Community Blog

Developing Real Relationships With Students

Hi everyone,

I have been really enjoying my new students this semester. I love that we have this first week to really connect with each of our students. At last summer's OLT conference a couple friends and I presented on a variety of ways to develop relationships with students. Many of these tips end up saving you time, but our handout is hidden in the OLT IL3 classroom so I wanted to be sure it was easily accessible. I have observed 100's of instructors and found so many wonderful things.. the following are just a sampling of the ideas we have gleaned from observing the courses of peers over the years. Towards the bottom is the PPT we used which shows what some of these look like in practice:

Developing Relationships with and Among Students:

By Small and Simple Things

OLT Conference 2016: Celeste Knight, Bonnie Miles, Daina Romney


Alma 37:6 “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass”

Establishing Presence Early

  • Respond to every student intro post in ice-breaker activity during Week 1 with personalized response
    • Include follow-up question of something they mentioned and respond if they answer you
    • Finish post with: Sister Miles (Instructor) <- Reminds them the instructor is reaching out to them
    • Briefly introduce yourself on this DB as well to model for students and give one extra place for them to learn about you in case they skip the profile.
    • Time-saving tip: Don’t comment on everything they bring up. Don’t read every response to student before posting your own response.
  • Use student name in all personal communication with them (feedback, DBs, emails).
    • Make a note of students who introduce themselves with name different than what is found in I-learn.
    • Time-saving Tip: Put these on post-it in workspace for easy reference.
  • Let students know how/when they can get a hold of you. Setting clear expectations helps them know you are not ignoring them.
    • Ex: I check email in the early AM and in the PM Mon-Sat afternoon. Emails sent after noon on Saturday will get a response early Monday morning. You can call/text me anytime. I do not respond to work related calls/texts/emails on Sundays so I can keep the Sabbath day holy and rejuvenate.
  • Quick email/call to non-participating students or students with limited presence.
  • Have consistent communication methods
    • Discover what works for you to motivate, inspire, encourage and instruct your students during the week.
  • Address trends among your students individually and class wide
    • Ex: Multiple students struggling with meeting certain expectations (posting enough, full sentences, etc.).
    • Express appreciation to inspire continued effort
  • Ex: Quick screen-recording letting students know they have been doing well in the discussion board


  • Personalized feedback on at least one assignment a week
  • Set expectations for when feedback will be graded that week and which assignments will receive feedback
    • Time-saving tip: Include expectations in Monday communication to reduce emails from students asking about grade
  • Use phrases like, “Thank you for your efforts (in the class)/(on this assignment), [student name]”
  • If allowing for resubmission, include link to quick video showing how to resubmit work
  • Personalized video screen-recording on at least one assignment a semester
  • Audio feedback can be very effective and efficient
  • Include contact info on occasion in feedback (phone/email) to communicate you sincerely want to help
  • Make “Commonly Missed Problems” Videos (BRIEF 2-5 mins long) from Quizzes/Exams
    • Time-saving tip: Change numbers around and use as supplemental material in future semesters.


Discussion Boards

  • Establish instructor presence throughout the week (not all on one day)
    • Consider posting an initial DB post to model for students
  • Vary which students you respond to
    • Time-saving tip: Create student info and tracking sheets to ensure you reach all students every few weeks
  • Encouraging phrases such as: “I appreciate the thoughts you have shared…”, “Your thoughts have inspired me to…”
  • Ask meaningful questions and follow-up when students respond to those questions
  • Add videos, memes, scriptures etc. to a student’s post that you feel needs a little more encouragement or to help them understand something better.
  • Lesson Summary post at end of week
  • Spotlight with quotes from excellent student posts (repost with permission).
  • Make note of challenges student share and follow up with the student
  • Optional Discussions
    • Gospel related to subject matter (share your testimony)
    • Fun chit-chats: “What would you do with 3 hours of free time?”, “What is your treat of choice?”, “Which season is your favorite?”, “Share a talent or subject you would like to learn more about.”, “What is your favorite pop-tart flavor?”, “Favorite scripture?” “Which star wars movie is the best?”, “Favorite recipes?”
  • More Tips for Connecting With Students and Helping them connect with one another:


Class-wide Communication

  • Let them Get to Know You
    • Ex: Pics/brief update of what we did the previous week
      • Can share pics of activity itself if you are private person. Ex: If you gardened show a pic of your garden
      • Note: Be sensitive to the economic diversity in your classroom (poverty, etc)
  • Brief weekly overview video with/without webcam on to hear voice/see you.
    • Time saving tip: Can briefly cover common errors or issues that week and save time
  • Add Humor (comics, awesome math jokes…)
  • Weekly student spotlights- Ask permission (“Will you get back to me…” include your contact info). Consider posting anonymously.
  • Set clear expectations for assignments and provide resources for them to meet expectations
    • Time-saving tip: Share common errors and samples of “A” student work ahead of time to reduce amount of time-consuming corrective feedback necessary when grading.
  • Responding to student questions found on Lesson Question DB
    • “Great question! I appreciate you posting it here… (answer question)”
    • Make screen-recordings to answer student questions showing how to solve similar problems
      • Time-saving tip: Save these. Add to your newsfeed/personal records for future use
  • Emails: Express love for subject matter and love for them. Mention you pray for them by name
  • List information in order of importance (weekly repeated info towards bottom)
  • Surveys to gauge where students are at with the class in general, address concerns, get feedback from students about how you can improve




