Be Relational

Be Relational

While establishing supportive interpersonal relationships with students is one of the most fundamental tenets of effective teaching, it can be particularly crucial for students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. If you are moving from a face-to-face class, you have the advantage of already having had the opportunity to establish a personal connection with students; the challenge as you transition into a virtual environment will be to maintain that connection.

Provide opportunities for live, synchronous engagement

Whether to go synchronous or asynchronous is one of the biggest debates in distance learning in general. There are good reasons to make much more of your course asynchronous (see discussion under Be Accessible), but one critical reason to continue to give students opportunities to interact with you directly is to maintain your connection with them. Two good options:

  • Hold virtual student (office) hours. You may want to offer a few times that will work for students in different time zones; use the Virtual Student (Office) Hours guide.
  • Use online synchronous sessions. There will almost certainly be some students willing and able to attend so they can interact with you there; everyone else can access the recording asynchronously. You could also consider splitting up class sessions; for example, you offer the Tuesday class synchronously, but the Thursday class is asynchronous. For more ideas, review the Hybrid Learning page.

Cultivate mindfulness to engage with your students

Shardlow (2015) shared it best: We need mindfulness because it prepares us to live in the present moment, enjoying and experiencing what’s in front of us. Our lives are busy, and we often find our thoughts buzzing over the past or worrying about the future. To remedy this:

  1. Try picking a mindfulness activity to start for yourself.
  2. Introduce it to your students, even if it’s for only two to five minutes at the beginning of class.
  3. Add a new mindfulness practice periodically, or choose one idea (mindful breathing, for example) and practice throughout the semester.
  4. Cultivate mindfulness and meditation right now, and it will stay with your students for their entire lives.
  5. Learn about the benefits and more from the Mindful and Contemplative Pedagogy page.

Talk to your students about what is happening

No matter the course modality it is essential to acknowledge the anxiety and fear that our students may be experiencing due to current events (e.g., campus, local, statewide, national, global). Whether you do this synchronously (e.g., face-to-face in a physical classroom, virtually via a conversation in Webex) or asynchronously (e.g., an email to the class), let your students know that you are aware of how difficult this all is for everyone, and let them know that you want to support them.

Consider if there are ways to incorporate a current event into the class itself or give students opportunities (such as through a reflective writing exercise) to express their concerns. Review the Helping Students Manage Traumatic Events post along with the Be Identity-Conscious page.

Build/maintain community among students

If you use interaction in your face-to-face class, use it in your virtual class! Students can use google docs or Canvas tools to collaborate; discussion boards or Webex breakout rooms can replace in-class discussion. For strategies, use the CELT Engage Students Online page.

Provide students with support and resources

See the resources mentioned in the Be Proactive section along the Online Learner Support page.


Shardlow, G. (2015). Integrating mindfulness in your classroom. Edutopia. Retrieved (February 24, 2021) from

Be Relational, by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) at Iowa State University is licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0. This work, Inclusion in the Online Learning Environment, is a derivative of Maintaining Equity and Inclusion in Virtual Learning Environments developed by San Diego State University Diversity and Innovation (retrieved on May 14, 2020) from