Making Personal Connections through Online Learning


Kristen Trostel
Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 11:15am

My favorite part about teaching, both online and in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, is the students. They all have such unique stories, with different life experiences, and diverse perspectives on the world.  Some people think that with a virtual education method, you cannot have relationships with your students like "traditional" teachers. Before I started teaching online, I probably would have agreed with them but after teaching online for over a year now, I am blown away with the connections that I am able to make every single day with my students. 

FuelEd became their safe haven—a way for students to learn in a safe environment.

My main form of communication with my students is through email. Surprisingly, I have found that students are often more willing to open up and share what is going on in their lives through email as opposed to in-person interaction. Through this type of communication, I have learned a great deal of information about my students, and have been able to make fantastic personal connections with them. 

Connecting with Students

At the start of my online courses, I always offer a few points of extra credit to students who email me three facts about themselves. I don’t put a parameter on what facts they can share because I find that if without parameters, they tend to be more open and honest. When I post this optional assignment I always make sure to include three facts about myself to show my students that I am a real human being, with a life outside of the virtual classroom! Typically, students don’t ask more about my life, but I can tell through reading their assignments that they do appreciate the connection between myself and them.

Why Choose Online Learning? 

online learning text

When I first posted this assignment, I was unsure if any students would even respond. Then the emails started pouring in and I was pleasantly surprised when many of my students sent fun and interesting stories about themselves—many of whom shared their main reasons for choosing an online education.

Some of their reasons for choosing an online education were more typical:

  • Flexible scheduling options
  • Ability to work at their own pace and the option to work ahead
  • Not tied-down to a specific location or time to work
  • More class options available than a traditional course catalog

But some of the responses students sent in for choosing an online education really touched my heart. 

Several students wrote in saying that they could no longer take the bullying at their old school. I had one student share with me that they were transgendered and that they were treated poorly at their previous brick-and-mortar school for it. For this student, and others bullied for various reasons, learning in an online environment enables them to focus on their schooling, instead of social pressures.

FuelEd became their safe haven—a way for students to learn in a safe environment. School is challenging enough in one area or another, without adding bullies into the mix to create fear and distrust in a young person. Academic challenges from classwork combined with the constant personal challenge from being bullied can create a strong feeling within a bullied student that they cannot be successful no matter what they do.

Online and blended learning can help alleviate these social pressures for young students and enable them to focus on their studies and enjoying their time through recreational activities. When students are allowed to switch to a more personalized learning experience they can then focus on getting back on the path to graduation and recovering any credits they might be missing due to inability to focus on academic requirements stemming from bullying, distractions, or insecurities, along with many other reasons for falling behind.

About the Author

Kristen Trostel has more than six years of experience in online and traditional brick-and-mortar schools teaching various secondary social science classes. Before starting at FuelEd in 2014 and specializing in credit recovery, Kristen taught in a traditional public school, an alternative high school, and a charter school. She has worked with all types of students and ages, but her heart is with students who struggle within traditional schools and seek alternative methods to complete high school. Kristen graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s degree in secondary social sciences.



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