How to Build Strong Teacher-Student Relationships at a Distance

A child’s relationship with their teacher is critical for successful learning.  The quality of this relationship affects:

  • Attention
  • Motivation
  • Comfort
  • Feeling seen and understood
  • Getting what you need to succeed

But how can teachers and students bond online?

Here are 3 steps to cultivating a strong relationship with teachers during distance learning, so that your student stays engaged and motivated this year.

1. Send your teacher an intro letter

Teachers want to know their students!  This makes it easier to teach, and to respond when things are challenging.  However, they may not have all the time they’d like for individualized check-ins.
Sometime within the first few weeks, help your child write the teacher an email or letter. Include information about how they learn, what they need, and anything else they’d like to share. This letter gives the teacher a chance to get to know the student and their “voice.”  It also sets the frame for the relationship they will develop over time.

Not sure what to write? Use this template:

This is a great opportunity to share about any learning differences, to share what will be most helpful, and avoid a lot of stress that can come up when a student is not supported appropriately.
By writing a letter, your child is giving the teacher an opportunity to read this information at their leisure and respond thoughtfully, which will mean the world to your child – no matter how old they are – and further solidify that critical relationship.

If you are a provider working with students with special needs, crafting a letter like this together is also a chance to teach effective self-advocacy skills.

2. Make it easy to contact the teacher

Students may have difficulty speaking up during class time, organizing their thoughts for an email, or finding the courage to reach out to a teacher. 

During in-person school, they may not have had to do any of these things; a teacher may have approached them, or they may have been able to get the teacher’s attention just with their body language.  This won’t work online. 

These strategies may help:

First, ask each teacher for the following information, and post it somewhere visible in your child’s workspace:

  • What are the best ways to get in touch with you?
  • When is the best time to reach you?
  • How long will it typically take to get an answer?

Second, help your child develop a habit of checking in regularly.  Many teachers will have “office hours,” and others may be open to a short weekly check in.

Finally, create sentence frames or templates for reaching out to the teacher in a professional manner (even for young children).  Since many students have not had to communicate with their teachers in this way before, they may simply not know how.  Give your child some specific wording to use when asking their question, such as opening the email with a greeting, and closing with an appreciation.

3. Show your face

Relationships are built on nonverbal cues, including subtleties in expression and body language.  In the online world we miss out on a lot of this.  

Look for opportunities to spend time face-to-face with the teacher.  This may be in small groups, during “office hours”, or by arranging a time to check in one-to-one when possible.  

While many teachers are requiring cameras to be on during class time, this is not the same as looking directly at another person.  In addition, some students may be very uncomfortable on camera during large-group sessions, and may need an accommodation to turn off their camera so they can focus.  

Connecting face-to-face may be challenging depending on the situation, but finding new ways to do so will pay off exponentially.

Bonus Tools

Instead of writing, make a short video!

For some students, making a video may be much easier than writing down their question or thoughts.  The easier it is to communicate with a teacher, the easier it will be to get their needs met.  In addition, it’s a great way to show their personality!

You can use your phone or a tool like Loom.   Loom is a free tool that lets your child record their screen, their voice, and their face at the same time, so they can share thoughts easily.  When the recording is done, a link to the video is automatically copied to the clipboard so you can share it easily.

Your child can use this tool to record their introduction letter, or as a way to ask a quick question about an assignment over the course of the year.  I recommend keeping any videos to 2 minutes or less.

Online Learning Recommendations List

In case you missed it, here is the previous post on recommendations for online learning.

I hope this helps!  Good luck to everyone this year – students, teachers, and parents.  We will get past this together, and come out the other side with a bunch of new skills!