Building Relationships: How to Connect from a DistancePhoto: Faculty Focus
Unlike spring 2020 when we shifted to remote teaching after students and faculty had the chance to know each other, this semester students will be arriving in our online classroom unfamiliar with the faculty, campus, or both. So, I expect the big challenge this fall will be building relationships with students.
Relationship building is critical to improving student learning (Webb and Barrett, 2014), yet it is hard work. Negative feelings about students may creep up from time to time, so we must start the relationship process by working on ourselves, and reflecting on our role as a teacher by examining how our personal and cultural experiences inform our teaching practices and biases of students (Patton, 2016). We must also appreciate the multiple intersecting identities students bring to the classroom and support them with a curriculum that affirms and embraces diversity (Mahiri, 2017). Concurrently, as a writing teacher, I draw from CCCC’s rationale on online writing instruction that students are motivated to learn when there’s a sense of belonging in the classroom. I also draw from faculty in SF State’s Writing Program who have researched undergraduate writers (Soliday and Trainor, 2016). Based on their research, students thrive when their writing courses maximize student engagement and agency, focus on students’ emerging identities, and provide welcoming pathways into academic communities. All of these principles underpin my teaching practice and have guided me to incorporate student connections in thoughtful ways.
What follows are three approaches for making connections to build relationships. The word “connect” means different things to different people; for me, connecting with students embodies a model of care, such as treating students with respect, making them feel welcome, and responding with compassion. When students know we care, they are more likely to reciprocate, and when they do, relationships are formed...
Lastly, I take a social approach to building a trusting environment. When we were face-to-face, our presence was immediate with organic interactions, like greetings and small chats, reacting to a phone drop, freaking out over a buzzing mosquito, or turning to a neighbor for help. We can’t recreate these moments online, but we can show our presence in other meaningful ways. For example, we can open our online class with a “question of the day” that asks students to share a piece of themselves each week—their interest, talents, pets, playlist, upbringing, friends, family, social media, identities, future goals—and by the end of the semester, we come to see each other as a whole person.
Source: Faculty Focus