Developing Positive Teacher–Student Relationships

Online learning is a new territory for you, your child and her teachers. With these smart tips, you can help your child forge a strong bond with her teachers to develop academically and socially.

By Susan Philip

Developing Positive Teacher–Student Relationships

It’s a normal school morning. Priya taps on her daughter’s shoulder to wake her up. Little Harini gets dressed, drinks milk and is ready for school. But Priya doesn’t leave home with Harini to catch the school bus—she just props up her iPad against a stand, settles Harini in front of it and signs in. Within minutes, a teacher appears online, wishing everyone a cheery “Good morning!”

Where’s Jyoti ma’am?” whines Harini. “I want to see her!”

Academic year 2020–21 began on a similar note for most children. Because of COVID-19, schools were closed. But, when they transitioned to digital learning, children started 'attending school' from home thanks to various technologies—Google Classrooms, Google Meet, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. And like Harini, they have to adjust to new teachers. As you grapple with the nitty-gritty of online classes, helping your child connect to her teachers may not be high on your priority list. But, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed during the pandemic, it’s the importance of establishing positive connections between teachers and students.

Benefits of teacher–student relationships

As parents, you need to build positive teacher–student connections so that your child:

  • performs well academically
  • achieves emotional well-being
  • develops social intelligence

Learning at home means you still have to establish a routine so that your child is dressed and ready for his online classes. When your child’s teachers see you supporting him, it’s only natural that they would support your child to accomplish his best. So where do you start?

1. Supervise your child’s online classes

Parents of young children
Needless to say, your involvement depends on your child’s age. The younger the child, the greater the parental supervision required to ensure that he benefits from online classes.

In an interview to ‘ParentCircle’, Mrs N, the vice-principal of a reputed school, said her institution has asked parents to sit with younger children in the initial days of online classes to facilitate familiarisation. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, she admits that establishing a student–teacher rapport through online classes isn’t easy. “In a traditional classroom, it’s easy to spot children who are inattentive, and help them. In online classrooms, however, one has to scroll constantly to identify the distracted child. Also, the teacher normally picks up cues from the body language of the class on whether she’s being understood, and can modify her teaching accordingly. This is not easily done online.”

Priya attends online classes with Harini because she knows she has to keep a close eye on her. Her presence helps Harini focus and also adjust to the new experience. As Harini’s teacher can only meet her little students virtually, Priya’s willing to go the extra mile to create a bond between Harini and her teacher. She takes care not to interrupt the class, and the teacher is assured of Priya’s support.

TIP: Attend online classes if your child’s very young. But avoid interfering with the teacher’s effort. Doing so will not only distract other students, but also prejudice the teacher against you and your child.

Parents of pre-teens and early teens
Parental support is necessary initially for even pre-teens,” says Reena George, whose 9-year-old daughter Suzanne has started Class 4. She set up an account for Suzanne to attend online classes, and familiarised her daughter with the relevant apps. Now, Suzanne needs only minimal guidance. Reena advises parents against constant monitoring because it may hamper teacher–student relations and adversely affect the child’s development. “You don’t go to school with your child and sit in her class, right?” says Reena. “Then why should you remain with her while she attends online school?”

TIP: Avoid constantly supervising pre-teens and early teens, as both teachers and students could feel intimidated and self-conscious.

Parents of senior students
Senior students clearly don’t want their parents attending the online sessions with them. “Most senior students are familiar with their teachers, so bonds are already established. But these children can disrupt the classes or get distracted,” says Anita Nair whose child Arjun is in Class 12. So keep the monitoring subtle, and if you spot discipline or attention issues, handle them sensitively, outside the common platform. When teachers see your child trying to cooperate, it creates the right atmosphere for positive teacher–student relationships.

TIP: Mrs N says parents can explain to older children that online classes are hard for the teacher to conduct and control, and so they should cooperate with their teachers.

2. Appreciate teachers’ effort and seek guidance

Parents of younger children
Most parents of younger children are happy with the teachers for providing interesting and interactive content. “The teachers have done an amazing job. They’ve created engaging content by using animation and augmented reality. The children love it ... they’re grasping concepts easily,” says Reena.

TIP: Check out the resources uploaded by the teachers. Also, praise their hard work, giving specific examples. Your child’s respect for her teachers will increase and what’s more, she’ll enjoy learning. This is sure to increase her bonding with her teachers.

Parents of senior students
Why does Manju ma’am talk so much?” asks Arjun. “I feel sleepy.” Anita looked at the math that Arjun was trying to solve, and found it unfamiliar. Unfazed, she did some research and discovered plenty of resources online. Anita encouraged Arjun to visit these sites and enhance his knowledge, instead of falling into the habit of criticising his teachers. She also encouraged him to reach out to his teacher. Arjun was surprised at his teacher’s willingness to guide him. On her part, the teacher liked his proactive approach, and the mutual comfort level has now increased.

TIP: The CBSE and government websites provide content support for both students and teachers, so use these resources. And teach your child to ask for guidance when necessary.

