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Tech Tips for Developing Real Relationships with Students

December 01, 2014

4 Teacher Tech Tips for Real Relationships with Students

The curriculum I teach might be history, but teaching is about a heck of a lot more than curriculum.  More than anything else, building a real relationship -- one that is honest and personal without crossing the line of professionalism -- with students and their families is what facilitates learning. While working toward this kind of relationship with some students is easy, it is harder with others.  And how can one person create a connection with 116 individual struggling teenagers after seeing each of them for only 55 minutes a day for 180 days?  Technology integration makes these relationships possible and easier to maintain.

Student Voice on What Makes “Great Teachers”

My students are the ones who speak most powerfully on the importance of relationships. I showed my high school students a video on the first day of school in August in which a series of teachers and administrators asserted that every child deserves a great teacher. As part of their first blog post I asked students to talk about teachers they've had in the past that have been "great" and to give reasons. Here are some of their awesome answers:

A great teacher must also be compassionate so they take outside factors into consideration. For example. if a student is having a rough time at home the teacher understands and makes necessary adjustments to help through that issue.

One specific thing that you could do for me this year is to really get to know me. I really appreciate it when a teacher is very understanding with me and knows who I am. I have survived a lot and it is so welcoming when a teacher shows support for his or her student because the student feels appreciated.

Some qualities that a great teacher has are humor, kindness, patience, and being able to relate to students.

Sure, some kids mentioned that great teachers assign very little homework, or that great teachers crack jokes all the time. But what they really want is for a teacher to make their homework meaningful, manageable, and worth their precious over-scheduled time. And for teachers to understand that, humor goes a long way to building that real relationship.  After reading through all 116 posts from title to final punctuation, one particular piece of media embedded into one post stood out as the common theme among all students. So I tweeted it out.

A student posted this on her blog when asked to write about what makes a great teacher. #gallagherhistory #stuvoice

— Kerry Gallagher (@KerryHawk02) September 4, 2014

Clearly the educators in my PLN agree.  With 77 retweets and 45 favorites to date, it is the most far-reaching tweet I've ever posted in my 5 and a half years on Twitter.

The kids’ blogs made the goal clear: connect with each student. So how can I, and you, leverage tech to forge this many relationships in the span of one short school year?

Teacher Tech Tip #1: Google Drive

My students submit their multimedia creations and lesson reflections on public blogs, but what about work that is in the draft phases? How can they submit that to me paperlessly and still get the personalized feedback they need? Google Drive has been the answer to that question for my students for the past few years.  Students make me an editor on their notes, outlines, and drafts. Then I can go in and comment on their work-in-progress. The best part is that I get email notifications when they resolve problems or comment back based on my feedback. Here are some examples of important detailed conversations I've had outside of school hours and walls because of Google Drive.

RTQ Convo.jpg

Helping a freshman narrow her research questions early in a project so she'll be more successful in the long run.

Scholarly Convo.jpg


Helping a sophomore differentiate between scholarly and encyclopedic secondary sources.

Teacher Tech Tip #2: Twitter

Many of our students are on Twitter, so meet them where they are to share information. They can share their excitement, or frustration, with you, too.  First, encourage students to follow a professional Twitter handle that you create, just be sure it is separate from a personal account. You will be serving as a great mentor on leveraging social media to promote learning. Then, create a hashtag that is specifically for your class. Be sure you clearly communicate that hashtag to your students and their parents.

Then, of course, you have to use the hashtag often. Students start looking forward to seeing familiar names and ideas mentioned.  My students' favorite is #thankateenager because I give them shout-outs for going above and beyond.

Finally, if students are tweeting about something that's going on related to your class, encourage them to tag you or use your class hashtag in the tweet. It is important to establish a positive class culture and clear digital citizenship expectations before doing this, of course.

This past spring some of my students' work was published and they tweeted out the links because they were excited. Here's one example:

Read, Analyze, Create, Publish: @KerryHawk02 yayyyy

— Morgan (@morgan_flynn16) April 30, 2014

Teacher Teach Tip #3: iMessage

When I have to ask my husband or friend a quick question, iMessage is the way I send it to them. We can make that easy method of communication a way for students to ask for help when they need it.  iMessage allows users to create multiple iMessage accounts based on phone numbers or email addresses. I certainly would not give my students my personal cell number, but they already have my school email address. Sometimes it makes more sense to have a conversation via text message than via a long slow string of emails.  Once again, after establishing some very clear digital citizenship guidelines, I have been able to quickly address student questions outside of school hours using iMessage so that students aren't getting stuck while working at home. Often these are clarifications on assignments that can be addressed quickly.


This student wanted to confirm a good painting choice before moving to the next step in his Romanticism Art Analysis project.

Teacher Tech Tip #4: Email

Of course, the honest truth is that most of my students' parents' primary and preferred method of communication with school is email. Our district uses Edline, and we can send out group emails to parents and students through our class pages. I make a habit of updating grades and sending out emails weekly so that both students and parents are aware of what is going on in class and what is coming up.  Included are shortened URLs to all notes, resources, and assignments.