Making connections with students when you’re teaching homeschoolers online is critical. So here are my top ten tips:
- Answer your email. I ask my students to email me with even the smallest questions, and then I check my email as frequently as a hobbit eats. Even if I have to ask someone else for the answer, I’ll respond back with an “I’m looking into that, and I’ll get back to you!”
- Introduce yourself. I give them my name, my hobbies, my educational background, photos of my spouse and children, a photo of my teaching record, etc. It humanizes me, lets them know that I’m more than a faceless automaton. Then I ask them to introduce themselves!
- Send a welcome email with an orientation date & time, course rules and expectations, including notice that you will follow any special education request, remind them writing is important, and that you *want* them to ask questions.
- Conduct a student survey. (I use Google Forms) You can’t see them, so ask them to tell you their preferred name, gender, age, best contact information, previous online ed experience, other responsibilities, travel expectations, and straight up *ask* what you can do for them.
- Have an orientation class session. Show them how to use software, where to find assignments, the general course schedule, key syllabus points, communication policy, chat etiquette, course grading breakdown, sample assignments, and give them direct contact info.
- Make your class accessible to everyone. I do not have mandatory written/oral participation during lecture. I don’t use timed assessments. I do provide copies of slides in advance, copies of concepts/problems worked during class, and review of past problems. Lectures are recorded and anonymized for posterity.
- Always be positive. Assume that students didn’t mean to write the email snarkily, that their repeated interruptions during lecture mean they’re enthusiastic, etc. Never, ever write an email while you’re angry or upset. Really angry? Ask for help responding.
- Do not tolerate off-topic chatting, either in the written discussion or during live lectures. According to my semi-scientific student surveys, that is the number one thing they hate about online classes. Really. Use the ban hammer when you need to. Disciplined classes are safe places.
- Don’t hesitate to reach out. Every time a student misses/does poorly on an assignment, I send an email to the student & parent within 72 hrs, usually 24. Non-participatory students get phone calls. Knowing that I pay attention matters to them (and it creates a record for the angry “How Dare You Fail My Child” set.)
- Respond to every student, every week, at least once. Praise students for doing well. Random emails like “Best in class on last week’s quiz!” or “Great answer, Maria! How did you know?!” during lecture or “Ever thought about being an engineer?” on assignment feedback all work.
Teaching homeschoolers online can be challenging and rewarding. Getting to know your students can make it easier. This is part of our series on online homeschool class design, written by an experienced online teacher and homeschool parent. Please add your own tips and questions in the comments!