3. Take interest in your child’s homework

In some ways, online classrooms work just like traditional classrooms. A student still needs to turn in homework. Some teachers believe homework is the only way they can check whether the children understand the lessons being taught. When children are irregular with homework, it becomes harder for teachers to help them. Teachers, therefore, want parents to ensure that their children comply with homework requirements. “

Follow the instructions given by the teachers

” is Reena’s advice.

Also, when your child struggles to understand some concepts, don’t blame the teachers in front of your child. It creates disrespect and makes it harder to establish a teacher–student rapport. If you think your older child needs extra help with academics, explore online tuitions. When your child is able to understand the lessons, he’ll like the subject and the teacher, and a positive teacher–student bond is facilitated.

TIP: Take an active interest in your child’s homework. You can even ask his teachers how you should be involved in his learning. They’ll only be happy to help your child do better.

4. Help your child navigate technology

Currently, the vital link between your child and her teachers is technology. Parents of primary schoolers, who were trying to keep their children away from gadgets, are now handing over their iPads, laptops and smartphones to the little ones. Provide your child with a computer, laptop or smartphone and a working internet connection. Also, help your child understand how to use these resources.

Samyukta realised that her son Ayyan prefers touchscreen to mouse. So, mother and son use a smartphone for online classes. When your child can handle the technology, he pays better attention and responds better, and the confidence makes him more interested in what the teacher’s saying.

Also, check if your child needs headphones to reduce background sounds. When Suzanne hears her papa talking to her mom, she tries to listen in. And when she hears the pressure cooker’s whistle, she forgets her lesson and wonders what’s cooking. To help Suzanne focus better, Reena bought her earphones. Now, she can concentrate on what is being taught, and establish a better connect with her teacher.

Older children being adept at technology, there’s a lurking danger of trolling and other such issues. Most schools, including Mrs N’s, have activated security measures. But sometimes, things could go wrong. “So parents need to be aware of these possibilities and stay alert,” says Anita.

TIP: Familiarise yourself with the learning platforms used for classes. This will help you troubleshoot when tech problems crop up. Also, don’t shy away from keeping an eye on your older child’s online activities during classes.

5. Don’t forget food

Millie Aggarwal, mom to two schoolchildren (classes 8 and 12), is particular about nutrition. Classes start at 8:30 a.m. for both children, and continue till 1:30 p.m. for her younger child and 2:45 p.m. for the older one. She ensures that they have a good breakfast, gives them snacks at regular intervals and sees to it that they have a nourishing lunch.

TIP: Ensure that your child has her meals on time. Regular intake of healthy food will keep your child alert during online classes. Naturally teachers will appreciate students who are attentive and responsive.

6. Provide feedback to schools

During online classes, children have to wait their turn to get their questions answered. Sometimes, the allotted time on the app isn’t sufficient to address all questions. The good news is teachers are always there to support the children. Millie vouches for this: “

Sometimes, a teacher can’t answer all the queries in the class because of the sheer number of questions. So they answer via emails. A few teachers are taking classes in the weekends to make up lost time

.”

If your child has joined a new school or needs special attention from teachers, in the current situation, it’s easier for you to contact teachers directly and foster a bond. Meanwhile, schools are reaching out to parents, asking for suggestions on how to mentor students better.

TIP: Respond to your school’s attempt to establish a partnership. This will motivate the teachers and enhance student–teacher relations.

Of course, all the benefits of face-to-face student–teacher interactions cannot be reaped virtually. And bonding will require your patience. Remember, when you help your child bond with her teacher, you’re helping your child achieve her full potential.

In a Nutshell

  • The new online learning scenario warrants parents taking a more hands-on approach to their child’s education. Ensure that your child has the right technology and knows how to use it for best results.
  • Parents need to monitor their children’s online class participation, tailoring the level of supervision to the child’s age and needs.
  • It would be smart of parents to focus on positives than on negatives. Appreciating the teachers’ effort will make your child more ready to adapt to the changed scenario and respond positively, thus strengthening the teacher–student relationship.
  • Implicitly following the school’s guidelines regarding parental responsibilities and ensuring that your child meets the stipulated requirements will do wonders for the student–teacher bond.

What you could do right away

  • Set up a routine—meal time, bath time, study time and bedtime—so that your child gets the feel of a 'normal' school day and is triggered to respond positively to the teacher.
  • Never criticise or belittle a teacher in your child’s hearing.
  • If you have concerns, either about academics or about how your child’s relationship with the teacher is affecting his performance, ask for a one-to-one with the teacher to discuss the issue.
  • Talk to your child about virtual classes, get her to open up about her feelings and gently reassure her that bonding with her teacher will happen, with patience, time and effort.

About the author:
Written by Susan Philip on 7 August 2020.
Susan, mother to a promising lawyer and an upcoming engineer, believes in empowering her children to be the best that they can be. In a career spanning more than two decades of both online and print-based writing and editing, she has worked for the PTI, UNDP and WAN-IFRA. She also functions as Editorial Coordinator for book projects.

About the expert:
Reviewed by Meghna Singhal, PhD, on 7 August 2020.
Dr Singhal is the Manager, Global Content Solutions at ParentCircle. She has a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from NIMHANS (Bangalore) and holds a post-doctorate in parenting from the University of Queensland (Australia)
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