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Developing Your Tutorbase

Abstract

Effective tutor development is critical for a growing learning center. This article summarizes learnings and ideas from 6 learning center directors (video clips included!), covering topics like: generating tutor applicants, interviewing and hiring, training and development, and how to use feedback for continuous improvement. 
Written by
Ben Holmquist
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Published on
February 29, 2024

Tutor quality is one of the biggest drivers of student traffic. A great tutoring session means the student will come back for more, tell their friends, and help you build a positive reputation on campus. This helps with the “retention” piece covered in 3 Keys to Learning Center Growth.

In today’s article, we delve into tutor hiring and training practices deployed by directors around the country. To gain insight, we hosted a moderated discussion on this topic with 6 learning center leaders - you can watch the full call here if you’d like, but key excerpts are also included below. We provide specific examples and actionable steps for each section, including effective channels for tutoring applicants, gathering and utilizing feedback, tutor mentoring and shadowing, and more.

Section 1: Generating Tutor Applicants

Here a few popular channels deployed by directors around the country:

  • Faculty Referrals
    Perhaps the most popular hiring channel, faculty often love referring students they are impressed by. The key here is to just ask. Don’t be hesitant to reach out to faculty out of the blue to kick these relationships off - here is one director discussing that. Developing relationships with faculty is critical in all areas of the learning center.
  • Direct Outreach to Student Lists (Hint: pull a list from OIR)
    The second most common channel mentioned was pulling a list of students, ideally a targeted list of students who got an A/B in the class you are seeking tutors for, and reaching out to them with the opportunity. Note that you may have to reach out to your office of institutional research and request these lists, but that’s OK. See this and this clip for directors describing that process.
  • Job Fairs and Job Boards
    Directors find in-person campus job fairs and job boards like Handshake to be an effective boost - see this clip. Back when Penji was managing private tutors at CU Boulder, the job board was our most effective channel. Keep the posting up to date, ask the job board to bump it to the top of the listing every term, and focus on why it’s a great job for the applicant. 
  • Department Newsletters
    Many newsletter managers are happy to offer opportunities to their students - it’s one of the reasons their newsletter exists! Build out an organized list of all friendly newsletter leads and don’t be shy about asking for their participation each term or each year.
  • Your Student Users
    The best tutor of all will be one who utilized your program heavily, made great progress into becoming an A student, and wants to start giving back. Look for creative ways to poll the interest of your active tutees. These hires help accelerate your culture and your on campus reputation.

Just a few ideas, but we hope they are helpful. Once you’ve got your applicants, it’s on to the interview phase, which can be intimidating but doesn’t need to be! Starting with high-quality applicants by following some of the tips above will help the interview process flow more smoothly.

Section 2: Interview Process

A comprehensive selection process often includes soft skill assessments, subject knowledge assessments, and mock tutoring sessions. Beyond selecting the right tutors, a rigorous interview process also has the benefit of setting an expectation that this is a serious job and establishing a strong culture and community amongst your team.

Group Interviews - Useful at Large Programs

For a program with hundreds of applicants a term, group interviews have been very effective. Some tips:

  • Stagger the subject areas of interviewees so that they aren’t interviewing alongside “competition”. 
  • You can have 10-15 interviewees in at once
  • Ask interviewees to teach each other and observe their work
  • Doing these in Zoom allow you to split out breakout rooms and have multiple team members attend in each

Here are A-State and UGA’s group interview thoughts.

Common Interview Questions

These have come from interviews with more than 5 different directors and our own personal experience. They are not meant to re-write your whole interview but  are meant to give you ideas in categories you may not be exploring.

  • Why do you want to be a tutor?” The answer to this question says a lot about a candidate. If they tell you they just need a job, that’s probably not a great sign.
  • Discuss any teaching experience. Even if they have no formal experience, do they commonly teach peers in classes? Do they LIKE teaching? You may need to prompt to get at these secondary level experiences.
  • Ask questions about the candidate's tutoring philosophy and approach to helping students. The best tutors already have a strong opinion about how students learn.
  • Evaluate the candidate's communication skills, both verbal and written.
  • Propose scenarios that force the candidate to demonstrate how they would handle challenging tutoring situations or conflicts with students. For example, what if the student was totally panicked about an exam and they legitimately didn’t have time to adequately prepare? How would you best help them?
  • Assess the candidate's ability to adapt to the needs of individual students. What is their approach to getting acquainted with the students and their unique needs? Ideally they spend some time setting an “agenda” to start their sessions.
  • Inquire about the candidate's approach to receiving and implementing feedback in their process. Are they appropriately humble and hungry to learn how to teach?
  • Make sure to ask questions about the candidate's availability for tutoring sessions. Even the best tutor in the world is no good to you if they are only available two hours a week at odd times. 

Mock tutoring sessions

This is an especially important step, both in learning centers and in general hiring best practices. Ask the candidate to teach you something! Let them show you their skills in action.  Prepare a few sample questions related to their subject matter, which can be basic for the field in question (for example, you could ask them an algebra question if they are a math tutor). to be stumped, tell them you don’t get it, and see how they respond. They should demonstrate good question asking, empathy, patience, active listening, and ideally an enjoyment of teaching.

