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6 Hacks for Connecting With Students From a Distance

CEC Reacts to New U.S. Department of Education Guidance Affirming Students’ Rights Under Federal Special Education Law

Let’s face it...when it's not your usual modality for teaching or conducting therapy, remote learning always feels peculiar at first. Sometimes, it can be difficult or challenging when initially connecting with your student through video conferencing. Unforeseen tech issues, learning about online teaching, or finding your own online therapy style can be challenging. You are learning new ways to serve your students, and you want to align your strategies with your student’s goals and make progress.

One of the challenges many of us have when shifting to a remote environment is the ability to connect on a deeper level and build rapport. While this does seem daunting at first, there are many simple and inspirational things we can do to create a deeper connection and bring a powerful sense of joy to our remote learning and therapy sessions. With that said, here is an easy-to-follow guide for your toolbox that I call the “6 Hacks for Distance Therapy Success”.

  1. Take a Temperature Check.
    The temperature check is something we usually do intuitively. We check in with our students and ask how things are going, how their day is, etc. This is so important to do in any environment, but especially remotely. It allows the student to take a breath and settle into the learning space with ease rather than with a jolt. If your technology allows, share a fun emoji or engaging activity with them that describes your day or your week and ask them to do the same. This invites a light-hearted vibe for the session, you learn more about their world for the day and paves the way for engagement.
  2. Write a letter!
    Yes, you heard it here. A speech therapist who started a digital therapy company is asking you to write an old-fashioned letter. One of the great and sometimes lost art forms of humanity is letter writing. It is also a great tool for therapy and introspection. Sometimes the simple act of taking the time to pull out a pen and paper and hand write a letter can mean so much in today’s digital world. One idea is to create a fun and inspired homework assignment without your student even knowing it. Draft a letter and tell them a bit about yourself and what you hope to accomplish while you get to know them and work with them. Next, ask them (in your letter) to write back to you. Tell them it doesn't have to be a long letter, just a nice note. They should share something about themselves that you may not already know. Tell them you would like to get to know them better. Maybe ask them to describe in their letter how their last homework assignment went, and what they would like to work on next. Feel free to make this your own and ask them things you think will motivate and inspire them. This activity is always best to freestyle, based on the personality of your student. This small act encourages a learning environment based on mutual goals and a bit of common ground. It also lets your students know that you care about their goals and are listening to what they have to say.
  3. Connect During the "In-Between" Moments.
    Send a personalized exercise to your student in between your sessions to let them know that you are thinking of them and supporting them all along the way, not just for the one hour in the week when you are in session. Send them something that applies to what they are working on, that is fun, and easy to accomplish. This keeps them progressing throughout the week and thinking about their lessons in a fun and accomplished way. “In-between” or “tweener sessions” style of communication is key! Be sure to reach out, say hello via instant message or email them if you have the capability. Take the in-between session opportunities to ask your students if they have any questions or ideas on how to up level their learning. This helps make them feel more accountable for their own progress and also a bit more connected during the off days from therapy or classes. 
  4. Follow up.
    Follow up your session with a quick note that reviews what the student has accomplished during the session and what they will be building upon in the next session. This encourages them and keeps their “eyes on the prize” of personal progress and success!
  5. Invite a buddy.
    For one of your initial sessions, invite them to bring along a friend or relative that is supportive of their journey. The parent or friend can sit in on the session and do the exercises with them. This helps them feel supported, as well as, feel solidarity with their family regarding the work they are doing. The parent will have context for what their child is working on and understand how hard they are working. Including additional friends or family members virtually, allows for encouragement and support. From first-hand experience, it always seems to improve the student’s interest and determination.
  6. Structure is key.
    Establish a routine and a structure for their learning - just as one would do in the classroom and stick to it. One way to do this is to send your student homework assignments incorporating the skills learned from that day’s session. Encourage them to keep on top of the skills they learned from their session while the content is fresh. Review their assignment before the next session begins, this will refresh them for their next lesson. Giving out additional assignments that are fun, supportive, and interesting allows the student to grow and get to the next level of therapy with ease.

I hope these ideas are helpful and provide a foundation to connect more successfully with your students. I welcome your feedback and would love to hear about your ideas and what works for you! Please email me at with your ideas and feedback,

Posted:  25 September, 2020
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Author: Diana Parafiniuk

Diana Parafiniuk, M.S., CCC-SLP, founded E-Therapy in 2009 after finding herself driving hundreds of miles per week. She knew there must be a better way to deliver speech therapy to students and...

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