Relationship building in the online classroom: Stories from 6 educators

When the spread of coronavirus forced families to stay at home, the education system went through a complete upheaval and had to push all learning to take place remotely. This posed a challenge for teachers who relied on that time spent in person with their students to build relationships and engage them with class material. Suddenly, they had to get creative with digital tools like Prezi Video and find new ways to maintain relationships digitally in online classrooms. 

Many school districts are planning on continuing remote education or hybrid models as the new school year starts. For many teachers, this will be the first time that they won’t be meeting their students in person on the first day of school — they’ll be forging bonds with students online and will have to maintain those relationships through the school year, or at least the foreseeable future. 

Prezi Video is an online learning and presentation tool that helps bring your online classroom to life while still providing the opportunity for teachers to personally connect with their students through video. Read on for stories from teachers in the Prezi community and how they’ve built relationships in the online classroom.

Elementary school

Jamie Ewing is an elementary STEM educator in the Bronx in New York City. His students were used to silly voices, costumes, and made-up characters to liven up the lessons he taught in class. Once they weren’t able to meet in person, his classes just weren’t the same. 

It wasn’t until he started creating lessons on Prezi Video that he “found his personal voice on video.” He busted out his costumes and silly voices and created a series of video read-alouds. He used the stories from books to shape his lesson plan, guide student thinking, and introduce new projects. 

Below is an example of one of his lessons made on Prezi Video using a book to guide instruction.

Class participation increased once he started making the video read-aloud lessons. “If you’re going to post a YouTube video and some worksheets, you’re going to lose kids in a day,” Jamie says.

When it comes to planning the new school year, Jamie says he’s “going to have to work twice as hard to create those interpersonal relationships.” He realizes now that there were missed opportunities last year, so this year he’s going to integrate more pieces to make sure he can connect on a much deeper level.

Second grade educator Samantha Westberg recommends maintaining a strong visual presence with young learners and keeping it consistent. She’s planning on meeting with her students twice a day and running live classes on video.

Middle school

When the pandemic hit, sixth grade math teacher and grade-level chair Mark Joseph was able to get 80% of his students to attend his daily live-streamed classes. He hustled to get his students in class each day. He sent them direct text messages and encouraged them to share and re-share their experiences on social media.

“It creates that hype when kids see their friends posting something like that,” Mark says. 

As grade-level chair, Mark is often in contact with parents and students. “It’s easy for an administrator to say don’t do social media at all, but that’s a missed opportunity for communication.”

Good communication will help maintain a sense of community even when everyone is separate. Mike Ruehle, a principal in California, learned this when he used Prezi Video to present daily morning announcements for students and their families.

Take a look at his message to students for the first day of school:

Stay connected while you work remotely with Prezi Video


“I am not an overly technical person, but I was motivated to push boundaries and come up with an innovative way to provide consistent and clear communication with the school community,” he says. With Prezi Video, Mike found a simple tool that helped him add depth and focus to key messages and engaged all kinds of learners.

Mike was able to create a common language for everyone to use — parents can talk to their students about the messages he shares, and teachers can carry over his messages in their classes. He plans to keep using Prezi Video when his school returns to campus.

High school

The best thing to do when students are in high school is to be honest about what’s going on. Taylor Ohlstrom, who teaches high school math in Denver, only saw about half of her students when classes moved online last spring. The pandemic had upended the economy, and a lot of high schoolers started working more hours to help with finances at home or were helping with childcare.

“You have to be willing to talk to kids,” said Taylor. “I tried to connect with each one of my students and ask them pretty bluntly what’s going on, and I tried to be as flexible as I could with them.”

The best thing to do is to be understanding. This one-on-one time might be great for some students with hectic personal lives, and it could even be beneficial to let students turn off the webcams and microphones if that makes them feel more comfortable.

Michelle Peck Williams, a history and current events teacher in Kentucky, found that quieter students shined when classes moved from video to the chat tool. “It was a whole other opportunity for these kids to learn and participate.”

While it’s good advice to never underestimate the power of the chat tool, her college professor colleagues who teach remotely full-time are encouraging her to not give up on video. She’ll need to use video to enhance her lessons in the future. With Prezi Video, she can engage those learners who prefer engaging with written material by having her content right alongside her in a video.

Meeting and establishing relationships with new students this fall will be a new challenge for many teachers, but if there’s one lesson from the shift to remote learning, it’s that communication is key. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for relationship building, teachers in all grade levels have used Prezi Video to create engaging messages that spark the interest of students and their families.

If you’d like to learn more about Prezi Video and how it fits in your online classroom, check out examples of online lessons created by the all star teachers of the Prezi community. Once you’re ready to get started, you can visit our new Educator Resource Center for help getting started or jump right in and create your first Prezi Video!

Some of the content in this post was originally published in an article on Edweek. Read the original article here.

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