Building and Maintaining Strong Student Relationships Remotely

“Building relationships with students is by far the most important thing a teacher can do. Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen.” – Timothy Hilton

Those who work in education know that student success is measured by more than achieved grades. Research suggests that social-emotional factors, such as student relationships with teachers and peers, impact learning (Becker & Luthar, 2002; Durlak, 2015; Osher et al. 2008).

The current COVID-19 pandemic has propelled educators around the world into a new teaching and learning environment. Many educators are and will be teaching outside of their classroom walls in technology-enabled settings, hybrid or online, to adhere to social distancing requirements. Amid all the changes and unknowns associated with preparing a classroom during this time, it’s critical to focus on the social and emotional needs of our students too.

We understand the challenges that lie ahead in the current and next academic year, especially for educators who may meet their students for the first time from a distance. However, with slight modifications to Turnitin’s teaching toolbox, you can develop new ways to reach your students.

Here are some strategies for building and maintaining strong student relationships in remote learning environments:

Tips for Building Relationships with Students Remotely

Offer opportunities for students to share about themselves

Create opportunities where students are able to get to know each other – and share about themselves. Ask students to create a short introductory video; post a paragraph and photo in a discussion forum; add to an “About the class” wiki page, or choose another participatory media for the task. Look for opportunities for students to personalise their technology presence, such as designing an avatar or creating a custom background for video conferencing. Not only will students feel more connected, but you will also gain a better understanding of your students’ backgrounds and interests.

Show your face and share your stories

Let students get to know you. This can be facilitated by letting them see you and also through sharing your stories. Share your face when communicating via live video streaming, photos, or recorded videos. If you aren’t meeting live every day/week, consider recording a video of yourself explaining the daily/weekly activities. Look for opportunities to replace (or add to) textual feedback on assignments with video or audio. Students will feel more engaged and invested in school, the more they get to see, hear, and know you.

Build a virtual classroom “space”

Regardless of the classroom website platform of choice – Learning Management System (LMS), or Google Classroom – choose a “space” where you can build a virtual classroom. Identify features that facilitate a classroom community feel. This would include features like file sharing, discussions, messaging, or blogs. Students will develop a sense of belonging when they engage in activities that contribute to the space. The virtual space needs to become a “homebase” where students can communicate with both you as an educator and each other.

Have a presence and establish a routine

Create a sense of normalcy by following a routine that becomes familiar with students. Share your schedule in advance and stick to it as best as you can. Developing routines around a schedule will help students with what to expect each week, giving them some peace of mind. For example, you could start each day with a morning video message, then pose lunchtime questions, or send daily emails. Try your best to respond to questions and provide feedback quickly. Whichever format works for you, it is important to build a presence into daily routines, so that students know you’re there.

Tips for Maintaining Relationships with Students Remotely

Host informal meet-ups with students

Organise regular meet-ups that aren’t focused on academics. Informal virtual gatherings open the door to maintaining strong relationships. It gives you a chance to hear what’s going on with your students in a comfortable setting. Think of hosting virtual lunches, lounge hours, or spirit days. Any opportunity or event where students are allowed to just talk – this is considered time well spent.

Check-in with students frequently

Make sure to schedule opportunities to check in with students on a one-on-one basis. This can be moved off online platforms and could simply be a phone call or a video phone call. Perhaps set Thursday afternoons aside as a reserved time for one-on-one meetings! Choose a medium that works best for you and your students.

Consistently connect with students via feedback

Choose your method for providing feedback – and be consistent and frequent with feedback. This is integral when it comes to maintaining relationships with students. Find educational technology tools that allow you to annotate assignments easily and share them with your students. When you have the correct tools in place, you’ll be able to provide more feedback on a regular basis.

In all that you do, show that you care 

As you are preparing your classroom for next term or for next year be intentional to be human first in all your activities. Your students need to know you care – in everything you do – and that their learning matters.  Sure, education may look a little different, but, with the right tools and the right mindset, you can reach your students and have an impact, even in a remote setting.

Learn how Turnitin’s Feedback Studio can help you with your remote learning journey, find more tools here:



Becker, B. E., & Luthar, S. S. (2002). Social-emotional factors affecting achievement outcomes among disadvantaged students: Closing the achievement gap. Educational psychologist, 37(4), 197-214.

Durlak, J. A. (Ed.). (2015). Handbook of social and emotional learning: Research and practice. Guilford Publications.

Osher, D., Sprague, J., Weissberg, R. P., Axelrod, J., Keenan, S., Kendziora, K., & Zins, J. E. (2008). A comprehensive approach to promoting social, emotional, and academic growth in contemporary schools. Best practices in school psychology, 4, 1263-1278.

This article was adapted from the following blog post on Turnitin’s Website: