Getting to Know Your Students in an Online School | 5 Awesome Ideas for Teachers 

 July 18, 2021

By  James Brauer

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It is a common misconception that virtual school teachers cannot get to know their students as well as they could in a traditional brick-and-mortar building. Virtual school teachers are experts at getting to know their students. They use various technological tools and approaches that help facilitate the process of building relationships with them, and as a virtual school administrator myself, I’ve learned some tricks over the years which have helped me get to know my own staff better too.

Communication Before the School Year Begins

As the school year begins, begin getting to know your students with communication. Start by getting email addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses for each student.

One-on-One Welcome Phone Call

Use meeting as an opportunity to:

  • gather basic demographic information from students (age, gender, grade level, etc.);
  • discuss their reasons for choosing your school and getting to know their expectations of what you can do for them;
  • help clear up any misconceptions they may have about online learning;
  • review getting started strategies so their first day of school is successful;
  • highlight important school- and grade-level rules or policies; and
  • schedule a day of week and time for future bi-weekly phone calls to check-in.

Use of Personalized Correspondence

Before the school year begins, send them a personalized letter of introduction. This could be a handwritten card in the mail, a typed letter, or a single-page PDF which included information about who you are, your role in the school, and what they can expect throughout the school year. As an added bonus, encourage students to drop you a note if they had any questions or concerns, or just wanted to say hello.

Set Up a Private Facebook Group for Students and Teachers

Before the school year kicks-off, you can set up a private Facebook group for you and your students. This will allow you to share information with your students in a way that is more comfortable or familiar to them, while also getting to know them better yourself. It is recommended that you provide notification to parents/guardians so they know it is optional. Additionally, you will likely want to get approval from your building administrator before launching this type of communication. Some school districts have strict rules governing social media communication between staff and students.

“Getting to know you” Activities

The first day, or week, of school could be intimidating for many students. This is a great time to focus on relationship-building and “getting to know you” activities. A few ideas, include:

Use a getting-to-know-you activity

Ask students questions about their summer activities, school year goals, hobbies, or other things that will help you understand them better.

Formal Projects Are a Great Way To Get To Know Your Students

Using formal projects as a way to both teach and learn about getting to know your students is an excellent idea. A few formal projects that could be used are:

Peer Interviews

In a peer interview, each student writes up 3 potential questions for another classmate. These questions should focus on getting to know who the person is and what they do in their own time. Students then choose which classmate they’d like to answer those self-chosen questions, collect the responses through Google Forms or by email, and compile all of their answers into one document. Ask your students if there are any privacy issues you may need to take into consideration before doing this project, so no concerns arise later on, especially if these interviews will be anonymous.

Guest Blogging

Have your students write blogs, or write their own guest blogs, about getting to know their classmates. This could be done in a group, with each student having an opportunity to contribute to each post, or it could be individualized so that each student writes all content for the blog themselves. If you use Google Sites as your school’s learning management system , you can create a template blog page and ask students to submit all work through the template itself. On this template page, there is plenty of room for students getting to know about getting to know each other!

Guest Tweeting

Have your students tweet at their classmates once they have been selected after completing your getting-to-know-you project (or select them yourself) and encourage them directly via Twitter to get in touch. Also, be sure to ask students who tweet at them to include a link to getting-to-know-you project so that they have access to the questions and answers.

Getting to know your students questionnaire

As a way to getting to know your students better, you can set up an anonymous questionnaire for the entire class or individualized ones that each student completes. Whether they are anonymous or named, these questionnaires can give you information about getting to know your students beyond what their online presence and chat interaction might tell you.

Ask questions such as What’s your favorite animal? or What’s the one thing you wish you could change about yourself?, getting to know students on a level that they’ll be more comfortable answering than getting to know their religious or political beliefs.

When getting to know student questionnaires, it is recommended that:

  • You ask questions in an honest and authentic way. Simply getting to know them will not be the only consideration, but getting to know who they are as an individual should also be a priority;
  • You remind students that if their name is on the paper, they should make sure it’s not easily recognized or identifiable in any way. Put no names on papers at all and have students answer questions about getting to know their classmates, getting to know you activities. Do not let students look at other’s papers as they answer;
  • You share the results with your students openly and honestly in a safe environment. While getting to know your students better will help you do this more effectively, getting to know them is also getting to know yourself better too. Finding out how to get to know your students better is getting to know yourself better.

Asking questions in a survey format for getting to know your students will not only give you information about getting to know them, but also enable you to plan activities and projects that will be meaningful and beneficial for getting to understand how they’re getting their feelings across during the entire process.

Virtual Chat Session Ice Breakers and Activities

Virtual chat sessions are a great way for getting to know your students. Have your students set up a schedule to meet and chat with each other regularly. Once you have this getting-to-know-you chat session organized, make sure that getting to know your students is one of the main focuses of the conversation (and keep it open ended and neutral). Encourage students to share things about getting to know their classmates on the getting to know them chat session.

Get creative with getting to know your students by getting into their heads and asking them questions that will help you get started on getting to know them better, such as What are you learning about me? or How can I get to know my students better? Questions like these will enable you to have a conversation with getting-to-know-you answers that will not only lead you to getting to know your students better, but getting to know yourself too.

The getting-to-know activity should be moderated, and getting to know activities such as “Jeopardy” or other games can help with getting to know your students by having them communicate with getting to know you getting to know your students better.

Set open office hours

As an online school teacher, it’s important to block-out specific time each week for students to be able to attend virtual open office hours. This time doesn’t need to be for tutoring or academic assistance, it can also be more social and focused on relationship-building. Virtual office hours can be set via Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime etc.

Virtual office hours serve as a great time to learn more about your students, while also providing them an opportunity to speak with you in a more private environment. It’s here that getting to know your students is a crucial aspect of getting to know yourself better.

Create a virtual open house

Most online schools will hold a formal orientation meeting for new students, or a virtual open house, for all students. This is a great opportunity for students, parents, and guardians to learn more about their child’s online learning environment. But, it’s a golden opportunity for virtual school teachers to learn about their students and families.

What Tips Do You Have?

I hope you’ve found this post helpful and enlightening. Getting to know your online students may seem like a challenging task, but it doesn’t have to be. I hope these ideas can help you get to know more about your students in a virtual school.

Do you have tips for getting to know your students better in a virtual school? Comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear your feedback!

James Brauer

James Brauer, an education veteran with a rich 20-year career, merges his diverse experiences in special education, alternative and virtual schooling, and education administration in his incisive blog posts. Now, as a high school teacher imparting knowledge in English, Drama, and Career Communications, he combines his scholarly acumen with real-world insights to delve into the depths of education, business, and personal development. Each piece is a testament to James' unwavering commitment to future-ready skills and his ability to frame complex ideas in an accessible, engaging manner. Join him as he navigates the evolving landscapes of these intersecting fields, always with an eye on the horizon of learning innovation.

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