Tutoring is defined as providing additional, personalized support to students to promote independent learning and scholarship. Tutors guide students through the process of learning with the goal of strengthening student skills to the point where the student no longer feels the need to access tutoring services.
Effective tutors balance comprehensive knowledge of a specific subject with a desire to help others, empathy, good communication, honesty, enthusiasm, and a sense of humour. The overarching goal of tutoring is to empower students to embrace independent learning. This is achieved through focusing on how to complete a task, providing strategies, facilitating insights, respecting differences, and establishing peer-centred relationships.
Students can feel vulnerable in coming for help. Though you may establish a peer-centred relationship in the tutoring session based on trust and safety between student and tutor, you are perceived as an authority figure. To avoid misusing your authority, and to avoid breaking that trust and sense of safety, be aware of the following responsibilities.
As a university employee, you are aware of how your actions can reflect upon your colleagues and the institution. Acting professionally means showing respect toward staff, faculty, and students. Please abide by the following guidelines:
Clear communication is necessary for a successful session where tutor and student feel as though they have been heard and have come to an understanding of the subject. Part of communicating clearly involves deploying signs of active listening, including smiling, eye contact, posture, mirroring, and refraining from looking distracted.
Remember to be patient. You may be ready to help students solve their academic problems, but for the student, feeling listened to and comfortable is often the first and most important step before beginning to tackle the assignment problem(s). Being an active listener will ensure that you first understand the student's problem as the student sees it, making your help more effective.
Communicating clearly involves being honest and forthcoming about your role and limits as a tutor. Refer students to other services if you can’t help them yourself. For example, if a student needs help with Word or Excel, refer them to IT Help, or if a student is having difficulty finding a resource, refer them to the Library reference desk. If you aren’t sure where to refer someone, ask a Student Learning Services staff person, or search for the answer online.
Watch the following Tedx Youth Talk: Active Listening.
As a tutor who was once or who is currently an undergrad, and as a peer, you are in an excellent place to understand your students’ concerns. While you can’t assume that all students are going through what you went through, you use your experience to display empathy.
Showing empathy can be as simple as nodding when they’re complaining about workload, or saying, “it sounds like you're pretty frustrated” when students talk about how tough questions stress them out. Mirroring a student’s statements can help them to feel as though you are hearing them; for example, if a student says that they are having a hard time with an assignment, you might show that you’ve heard them by saying, “it sounds like you’re really concerned about this assignment.” Mirroring can emphasize your peer relationship and may increase student comfort in that it reassures the student that you're listening and trying to understand.
“Boundaries shape our relationships with students. They determine when we are available, where and why someone might see us. They set limits on how much support you might reasonably be expected to give."
(the University of Sheffield, “Setting Boundaries,” https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/lets/toolkit/support/tutor/boundaries)
If you become too forthcoming with your own situation and experiences, and not being clear about how much help you can offer, you may be forgetting the power differential that exists between learner and tutor, essentially putting a burden on the student when they have come to you for your expertise. However, boundaries can vary and be informed by culture, gender, and personality, and so if they are “either too loose or too rigid, [they] will have a negative impact on our ability to maintain supportive relationships.” Module 3 of this course, “Beginning a Session,” contains a list of ways to set boundaries.
Students have an expectation of, and a right to, privacy when they come to you for help. Sometimes it takes courage and an expectation of trust for them to seek help in the first place. Therefore, you shouldn’t discuss students by name with faculty, instructors, teaching assistants, tutorial leaders, lab instructors, or other students. Also, make sure to keep any data or papers with students’ information on them in a secure location where other people cannot look at them.
Below are some ethical guidelines to abide by if you are going to be a tutor.
Please do not