Personal Communication

  • Responding to student emails
    • Ex: “Great to hear from you, [student name]! How are things going with [include info from content they included in Week 1 Ice-breaker DB (takes 1-2 minutes to look up and does WONDERS!!!)? Thank you for sending this question… [Answer question…]. If you have a moment, will you post this question to the Lesson Questions DB found in the Lesson 3 folder of our course so I can also respond there and help more of your peers who might also have this question? I would really appreciate it!”
    • Time-saving tip: Make video screen-recording to answer question. Sometimes faster to show than tell (can go over student’s gradebook, help with assignments, point out resources, show how to do things)
  • Reach out to Students via email or phone
    • One Method: One email to a different student each business day (track)
    • Another Method: Lighter weeks (few times a semester): Personal email/call to each student asking how things are going
    • Time-saving tip: Use templates and personalize by asking questions about info they shared in Week 1 Ice-breaker DB (Ex: How are the wedding plans going?, How is the weather in Georgia?)
  • Sign communication as “Warmly, Sister Miles” “with love, Sis. Romney” “warmest wishes” “best regards” etc.
  • Reach out to students that do not turn in assignments when they normally do.
  • Send a quick “get well soon” card via email when students let you know they are sick or struggling
    • Can also do with birthdays, weddings, holidays etc.
  • “Instant Messaging” in I-Learn 3 using the Page feature to connect individually with students.
  • Send out a survey towards the start of the semester to find out preferred name, reason for enrolling, concerns, etc.
  • International Texting for free with “Whats App”


Gospel/Spiritual Connections

  • Uplifting quotes/memes on education:
  • Inspiring quotes and memes posted in weekly communications such as announcements/Notes/Feedback and emails
    • Time-saving tip from Instructor Lisa Spencer: For feedback on one of assignments include a "Thought of the Week" taken from the Daily Messages( on The link to the talk stays active, so students can refer back to the entire talk and you don't have to go find it
  • Tell students you are praying for them by name
    • Time-saving tip: Pray for them by name when about to give feedback for that week’s assignment
  • Invite students to listen to weekly devotionals to feel more connected to the university as well as being spiritually uplifted for the week.
  • Share a spiritual thought with video or audio.
    • Let students hear your testimony and enthusiasm for the gospel and share how they can relate it to the lesson topic for that week. Help students draw parallels between spiritual and temporal learning.
  • Inspirational Picture Quotes (memes) organized by event: General Conference Picture Quotes
  • Never postpone a prompting! The Holy Ghost always knows what our students need and if we listen we will know what they need as well

Love is a verb. It is an Action word. Love your students by getting to know them the first week and praying regularly to love them. As you pray for this love and serve students you will love them more. When you love your students and show your care by your personal attention and efforts to support them, they will feel the love of the Lord which will inspire them to know, do, and become disciple leaders.


Question: What are some ways you connect with students?

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  • Excellent tips from two of my favorite people (and I'm sure if I knew Daina better she'd also be a favorite as well).  I try to vary up my discussion board, so I'm responding to about 1/3 of the class each week.  That works really well for me.  Recently, I've also made it a point to pay attention to students who have no one contributing to their discussion boards and respond to them especially.  

  • Great list Bonnie. I love the details you've included. When reading the section on personalized feedback I was reminded of this quote by Dale Carnegie, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language." This is one thing that Joel and I and few others on the team have been experimenting with in our classes the last few months. Using the student's name in each piece of feedback can be a powerful tool to help students know that you know them. 

    • I read a study that if teachers stand at the door to the classroom and greet each student by name, the students tend to perform better in class.  I know it makes a difference in my classroom at least in terms of relationships!

      • Trent--I've seen this in action! Teaching seminary as a stake called person, I was encouraged by a seasoned professional to do this very thing--greet each student by name at the start of class every day.  It makes a huge difference.  It felt a bit stiff and awkward for me and first, but the rewards have been well worth the little bit of personal stretching outside of my comfort zone..

    • Thanks David! My Aunt once told me that people love the sound of their own name and people would love you if you always say their name when you greet them... too bad I am terrible with names.. I would have been so much cooler in high school ;) 

    • David, just out of curiosity, why wouldn't you include the student's name in feedback?  It's never occurred to me not to.

      • One reason is that sometimes I don't know what name they prefer to be called.  If my name is Trent James and I go by James and someone constantly referred to me as "Trent" it would feel inauthentic to me and make me feel like they didn't really know me.  

      • Perhaps a common reason for not including the student's name could be that the instructor is in a hurry, or maybe they assume the student they are addressing is the only one that will read their feedback. There are lots of feedback posts we read in courses that don't have the student's name.
        • Yes- I have seen this too. We often see instructors wanting to just copy/paste feedback to each student quickly.. and there is the concern with not remembering "preferred" names that differ from their IL3 name. This is one of the reasons I use the post-it tip in first section. :) 

  • Bonnie, these are such good, detailed ideas.  I've tried to incorporate many of these in my course.  One thing I have done to connect with students outside of the weekly content is to pose a question in my Monday intro video, like "What is a challenge you've had recently?"  or "What is something you've accomplished this past week?" and have students post responses on the discussion board.  At one point, I was traveling for a couple weeks so, I asked my students to share where they had traveled recently or a dream destination.  I had students who felt these questions were very relevant to them during those weeks and were grateful to share their experiences - some just returned from a family vacation and shared pictures of their trip with the class.  Thanks!

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