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What are the best ways to improve communication with your students? This is a particularly vexing topic for online teachers, as we aren’t in a classroom setting with our students and often never actually meet them in person. .

Communication is key to student success. Study after study has shown that students need to communicate with their teacher and feel that they have the right and opportunity to express themselves.

Let’s take a look at the best ways for online teachers to keep an open channel and be accessible – while still keeping the necessary distance.

Be proactive in your communication

Consider each interaction with students as a step. Every time you communicate, you and the student are taking the next step in your relationship.

This is good – unless you are stepping in the wrong direction. Always keep in mind the influence you have on your students. This is most true when a student is young and easily influenced.

The ultimate goal should be to look back at each interaction and feel that it was positive. Even if the student was upset, or you had to be firm and say no to a request.

The long-term result should leave a positive mark on the student’s future.

Put time into your syllabus

The old standby for many teachers and instructors, a syllabus should serve as a reference point for student FAQs, long before they ever come to you with questions.

At the start of a course, or at the onset of lessons for those working one-on-one with students, provide a syllabus with detailed expectations for each assignment or milestone.

Allow time for clarification of questions or misunderstandings, of course, but once a student has the syllabus, they essentially have the golden ticket to their success. It also saves you the hassle of answering the same question over and over.

Give all students the chance to express themselves

If you lead online group lessons, be sure that you aren’t allowing one or two students to hog the talking time.

Of course, there will always be shy students just like there will be those who are quick to make their thoughts known. But communication is vital to learning.

A student who simply sits there without speaking or asking questions may not actually be absorbing as much information as those who actively participate in the lesson.

Actively communicate what is expected of them

One of the more common complaints from poorly performing students is that they often feel that they aren’t sure what exactly is expected of them.

NPR notes that students who feel confident in knowing what they need to do perform much better than students who don’t.

In this light, I recommend using multiple channels to let students know what they need to do.

Keep an active and updated website

In this day and age, I encourage all teachers and instructors to make their syllabus available as a PDF online. Additionally, websites themselves can serve as a reference point for teacher-student communication.

Post your office hours. Keep an updated blog of happenings.

Some may find it helpful to embed their Twitter feed into their website (this is simple to do with WordPress, Wix, and Squarespace).

If you use Twitter for work-related info and communication, embedding the feed into your site allows students to easily stay abreast of the latest.

Also, post office hours and hours when you are available to promptly reply to emails. This info can should also be listed in your syllabus.

Embrace digital tools

Your students are tech-savvy. You need to keep up! I don’t encourage accepting friend requests from active students.

The same is true for former students unless they are of age and no longer connected to your work. That said, there are tools at your disposal.

Twiducate is an incredible resource for teacher-student communication. This free service is basically a social network for the classroom.

Assignments can be discussed, questions asked and answered, deep conversations had – all in a closed network.

The goal of Twiducate is to keep teacher-student communication in one place, help it to flow easily, and keep it trackable.

How to improve communication with students:  the bottom line

We’ll close with an important thing to remember. Students should always view you as a professional. The relationship should never cross the line into personal.

This holds true in most cases even after a student moves on. When writing an email, comment, or note on an assignment, always maintain your earned authority.

Keep it quick and to the point – there should be no room for confusion or misinterpretation.

Have any tips for communicating with students, or examples you’d like to share? Feel free to leave them in the comments here.

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