Students face a new challenge in distance and hybrid learning: building close relationships with their teachers. Now more than ever, forging these relationships is imperative. Most importantly, strong student-teacher relationships help students make the most out of their educational experiences. But for juniors, these relationships also go a long way to solidifying who will write their college letters of recommendation.

With students having more test-optional options than ever before, more emphasis is being placed on other aspects of college applications: students’ academic rigor and performance, extracurricular pursuits, application essays, and teacher letters of recommendation.

When teachers sit down to write your letter of recommendation, they will need more to say about you than simply the grade you earned. Teachers will also consider the following:

  • Did you support other students while in class or form a study group outside of class?
  • Did you ever ask your teacher for further reading or resources to take your learning to the next level?
  • Did you have any challenges that the teacher witnessed you handling and overcoming?

Doing well is not the way to form a personal relationship with a teacher; the letter needs to say more about you than the good grade on your transcript!

So, How Do I Build Relationships With My Teachers Virtually?

Well, just as you always have… and then some. The key to initiating a positive working relationship with a teacher is genuine engagement. What this means is students should show a sincere interest in their classes by being attentive, participating, and staying aware of what they are projecting to their teachers via the laptop camera.

Maintaining a Professional Workspace

When attending a class on Zoom, choose a setting that is professional and free from distractions. Once class begins, it is time to convey the same energy, curiosity, and dedication you would typically bring to the classroom.

Participate by taking notes, and demonstrate your personality by speaking up in class discussions and contributing to virtual group breakout rooms. Think about what you are communicating while on camera through your body language and facial expressions. Sitting up, leaning in, nodding along, and responding with appropriate facial reactions demonstrates that you are an engaged student.

Our advice is don’t just perform this engagement, actually engage!

How to Go the Extra Mile

Right now, it is up to the student to put in the extra effort to build relationships with teachers. In the past, you could stay after class to ask your teacher a question. Now, you will need to make arrangements to speak virtually.

Keep in mind that most educators want to help their students succeed—that is the reason they went into this profession! They are happy to meet with you as long as you have a genuine inquiry and are not asking questions just for the sake of asking them.

Meeting with teachers isn’t limited to seeking extra help with course content; students are encouraged to talk to teachers about their independent pursuits and inquire about related readings or resources on their topics of interest. Additionally, having conversations regarding a prospective major can go a long way to giving teachers personal insights into the student and play a role in building a relationship.

It is a good idea to figure out what forms of communication your teachers prefer and use those. Message teachers in the chat box, stay on the Zoom meeting at the end of class to ask a question or two, attend virtual office hours, and, just as you would in person at school, complete quality work and turn it in on time.

How to Request a Letter of Recommendation

It may be best to set up a short meeting with your teacher to formally ask for your letter. During this meeting, don’t be afraid to highlight your strengths in their class, any significant academic growth that occurred over the course of the year, and special memories from their classes. Take the teacher’s lead on what will be most helpful for them to write a quality letter.

If you are unable to set up a virtual Google meet or Zoom meeting with your teacher, then in the spring, carefully compose a formal and gracious request for the letter of recommendation. Be sure to attach documents for your recommender to reference as they draft the letter—a brag sheet or a resume or anything else you want to share.

In your written email, explain why you are selecting them specifically and what you learned in their course.

Be sure to ask for letters of recommendation early, giving teachers ample time to write them. Also, cordially follow up over the summer and/or in early fall and clearly communicate when you will be submitting your applications.

Which Teachers Should I Ask?

Remember, when possible, choose teachers from a core academic subject that you excel in or are passionate about. If a teacher has known you for more than one year, even better!

Take into consideration the following: Do you have a teacher whose academic specialty connects to what you want to study in college? Does your teacher know you in a setting outside of class? Did the teacher you’re selecting give you one of your best grades?

Final Thoughts

It is not easy to establish personal relationships virtually, but with the right attitude and by making a great impression, effectively communicating, and possessing self-awareness, students have the power to get to know their teachers, which will increase their authentic learning and secure an excellent recommendation!