Tutor – Learner Relationships

teacher student relationship


One of the most important aspects of learning experiences is the relationship between the learner and the person(s) who is facilitating the learning experience, whether that is a teacher, tutor, peer, parent, friend, grandparent, or other mentor.

If you are a learning facilitator, here are some suggestions to build a great relationship with the student(s) you are working with:

  • Get to know and understand your student. Share some interesting facts about your own life, and your own learning experiences. Ask them about their learning experiences, and aspects of their life such as likes and dislikes. Allow them time to share interesting stories and incidents; rather than “wasting learning time,” you will build trust and rapport – very important to positive learning.
  • Watch the student’s body language. While students may not want to “tell” you how they are feeling, or what learning problem they are facing, careful attention to facial expression, posture, figetting, and so on can give important clues.
  • Listen, don’t lecture. When you pay attention to the student’s stories and really listen to the responses to your questions, you will more quickly discover the learner’s true needs, and the level at which to start. Be ready to adjust the work and learning style as you learn more about the student’s abilities and nature.
  • Pay attention to how the student tries to work out an answer, and watch for “gaps” in knowledge and skills. Often an apparently “big” problem is simply solved by finding a small gap that the student missed at some early stage of learning. Fill in that small piece, and the problem will almost magically disappear!
  • Be aware of the student’s ability to concentrate. If the the child is losing interest, or reacting negatively, change what you are doing. Take a brain break, stretch, have a snack, chat about the child’s interests, or switch from one way of learning the material (say, working on a worksheet or writing) to another (like using a table game or a physical exercise or artwork). As you try different things out, see which kinds of learning styles work best for that student.
  • Encourage the student to tell you what they find easy. Have them “talk through” a math problem, or explain what they are writing. If they already have certain information down pat, don’t bother going over it again and again. It is boring for the student, and a waste of learning time.
  • Tutoring may be a new and intimidating experience for a learner, or the learner may have fellow students or friends teasing them about it, and therefore might not want to be tutored. Help the student to understand the purpose and value of the tutoring. Make your explanations understandable; use stories and illustrations. Share times when you’ve needed extra help yourself, and how it helped you. Also be realistic and honest with the student about the fact that learning is an on-going experience – an adventure, even – and that tutoring isn’t always a “quick fix” but it is a useful tool along a trail that is part of their whole life.
  • Be creative and imaginative as you work with the student. Always be looking for and/or inventing new and interesting ways of learning. Discover what motivates the individual child – what they are especially interested in. Can you make their favourite sport or hobby a part of the learning experience? And as you pay attention to the student, if they explain something in a way that is new to you, thank them. Learning together is the best way to learn.
  • If the student seems unwilling to participate in the learning experience, try to find out why. Ask them how they feel about it, and listen respectfully to their answers. Ask them what they would do if they were the tutor and you were the student. Pay attention to their answers – you might find out something important that you can use to improve their learning experience. Does the student seem to be:
  • – anxious or nervous? why?
  • – intimidated (by you? by the learning environment? by pressure to achieve? or?)
  • – discouraged about his/her ability?
  • – blaming him or herself (or someone else? who? why?)
  • – overwhelmed? in what way?
  • – preoccupied by issues outside the learning experience? – resentful toward the idea of tutoring?
  • – concerned about an upcoming exam? or other classroom situation?
  • While it is important to pay attention to these kinds of issues and help the student overcome them, it is also important not to be drawn into “blame games.” If the student says “It is all the fault of so-and-so,” be careful not to join in the blaming. Point out that the student is not with that person right now, and that this is a fresh learning opportunity. If you suspect there may be some real problem between the student and another person, you may need to make some investigations outside the learning time, but do those privately and confidentially.
  • If the work you are doing with the student is too hard, do not be afraid to go back to a simpler level. It is likely that you will then be able to identify what is “missing” and solve that. Once the “gaps” are identified and filled, the student’s progress will likely take a big leap forward.
  • If you realize that, despite everything you have tried, the relationship between yourself and a student is not working out, suggest to the parents or guardians that a change in tutor would be advisable – or perhaps that tutoring is not the “fix” that is needed. Perhaps the student needs a period of “brain break” or has an interest/passion that they need to focus on at this time, or has a medical issue or personal issue that needs to be solved before carrying on with “academic” issues.
  • Be positive in your interactions with your student, but at the same time give direction for improvement. Give supportive feedback, encourage deeper focus, give constructive correction to misunderstandings, praise strong skills and effort while also encouraging practice of neglected skills, and link praise to specific achievements. On the other hand, do not provide “empty praise” or praise a student for behavior that is clearly lazy or comes from habitual negative attitudes.
  • Get feedback from the student, as well as from your own observations and assessment methods. Ask questions such as:
  • – Do you have any questions about the work we’ve been doing? Is there something I did not explain clearly?
  • – What is the most important thing you learned? Do you feel some of what we studied is unimportant? Why?

What other aspects should a tutor consider in their relationship with a student?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

For more information about tutoring, see the Tutoring Topics page.  If you are looking for a tutor, check out the Tutoring Services offered by Pen and Paper Mama Services.

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