Pastoral care for students in the digital classroom

By miranda.prynne, 10 December, 2020
Providing the pastoral care students need can be difficult when teaching remotely. Here, Chris Headleand offers tips on looking out for students’ general well-being when limited to online communication
Article type

This video will cover: 

00:05 The importance of proactively checking in with students to ask how they are doing 

01:05 Facilitating peer support among students 

01:49 Organise informal shared events for students and staff  


Hi, my name is Chris Headleand and these are my top tips for creating a pastoral environment online.   

Firstly, don’t lose your water-cooler moments. Most of my personal tutorage always happened in the corridors. I would see a student, go up and ask them if they’re OK.  

When we move online, there’s this tendency to rely on scheduled events rather than those informal meetings. Try leaning in to that; send students an email or a message on your institutional platform, and just ask if they’re OK.  

Just do check-ins and encourage them to do the same with you. This can help bring some of that informality and that unstructured pastoral care back into your environment.   

Secondly, lean in to your learning community. Some students will connect with you and others won’t, and that’s fine. We’re all different people with our own personalities and we connect to each other in very different ways.  

But make sure students know that there are other people they can talk to if they absolutely need to – other staff, students or members of your professional team. Just make sure that students know who the members of your learning community are,  so they can ask for help when they need it.  

Number three is to remember the value of peer mentors. Although online peer mentoring can bring with it some very specific challenges, there’s a wealth of really great resources out there about  how you can make schemes like this work. 

And, for example, I’ve included one of my favourite papers as a link just here. [See additional links below] 

Number four, consider setting up a digital common room. A digital common room is a kind of peer-mentoring model based around a forum. It’s an informal space online that students can go to to get some support.   

Create this as a student space and let them lead it and drive it forward. Make sure that they feel comfortable in it and that they have influence over the way it’s run and its leadership.  

If they feel comfortable in that space, they’re much more likely to use it to reach out when they need some help.  

Number five is to create shared events within your learning community.   

In the school of computer science, we run a number of live streamed events where we play video games with our students. These are really great informal activities, where it’s kind of the online equivalent of just hanging out and having a chat.  

It makes us a little bit more approachable and it tries to break down some of those barriers that can sometimes exist.

But beyond that, a shared event is a really great way to strengthen the learning community.  It gives them something to talk about, an experience and memory that they all share, and it can really help bring you together.

So, try to create some shared events that aren’t necessarily curricular but are based purely around pastoral and about being a community working together.   

My final tip for this video is to add pastoral elements to any face-to-face talk session.   

Keeping three or four minutes aside from the beginning of every talk session just to ask students how they’re doing and how they’re getting on can be really, really valuable.  

We’re on campus so much less than we used to be and students are getting so much less face time with academics that just a little time to reach out can help keep us approachable. And can help students  reach out for help when they really need it.  

Thank you for watching my video. These were six of my top tips for creating a pastoral  environment online. I hope you found this useful. 


This video was produced by Chris Headleand, director of teaching and learning in the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln

Providing the pastoral care students need can be difficult when teaching remotely. Here, Chris Headleand offers tips on looking out for students’ general well-being when limited to online communication