Section 3: Tutor Training and Ongoing Development

So now you’ve got your great tutors, how do you keep them that way? Here are a few techniques that successful centers have used to keep their tutors growing and engaged. 

Lead Tutors

Many larger programs deploy a hierarchical model, in which senior tutors are given leadership positions, both helping in general with program management and in particular with tutor training. One cool way to do this is to set your lead tutors  to running rotating monthly workshops in which each lead  specializes in a specific topic, like active learning, personalization, or cultural awareness. Then, require your new tutors to attend all X workshops by the end of their X month.

Peer Observation or Mentorship Program

Pair new tutors with experienced mentors who can provide guidance and support. Here are two managers discussing tutors' desires for more training, particularly with specific situations encountered in sessions.

  • Example: Regularly schedule observations of tutoring sessions and provide constructive feedback to help tutors refine their skills. Consider something like 1 observation per month per tutor. Once again, systems are more important than a single surge in activity. Slow and steady. These observations could be done by Center Directors or senior tutors, the second of which provides less pressure and more opportunity for true observation if you have the qualified senior leads to do it.
  • Another example: Facilitate mentorship meetings where experienced tutors share effective tutoring strategies and tips with new tutors. Consider a monthly round table where you randomly call on tutors to describe a challenging session and their approach.

Professional Development and Training Opportunities

Develop  workshops or webinars to address common challenges identified in student feedback.

  • Example: Conduct a training session on effective questioning techniques to help tutors facilitate deeper understanding and critical thinking.
  • Consider sponsoring tutors to attend virtual workshops or even in person conferences.
  • Additional example: Offer training on strategies for tutoring students with diverse learning styles and abilities.
  • If you don’t have the resources to develop trainings yourself, identify existing online or in-person resources that match your values and utilize these.

Section 4: Collecting Feedback and Sharing With Tutors

Implement Regular Post-Session Surveys

Move away from once-a-term surveys and into session-by-session surveys, if possible. Develop a post-session survey template that includes quantitative and qualitative questions to assess student satisfaction, tutor performance, and the effectiveness of the tutoring sessions. Some sample questions include:

  • "To what extent did you feel listened to during your session?" (Not at all, A little, Somewhat, Very, Completely)
  • "As a result of your session, how confident do you feel about succeeding in the course(s) for which you were seeking support?" (Not at all, A little, Somewhat, Very, Completely)
  • "What types of strategies did you learn in your session?" (Reading, Writing, Studying, Organization or Time Management, Note Taking, Test Taking, Other)
  • "What else would you like to tell us about your session?" (optional)
  • "What suggestions do you have for improving our tutoring and coaching program?" (optional)
  • "Why did you decide to attend LSS sessions?" (Multiple choice options like collaboration, previous helpfulness, recommended by instructor, etc.)
  • How effectively did the tutor explain complex concepts in a way that you could understand?
  • How responsive was the tutor to your questions and concerns during the session?

If you make the tutor-centric questions quantitative, you can review tutor performance side by side during or after the term. Seeing a quantitative ranking can provide interesting insights, even if it isn't the end-all-be-all.

Regularly Share Feedback with Tutors

This data you are collecting should also fuel a continuous learning cycle for your tutor-base. Ensure there is a regular process for passing both positive and negative feedback to tutors. Once a week, month, or term, filter through all tutor feedback, curate the items into a document (ideally one that mixes both positives and negatives), and share that feedback with tutors. Here is a clip of directors discussing their process for sharing feedback. 

At Penji, our performance reviews are always balanced between positives and negatives; this mix provides an encouraging tone while also giving them tangible things to work on. It’s not about disciplining them, its about providing them a balanced and actionable development plan.

Section 5: Frameworks for your Session Structure

Create a best-practice session structure that guides tutors in running an effective session. The key pieces to this are the beginning and the end:

Beginning: ask the student some basic context-setting questions and set a clear agenda. For example:

  • What caused you to schedule a session? 
  • What are you hoping to achieve? We have ____ minutes, so lets agree on a realistic goal.

End: tutors should get in the habit of providing guidance on the students out-of-session time, as well. What behaviors, next problem sets, or other recommended next steps do they have for the student? Should another session be scheduled, and if so, when?

A clear and consistent structure to follow can help tutors to be effective and “trust the process”.

Wrapping Up

Your tutors are inspiring examples of students who are ambitious, love learning, and want to give back. This population of people is one of the best examples of your college’s character and virtues, as I know every director or coordinator would agree. Investments in this side of things are not as immediately obvious as doing more outreach to drive more student traffic, but they pay off in spades and create an engine that will drive years of success and growth in funding.

One last note - it's helpful think of this as a system or a “machine” you are building. Take one small step at a time, and don’t move on until you’ve created a regular process that doesn’t rely on your unique skills to run and manage it. This will (1) help you scale up in the short term and (2) maintain your center’s impact if you move on to a different role one day. The biggest barrier to growing in any organization is usually a leader’s tendency to micro-manage instead of delegating or automating their key processes. Start small, make a process, tune the process, and then add another brick to the wall. Your center, tutors, and students will benefit.

We look forward to seeing how your new processes help your center flourish!

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