Building Positive School Relationships in an Online Setting
Connections with new students, families, and staff are an essential part of setting up the school year for success. There are a few basic exercises that teachers and administrators can engage in to help build those positive school relationships in an online setting.
Face to Face introductions in a Zoom or a Hangout are a perfect time to build virtual relationships, if you plan for the pleasantries and introductions as part of each interaction. Build this time into the agenda, and give participants the format: (What is the question, how will you call on people, how long do they have to talk?) so they are prepared, when it is their turn. Keep the questions simple and universal. Some of my favorites examples that work with kids and adults alike are: 1. What is your favorite candy? 2. Do you have any hidden talents? You can also use virtual response outlets (polls, breakouts, Chat comments) for those who are too shy to speak up while online, but who still want to build connections and find similar ground in virtual meetings. Once you start getting to know people, you can move those startup conversations to more personal or content-driven topics, but don’t underestimate the value of taking the time online in class or a meeting to break the ice; just like you would do in person!
Email tone is such a difficult thing to navigate when you cannot see the other person’s immediate response to what you are saying. There are a few simple tools you can use to ensure that your tone by email or virtual classroom platform is not misconstrued. First, always address the person you are talking to directly by name in your greeting. Emails should be brief, but if you take the greeting out, then you have forgotten the people and moved directly to the business and changed the tone of the interaction. Also, emojis, memes, and comical images are a great way to lighten the mood, if you are sending a heavy information load by email. Free programs like www.Grammarly.com can help you identify when tone in an email may not be exactly what you intended.
Real-time chats and virtual discussion boards like Hangouts, Google Classroom, Group Me, and even while in a Zoom call are a great way to turn virtual communication into synchronous, real-time interaction, and can be a fun way to reach out and connect with others, without having to send a formal email or make a call. These interactions are super brief, and should be limited to sending a shout out or asking a quick question, but are still a great way to feel like you are engaging with another person and to get a quick turn around on response time.
Social Media Outlets are another way to build relationships and share information with education colleagues from a distance, but take special care and caution when setting up age-appropriate social media options with students. Certain student-friendly sites like Bedtimemath.org or the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum offer social media options that you can share/follow together with students to build common ground and improve relationships. You should always check with your school guidelines for social media interactions with students to make sure your plans are in line with your district values and expectations.
Pick up the phone. Never respond to a conflict with another educator or family of a student by email. The relationship is worth picking up the phone and taking the time to investigate the issue and try to resolve it. Nine times out of ten, the result will be better via a live conversation than it would be risking a misinterpretation of what you are saying due to the digital divide.
Building positive relationships in an online setting can be challenging, but it is worth the investment. The most important thing to remember is that it is always a person behind the email or the video screen, and you want to treat them virtually with the respect, dignity, and grace you would offer them if they were in-person, right there in front of you. Trust me, relationships matter (with kids and adults) in schools. It is not easy, but ours kids are worth it.
---Dr. Cook :)