?
  • 6. What motivates you to work hard?
  • 7. What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • 8. What makes you laugh the most?
  • 9. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?
  • 10. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Student Check-Ins

With the remote learning model, educators will need to create continuous opportunities to check in with students. The excitement of the new school year can wear off quickly, and students may get lost or fall behind. Knowing that there are continued check-ins would promote student accountability and provide a chance for you to reconnect with your students.

Student Letters, Surveys, and Questionnaires

As an alternative to one-on-one check-ins, start the school year off by sending each student a questionnaire or survey using Google Forms (as an example) to better understand your students. You can ask the same questions you would on a one-to-one meeting. Use the questionnaires' results throughout the year to reconnect with students and reference when meeting with them and their parents.

Solicit Parent Input

In addition to starting the year with your students' meeting, meet with your students' parents. Investing time at the beginning of the year to meet with parents will help you get to know your students. Parent meetings can create alliancing and partnerships with a mutual intent to promote student success.

Classroom Google Slide of Interests, Family, Talents

At the beginning of the school year, create a classroom "all about us" slideshow. Have each student decorate a slide with pictures, words, phrases all about them. Show the slides one by one to the class to foster relationship building among students. Highlight students' similarities and differences through a class activity. Additionally, the educator has access to those slides throughout the year and can refer to them in a pinch to connect or view before meeting with a student.

Send Them Mail

Throughout the year, send a quick card or note to tell students you are thinking about them, you are proud of them, noticed an increase in effort, saw they are working hard, or maybe you are proud of their grit. Be specific to the student. Even if the letter is only a line or two, you show them you take an interest in their well-being. Mailing them a quick card, message, or note shows them you care.

Daily Hello Video

Record and post or send a daily hello video to the class. In this video, tell students something that happened to you or something that made you happy, sad, disappointed, scared, etc. Show your feelings and tell them something new, so they get to know you a little better.

Zoom Waiting Room

Have students log in and wait in a virtual "waiting room" at the start of a virtual class so you can greet each of them one at a time by name. The "waiting room" is available through online platforms, such as Zoom. The idea mirrors the concept of standing at the classroom entrance, saying hello to each student. Waiting rooms may take a bit longer than greeting each student at the door, but educators report that it is worth the time.

Mental Health Morning Meetings

As part of morning meetings, consider pausing academics by starting with meditations, resilience training, discussions of gratefulness, thoughts of growth mindset, and other lively conversations that can make a student's day a bit brighter. Several teachers reported that spending five to ten minutes a day on mental wellbeing had made a positive difference for themselves and many students. The benefits have paid off in other ways, such as increased engagement, participation, and improved attendance. Educators feel that students show up and look forward to the positive mental health morning meetings.

Close the Gap Between Special Education and General Education

Special education teachers recommend that general education teachers spend extra time getting to know the students in their class with lEPs; therefore, the general education teacher will not need to rely on case managers and special educators to bridge the relationship. It will pay off in the long term by investing the time at the beginning of the year.

Emoji Share

Have students select an emoji a day to describe their mood. Emoji mood shares can be executed as a private chat on platforms such as Zoom, email outreach, or a Google Form. You can start the day or remote learning session with a private emoji mood share. The mood shared could help guide your lesson or your daily objective and inform which students may need support and attention.

Mini-Me Avatars

Create a mini-me avatar using an app such as Bitmoji. Have your students also create a Bitmoji. Educators are using an avatar to create a fun way to connect with students. Without being present, educators can share their moods and feelings virtually.

Let Students Inside Your World

Educators sometimes get so wrapped in the lesson objectives; they forget to take time and let students get to know them. You can let them in by sharing stories about your family and your pets. Share stories with students about your struggles with completing work, staying on task, paying attention, or staying organized. Stories that do not have a perfect result can be beneficial. They show how, even as the teacher or educator, you have to keep problem-solving to find strategies that work.

Give Students a Voice

Have students create virtual rules and expectations to follow, promoting classroom community and accountability. Research suggests that students who believe they have a voice in school are much more likely to be academically motivated than students who do not think they have a voice. Involving students in classroom decision making increases their engagement and encourages their growth (Quaglia & Corso, 2014). The theory of student's voice can and should apply to remote learning. Create a virtual learning environment that allows students to participate in decision making and expectations.

Understand Student Needs

Ask the students what they need to be successful while remote learning. More specifically, ask for their help as you try to understand their needs. This strategy is useful for connecting because you share ownership in their success and establish that both of you are responsible for working together to make sure that the student's needs are met. In the conversations, be clear about your objectives while considering what the student needs to learn. This process not only shows students that you respect and value their ideas and thoughts, but it can also give you some useful information in creating your online curriculum.

Apply Classroom Relationship-Building Strategies to the Virtual Classroom

Use the same baseline relationship-building techniques in the remote classroom setting as you would in the classroom. These include the following:

♦ Use students' names when you talk to them or call on them.

♦ Actively listen to their stories.

