Student Engagement in the Online School


As I write this, the world of education is undergoing a massive shift. We are all facing the impact of COVID-19 and schools are closing. Both educators and students are being called upon to shift learning to home and online environments. Schools have always been a center of connection and they can continue to be that even in these uncertain days.

As someone who has taught online for 8 years, I want to let you know that meaningful connection between teacher and student is achievable. Showing up for your students online and connecting is powerful. Dr. Brene Brown defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued…” How true does this ring for education and our role as educators? By applying Dr. Brown’s definition of connection to your online efforts, you’ll make great strides in creating a connection.

How can we make students feel seen, heard and valued online?

Meet online: gather students together for a live class, using a platform such as Zoom.

  • Webcams on for everyone! Using webcams is a must for connection. There is something instantly connecting about seeing another human face.
  • Mics offer a great opportunity to talk – remind students to keep their mic muted when not talking. Use the chat box, as well.
  • Get comfortable with your meeting platform. Host a mock class with your friends and dare them to misbehave. You’ll gain experience with managing challenges and build confidence for effectively hosting a live class.
  • Use classroom routines. Your students will find comfort by the familiarity of routine. If you don’t have an established routine, choose something simple, quick and inclusive.
    • I start my live classes 10 minutes early for chit-chat. Before the class has even started, everyone is involved and connected.

Use your words: Your words as a teacher matter and are your most powerful tool for creating and maintaining connection.

  • Email: Keep info/instructions concise, upbeat and positive.
    • This is a fun space for inserting an emoji or gif here and there.
    • Identify in the subject title if you are expecting a response
  • Assignment Feedback:
    • Submitting assignments to teachers, especially online, is a vulnerable position for students and parents to be in. Be gentle and assume everyone is doing their best.
    • Communicate the students that you see, hear, and value their efforts. Genuine praise and positivity are the words that will pave the path to an individualized connection. Look for constructive feedback opportunities over criticism.
      • Imagine you are receiving feedback from your boss. Does your wording inspire you to continue or cause you to pull-back and resist? Test your wording by reading your comment out loud in your grouchiest voice. You’ll know.

Above all, aim to connect with your students. The academics will come. At this time, it’s not the teachers who mastered 10 new digital resources that are going to get students through this time of uncertainty; it’s the teachers who connected with their students by seeing, by hearing, and by valuing their efforts, concerns, needs.


Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. , 2010. Print.


Erin Sutherland, BA, PDPP, Grades 5-8 Teacher and Encounter Teacher for Grades 5 -12. Vice-principal at West Coast Adventist School and also is a teacher at same school for 7 years.


  • Avatar
    | June 17, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    J’estime que le sujet est très pertinent. Je l’ai lu avec beaucoup d’intérêt à un moment où notre équipe vient tout juste de lancer l’enseignement en ligne pour notre école. Je félicite l’auteure : madame Erin Sutherland qui, à travers ces lignes nous ouvre des portes pour une meilleure connexion avec nos élèves et pourquoi pas les parents, puisque la salle de classe est désormais à la maison dans une bonne partie du monde. Merci et que Dieu bénisse votre ministère.

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