What Makes A Successful Tutor?

Several things become apparent after tutoring for 10 years. For one, working 1:1 is very gratifying. In addition, a few specific yet generalized characteristics become crystalized about what makes a successful tutor. 

Personalized tutoring fills a need that can't be filled in today's schools alone. As a former classroom teacher, I would often struggle connecting with each of my students on a meaningful basis. Tutoring is becoming more common in schools with blended learning programs. The Gates Foundation is giving grants to online tutoring companies like Khan Academy. More and more parents, teachers and students are realizing that tutoring gets at the heart of any learning experience, personalizing the meaning and instruction at hand. Tutoring allows students to receive the individualized attention they need. 

In my own experience, I have found several consistent factors that make a successful tutor and contribute to students' improved academic success and self-confidence. 

1). Successful Tutors build strong, personal relationships with their students. I have experienced  the role of a teacher and a tutor. Each serves an important, but slightly different purpose. Personal relationships are foundational to student success --- the more the student feels connected to his or her tutor, the more the tutor creates trust and respect, essential ingredients for students to learn well and grow academically. I have found it extremely important to listen to the students' unique ideas and perspective. As a result of listening and building an authentic relationship with a student that I tutor, I have been able to: 

  • Truly personalize the learning 
  • Incorporate connections to the student's interests
  • Teach to the student's strengths
  • Minimize the student's weaknesses 

2). Successful Tutors have specific subject expertise. A truly successful tutor can make learning fun, relevant, engaging. A successful tutor is an expert in their content--they know the subject's concepts, ideas and problems inside out. Tutors are able to make their content knowledge relevant to the students lives. Tutors who can make learning relevant to students' interests create more students who actually care about what they are learning and invested in the learning process.  

3). Successful Tutors invest in their own learning. The best tutors and educators remember the importance of being lifelong learners. As a tutor, I'm always researching new ideas within the field of education. I recognize that there is always room for improvement. In order to improve, I connect with other teachers and tutors. I also read articles and books about education. It is important to learn from best practices and keep up to date with the current research in education. 

4). Successful Tutors listen and communicate early and often with parents and teachers. It is important to recognize that tutoring is a partnership between the student, parent, teacher, and tutor. An effective tutor aligns their instruction with the lessons of the teachers and the goals of the parents. To this end, it is critical that tutors have clear and consistent communication with both teachers and parents. Communication and collaboration with all stakeholders are key factors to students success. When tutors focus on goal setting, creating benchmarks and planning backwards, this sets students up for academic progress.

5). Successful Tutors individualize their lesson plans. Successful tutors learn about their students' individual strengths,  weaknesses and learning style. Successful tutors create  lesson plans around the learning style that best fits their individual students. Some students are more visual learners, while others are more verbal. It is the role of a tutor to figure out which way his or her student learns best and create lessons around those individual needs. 

6). Successful Tutors Ask Lots of Questions. Successful tutors ask lots of questions of their students. It is the role a tutor to empower the student in their own learning. By asking lots of different type of question the tutor engages the student in an active mode of learning. A tutors' job goes beyond providing correct answers. A good tutor helps students become more independent. A tutor's  role is to help students assess their own academic strengths and weaknesses.  

7). Successful Tutors bring the Joy Factor. Successful tutors bring a joy factor to their tutoring sessions. Tutors should be excited about the subject that they are tutoring. Tutors can transfer that excitement to their students. Students that are more excited about a subject will more likely want to invest in their own learning. 

8). Successful Tutors have High Expectations. Successful tutors have high expectations of their students. Successful educators recognize that we get from our students what we expect from them. A tutors' every action should be driven by the insight that high expectations cause high achievement. In my own teaching and tutoring experience, every time I have raised the expectations for my students, I have also raised their performance. Often times the biggest obstacle to student success is actually low expectations. Too many students do not expect themselves to succeed, so they do not. When students are expected to perform at high levels, they absolutely do.