♦ Acknowledge all responses and questions.

♦ Build on what you learn from students by sharing stories, interests, and worries.

♦ Understand students' expressions and look into the reasons behind their current mood.

♦ Paraphrase their message, when appropriate.

Virtual Office Hours

Hold virtual office hours once a week. The virtual hours can be an opportunity for students to talk regarding questions, concerns, and feedback and to share something that happened during their day.

The importance of relationship building is essential in the development of a successful remote classroom. Remember that your students want to know YOU and will remember the way you made them feel. To develop a relationship with the student, make time for personal connections by setting up one-on-one meetings. Individualized meetings show students that you care and value the relationship. Don't forget to offer the same level of respect in the remote classroom as you would in person, and most importantly, smile and have fun!

• Jr* Success Story


Stephanie, a third-grade teacher in Massachusetts, adds some fun to build relationships with students.

At the beginning of the year, Stephanie meets with each of her students' parents. She asks them to give her two or three triviastyle questions about their child. She then creates a trivia game (remotely through Kahoot!), and all the students get to learn about each other through the trivia questions and answers provided by the parents. The students have a blast and get to know each other. The games are fun, build a positive classroom community, and improve the remote relationships between the students in her class and herself. This activity sets the tone for the school year, and she immediately gets to know her students. Stephanie also refers to the information provided to her through the parents in individual connections with students.

w Quick Tips From Educators

Maria, a fifth-grade inclusion teacher from New Hampshire, recommends spending 15 minutes each morning working on a growth mindset that emphasizes courage, gratefulness, and forgiveness. She teaches her students how to work through stress by using brave breaths and relaxing their bodies. She uses a program called Choose

Love created by Scarlett Lewis. There is no cost to access the curriculum, and it is designed to teach students how to choose love in any circumstance creating a safe and connected school culture.

Michelle, a high school special education teacher from California, recommends constant communication. Michelle uses the Remind App to check in with students. The Remind App allows effective communication between teachers and students by sending messages directly to the student's phone as a text message. Since most high school students frequently use their phones, this app is a direct communication tool with her students without giving them her phone number.

Sheri, a high school special education vocational coordinator from Massachusetts, recommends being overly supportive and slowly building trust. She recommends superficial conversation starters by looking at the surrounding space captured through video conferencing. Using background visuals, ask questions to get to know your students, and slowly build from there. Sheri explained that many students could be closed off and unwilling to share. Still, if you start small without prying, you can eventually build strong connections. The questions can be as generic as I noticed a red couch in the background. Do you like the color red? Sometimes they can offer insights into their world, and you can ask clarifying questions to create a connection.

■©■ HighlightedResource has printable resources that promote partnerships with families and are available at no cost for educators to download and use in their remote classrooms. has a series called Back-to-School for Educators: Start With Relationships that includes articles, printable, and other valuable resources. The web address is here:


2 Relationships are important! The power of relationship building builds trust within your classroom, creates a feeling of belonging, and in turn, can increase achievement and learning.

■J You can develop and establish a relationship with your students by collecting information about your students. Keep collected information as a reference to refer to all year.

  • 2 Follow in-person relationship-building strategies and apply them to the remote classroom, such as using students' names when you talk to them or call on them.
  • 2 Build a classroom community through opportunities to highlight similarities and differences among students.

■J Make time to meet, talk, and connect one-on-one with students.

■J Actively listen and build upon what students share with you.

■J Students want to know all about YOU - share stories, interests, and worries.

■J Students will remember how you made them feel and the extra time you invested in them.

2 Smile and have fun!


Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1997).The teacher-child relationship and children's early school adjustment. Journal of School Psychology, 35(1), 61-79.! 0.1016/50022-4405(96)00029-5

Cook, C. R„ Fiat, A., Larson, M„ Daikos, C., Slemrod,!, Holland, E. A.,... & Renshaw, T. (2018). Positive greetings at the door: Evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3}, 149-159. htt ps://d oi. org/10.1177/1098300717753831

Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-centered teacher-student relationships are effective: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 77, 113-143.

Hughes, J., & Cao, Q. (2017). Trajectories of teacher-student warmth and conflict at the transition to middle school: Effects on academic engagement and achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 67, 148-162.! 0.1016/J.jsp.2017.10.003

Lee, S. J. (2012). The effects of the teacher-student relationship and academic press on student engagement and academic performance. International Journal of Educational Research, 53, 330-340. https://

Quaglia, R. J., & Corso, M. J. (2014). Student voice. Pump it up. Principal Leadership, 1,28.

Tsai, S.-F., & Cheney, D. (2012). The impact of the adult-child relationship on school adjustment for children at risk of serious behavior problems. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 20(2), 105-114. https://doi.Org/10.1177/1063426611418974

Vollet, J., Kindermann, T, & Skinner, E. (2017). In peer matters, teachers matter: Peer group influences on students'engagement depend on teacher involvement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109, 635-652.! 0.1037/edu0000172


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