Teacher-student relationships

According to the survey, from the student point of view, the top five elements for building a positive and functional relationship with their teacher in an online learning environment are as follows.

1. Introductions 
97% state that it is important the teacher introduces themself.  

2. Caring teacher  
94% say that it helps if the teacher shows they care about the students’ wellbeing. 

3. Happy to help  
90% hope that the teacher is happy to help. 

4. Personalized feedback  
90% hope that the teachers give personalized feedback. 

5. Personal stories 
86% want to get to know the teacher as a person.  

What does it mean?  

For the teacher to introduce themself by stating their name at the beginning of the course is the bare minimum, but according to students, that’s not enough. What the students want is to get to know the teacher as a person.  

What do the students find helpful?  

“Oli mukavaa, kun opettaja kertoi itsestään jotain inhimillisiä ja tavallisia asioita.” [It was nice when the teacher told something relatable and ordinary about themself.]  

“When the teacher was super talkative and shared a lot about herself.” 

Practical tips: 

Share something of your personal life with your students. This can take place in the introduction or throughout the course. Don’t shy away from appearing human. Admitting weaknesses and mistakes makes a teacher more approachable and more sincere in the students’ eyes. Explore your personal comfort zone when it comes to sharing. If you are a very private person, think in advance of things to share and allow yourself to get a little uncomfortable, if needed. 

In asynchronous courses, consider using an introduction video recorded in a place other than at work or a photograph of yourself doing something you enjoy to let students get to know you better.  

What does it mean? 

A caring teacher actively checks upon the students and their wellbeing, making sure that everyone is up to speed and knows what to do next, as well as ensures good teamwork and solves problems, if they arise. Additional features of a caring teacher are inclusivity, availability, and flexibility. A caring teacher also makes sure that the course workload is appropriate.  

What do the students find helpful? 

“During the classes it is nice to see the teacher asking and checking if everything is going okay for everyone.” 

“For a group presentation, the teacher made frequent contact, seemed genuinely interested in our work, and was very supportive.” 

Practical tips:  

Make regular contact with your students and remind them of your availability and willingness to help. 

Encourage chitchat and informal exchange of thoughts and feelings. Listen to the students, be on the lookout for potential problems, and be quick to solve them. Digital tools such as Mentimeter can be used to easily check-in with all students and show that you are interested and prepared to help. 

In asynchronous courses, it can be a good idea to send weekly messages and to include some kind of check-in component as part of the course structure, for example “exit tickets” at the end each module/unit.  In addition, you caring about the students may be more effectively conveyed through video or audio messages than only written ones since smiling and tone of voice can be used to strengthen this message. 

What does it mean? 

Many students are reluctant to ask teachers for help in online environments, which is why it becomes crucial for teachers to early on and firmly demonstrate that they are available to the students, that they are happy to assist, and that they truly care about the students’ wellbeing. 

What do the students find helpful? 

Most students find it important that the teacher is helpful. What makes it hard to build a relationship with the  teacher is: 

“With classes being online the step to ask for help and build a relationship with the teacher is bigger, it’s so much easier IRL to walk up to the teacher after class to ask questions for example.” 

“If the teacher does not reply to your email for instance, it makes you feel that they do not care or are willing to help you.” 

Practical tips: 

Frequently remind students of your availability and how/where they can reach you. Make sure students feel you really are happy to help. Communicate with the students outside of official class time and lessons. Respond to students’ messages and offer opportunities to meet outside of class hours. 

In asynchronous courses, your willingness to help may be more effectively conveyed through video or audio messages than only written ones since smiling and tone of voice can be used to strengthen the message. 

What does it mean? 

Personalized feedback naturally aims at helping students to improve their performance, work output, and skills. However, especially in online settings, personalized feedback and/or feedback sessions also help bridging the distance and make students feel less alone, offer support, and ensure progress, thus essentially contributing to a more positive course experience and increased wellbeing for both teachers and students. 

What do the students find helpful? 

Most students find it valuable to receive personalized feedback. What makes it hard to build a relationship with the teacher is: 

“If you never get feedback or only get ‘good job’ (no explanation on what was good, what was bad / need to work on etc.), [it is hard to build a good relationship with the teacher].” 

“Få mindre personlig feedback på inlämningsuppgifter då läraren har lite tid och resurser att själv gå igenom alla inlämningar.” [Getting less personal feedback on assignments as the teacher has little time and resources to go through all the assignments themself.] 

Practical tips: 

Providing feedback for your students on their learning progress can also be an opportunity to check on their wellbeing, asking them how they are doing, or showing interest in their life and studies. By being positive, encouraging, and supportive, the teacher can make the students and their work feel valued.  

In synchronous teaching, plan well ahead to find the most effective timing and form for your feedback to avoid exhausting yourself. Not all feedback needs to be written. Offering (voluntary) oral feedback or tutoring sessions, for instance, which may be set up as online chats or communications by phone, may prove to be a more effective, tailored learning experience, as it creates an interactive context that gives students a chance to respond to comments or ask for clarification.  

In asynchronous teaching, giving audio or video feedback can personalize the students’ experience; it makes the teacher seem present and creates a sense of knowing the teacher.  

What does it mean? 

The teacher being willing to share something about themself makes it easier for students to get to know them, and thus, to build a relationship with them. Perhaps it is seen as contributing to a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. However, not all teachers are willing to share anecdotes from their personal lives.  

What do the students find helpful? 

Most students appreciate when the teacher shares personal stories with them. What makes it hard to build a relationship with the teacher is: 

“not knowing anything personal about the teacher” 

“if the teacher is passive, isn’t interested in students’ thoughts or doesn’t share anything about their own life (doesn’t have to be personal, but even a funny thing they’ve heard or seen relating to the moment in the lecture), it makes me harder to build any relationship with the teacher.” 

Practical tips: 

Consider sharing some facts or little anecdotes about yourself with your students. It can be personal, but it doesn’t have to be, if that doesn’t come naturally or feel comfortable – you decide. Turn it into a game, such as “weird facts about me”, and be the first one to state a weird fact!