Attitude and Rapport: Making Students Feel Comfortable

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This Teaching Essentials Blog Series looks at some tools-of-the-trade for online ESL instruction. In it, we explore a few key concepts and dive into what makes them indispensable to our teachers.

These days, everyone from prominent psychologists to that one guy who “had a moment with his Wisteria tree” are promoting the positive effects of attitude. That 8-letter word will even get you over 50,000 hits for books on Amazon. But how often do you contemplate the power of attitude, and what does it actually mean in your day-to-day life?

It means this: when you take a fraction of a second too long pulling away from the green light, and the person behind starts treating their horn like a punching bag, you’re gonna have a bad day. Similarly when your kid drops her triple chocolate ice cream cone on the ground and instead of crying shouts “Yay, now the ants can have a great day too!”, your day (and anyone who witnessed it) just got a little bit brighter. In this sense, attitude is fundamental for dealing with life in general.

In the online classroom, rapport and attitude can make or break the student’s experience. In this setting, the teacher and student are strangers in more ways that just relationship. There is a distance between them both physically and maybe culturally if teacher and student are in different countries, as is the case of VIPKid. So effective rapport becomes the foundation for relationships that fuel learning.

But developing good rapport is a lot more than just brushing your teeth and flashing those pearly whites for all you’re worth in the classroom. Good rapport – the kind that’ll have you grinning and nodding while the dentist reaches for her 12” pneumatic drill – comes from a comprehensive approach to relationship building. So what exactly is a comprehensive approach? Instead of leaving you guessing like the unfortunate Starbucks intern who’s just been told that Very Angry Customer #1 does not want his coffee too sweet, we’ve made an outline.

Broad but effective strategies for establishing rapport in the classroom include:

  • Use a warm and fuzzy greeting. Be sure to say hello, say the student’s name if known (or ask them to introduce themselves if it’s your first class together). Maybe even welcome them to the lesson and give ‘em the grand tour of your online classroom.
  • Use their name. Often. Saying the student’s name during class can help call them back to the lesson, and builds natural rapport.
  • Be on time and stay for your full class – not only is that probably the right thing to do, it helps show children that you value your time with them.
  • Reward them for a job well done. Show them you are excited and enthusiastic about their learning. If you’ve already given one thumbs up, give them two!
  • If you know the child, or are able to ask them about their interests, bring that up during the lesson. Children are generally ever eager to share more about themselves with their favorite teacher. Tying lessons to their interests also supports children’s learning.
  • Whether your class is 25 minutes or a marathon 10 hours, make sure you take the time to say goodbye. It helps provide a moment to give thanks for a great class and to encourage children to look forward to their next.
  • And of course, it doesn’t hurt to smile!

When thinking about how you build rapport in the classroom, remember that online teaching is what you make of it. You’re in control of the class, and your attitude will often dictate your student’s.