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Building Relationships in a Virtual School Setting

Building relationships in the world today has become an increasing concern for the scientific, mental health, and educational community for a few decades now.  As we experienced the intellectual hastening into, technology literally at our fingertips, it quickly became apparent that communication, socialization, and relationship building skills were about to take a massive swing like an overzealous wrecking ball on demolition day.

This shift in communication meant that as adults of a previous generation that learned to get to know one another over a pack of gum, a handful of textbooks, and a locker would suddenly find ourselves having to wrap their heads around the idea of getting to know someone without having to compare acne scars.  Regardless of our fears, generation techy has forced our hand. We either learn to view the world through their iridescent glasses or find ourselves in a generational gulf that will swallow us up like Jonah in the belly of the whale carrying us into a vast sea of information from which we may never escape.

How do we overcome this fear?  How do we learn to build relationships in a virtual world?

An ongoing motto for On Track School has been, “communication is key.”  We do not hold this statement dear because we love talking on the phone endless hours of the day, but rather because we know and have always believed in the relationship building aspect of our job as an educating unit.  As a team, we have always felt that our first desire is to serve our students and their families. By doing this, we believe that we can build lasting relationships of honesty and trust. These alliances can be created by understanding and putting several old ideas back into place and mingling those ideas with new approaches to communication.

Shake Hands:

American journalist P.J. O’Rourke once said, “A firm, hearty handshake gives a good first impression, and you’ll never be forgiven if you don’t live up to it.”   Though nothing can truly replace the human and human contact of an old fashioned firm handshake in a virtual learning environment that initial contact with a student and parent can nearly make or break the bond between the educator and the learner.    There are a few tips that one can follow to make that first distance educator impression a good one.

  1. Be on time, virtually speaking.  Be sure that you introduce yourself to a new student and their family promptly.  You want them to be on time, so lead by example.
  2. Presentation and appearances matter. That’s right you should have a face that name.  Be sure to include a photo of yourself and hold a virtual meeting. When students can connect a name, a voice, and face with a teacher you suddenly become real rather than a name next to the course list.
  3. Be yourself.  Let’s face it; you are trying to “fit in” but this does not mean you have to pretend to be someone that you’re not. Be true to yourself, in doing so you become more confident, you can build trust, and you earn respect and integrity from the students you serve.
  4. Have a winning smile. Did you know that your smile can be heard through your voice?  That’s right if you are smiling when you speak to others whether they are looking at you or not they perceive a more positive and upbeat tone in your voice.
  5. Be positive.  No matter what you encounter, your attitude in any situation will play a part in determining the outcome. By projecting a positive attitude, even during times of criticism or uncomfortable situations, you are able to create a feeling of approachability and trust.
  6. Listen, be courteous, and attentive.  It goes without saying, good manners, along with a listening ear and attentive attitude goes a long way with first impressions.   Take time to remove distractions when getting to know your students. Turn of the television, mute your phone for a few and avoid talking to others in the background.   Your student deserves 100% of your attention, anything less and you may cause them to feel less important.

Call Them Up:

I know what you are thinking, generation long-telephone cords that stretch to the next room, how am I supposed to do that?  Well, think about it, will you? That phone cord you dragged from room to room would still call overseas. Not only that but the phones now have cameras like on the Jetsons. Bet you never saw that coming?

That’s right, you are living in a beautiful time of technological advancement.  Remember, you need to get to know your student, but they also need to get to know you. You have a world of communication technology at your fingertips. Phone, text messaging, Facetime, Google meets, the list goes on and on like that can of sticky string in your hair after the homecoming game.

Engage in small talk.  You heard it here! People need conversations with a little give and take.  Have some prepared questions that you can use to get to know your student a bit better.  For instance, do you play video games? If so, what kind? Do you like ice cream? What hobbies do you enjoy?  Find out what you have in common and use that to your advantage.

Hangout by the watercooler:

Okay, not literally speaking, but if your students know you are accessible and approachable, they will come to you when they need help.  Be sure that students know you are available to them. The only way to do this is to create an atmosphere of communication and trust. To do this, they must hear from you.  So don’t be that teacher who hides behind the desk with your head down, turn your camera on and make virtual eye contact. Be that teacher who offers that virtual handshake, a smile that can be heard across the airways, and get to know your avatar generation.

Rather than being afraid of the changing world around us, embrace it.   Students who may have struggled in the past to obtain a high school diploma or who may have never had the opportunity to attend college now have abundant opportunities due to the growing availability of the online educational platform.  You are at the heart of this growth, and you are here to see them succeed.

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