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Social and Emotional Roles of a Great Tutor

In an editorial on the research topic of academic advising and tutoring in higher education, McIntosh, Thomas, Troxel, van den Wijngaard, and Grey (2021) provide a summary of a collection of international research. The collection has dominant themes, including the beneficial impact of tutoring on student health and well-being, student voice, and student engagement.

This cumulative research brings to light what many in higher education already know: tutoring is much more than simply helping a student with content knowledge.

However, such insight leads to the realization that a great tutor must take on many more roles than simply being a resource for facts and figures. These tutoring roles can range from motivating students, to offering guidance, to simply listening.

A college or university hoping to expand their tutoring program and to provide beneficial services to students should look at fostering the following social and emotional tutoring roles. 

Enhances Student Engagement

In a study specific to mentoring relationships, Girves, Zepeda, and Gwathmey (2005) discuss the beneficial role mentors have in helping women and minority groups feel more involved in the academic life of the university or college. The higher education institutions with strong mentorship programs experience higher retention rates and educational advancement.

Though mentorship might connote a longer-lasting relationship than tutoring, there can be overlap in the two, especially in terms of helping students feel connected to their institution of higher learning.

After all, many students move away from their families and communities to seek their degrees, and can easily feel isolated in a new academic culture.

A tutor could be one of the few adults, or even peers, with whom a student forms a connection. These vital connections may have little to do with content knowledge, but a lot to do with engaging the student in their college or university and what it can offer.

Great tutors, then, become a necessary bridge, especially post Covid-19, to creating personal connections, improving access, and addressing the marginalization of certain groups (McIntosh et al., 2021).

Serves as a Confidante

Even though faculty offer office hours or opportunities during class for students to ask questions, not every student feels comfortable or takes advantage of this time. Understandably, asking a question in front of peers or meeting with a tenured and highly acclaimed professor can feel intimidating.

Fortunately, great tutors can serve as the role of confidante, especially peer tutors. Students feel comfortable talking about a course to their tutors in ways they are not always comfortable talking to their professors (Abbot, Graff, & Catfield, 2018).

Tutors are likely some of the only people who hear specifics about a student’s academic struggles. In the process of reviewing academic content, tutees may uncover areas in their learning that need improvement.

These revelations can often feel private, such as admitting a weakness with study skills, or not knowing how to conduct research. But it is exactly through these private reflections that a tutor’s role as confidante leads the most to student growth.

Facilitates the Development of Coping Skills

Though tutors are often thought of in terms of providing supplementary content support, one of their roles is actually helping students become more independently successful learners (Walker, 2020). 

Students who frequent writing centers, for example, should show improvement and progress over time as they learn to conduct research and craft academic papers.

This independence extends into more social and emotional areas as well. Great tutors can suggest study skills, test-taking strategies, and how to take notes during lectures. They can advise when it’s time to take a break and how to balance academics and social opportunities. 

Further, when asked, tutors have shared the benefits of strategies including engaging tutees in collaborative conversations and focusing on positive outcomes (Walker, 2020), both of which promote the development of coping skills and increased independence.

Guides the Tutee Through Stressful Situations

College and university life can be a lot of fun. It often comes with freedoms and new experiences through which many students thrive. But “new” isn’t always easy, and for some students, navigating higher education can feel stressful.

A great tutor guides students through many of these stressful situations, from learning how to navigate an online course to finding relevant scholarly articles at the library to preparing for finals for the first time.

Additionally, tutors frequently have knowledge of other campus support systems, such as financial aid or counseling, and they are likely at the front lines of connecting students to these valuable resources when they need them (McGill, Ali, & Barton, 2020).

Tutoring can even help prevent stress, especially that caused by a lack of confidence. As great tutors fulfill their many roles, their tutees receive holistic knowledge, resources, and care that help them develop persistence, independence, and feelings of success.

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