Carnegie Mellon University

II. Tutoring as Mentoring

Even though it may not be obvious, the daily interactions you are having with your student are incredibly important to his/her development.  You have the opportunity to be a positive role model and a mentor for these students. Mentors assure students that they have someone who cares about them and the work that they do. Mentors provide encouragement and help students with the challenges they may face. Below we have included some tips and strategies on how to be an effective mentor.

1. Tutor-Student Relationship

It is important to acknowledge that there is a specific relationship that you should have with your students. Think about the impression you want to make and understand that there are multiple aspects of this relationship that you must maintain. This tutor-student relationship takes time to grow, and relies on consistency, trust, and proper boundaries.

Setting boundaries with social interactions:

  • Lay the ground rules for how you will interact with your students. Gently remind your student whenever they cross that line. Be comfortable asking for help in determining appropriate behavior or if you are unsure how to breach the subject with a student.
  • Physical contact should be kept to a minimum. Hand to hand contact such as handshakes, first bumps or high fives are all acceptable and can be a simple way to positively encourage your student. 
  • Maintain firm boundaries in terms of email, social media, and other forms of communication such as exchanging cell phone numbers. Our world is full of newer, better forms of technology and social media. It’s easy to accept friend requests on social media or answer a friendly email from a mentee. Your role is that of a tutor, not friend, and following students or accepting students on social media platforms is strongly discouraged. Additionally, check your own social media privacy settings to ensure that you are presenting yourself as a positive role model to your students. CMU Child Protection Operations has more information on healthy boundaries with minor student populations. 

Strategies for dealing with difficult situations:

If there is a difficult situation that you cannot handle, do not be afraid to talk to another tutor or a faculty member. If something makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts and tell your instructor or project leader.

2.  Make it Fun and Make it Friendly

Helping your students to learn is the primary goal. This does not mean that you cannot have fun. You should build positive and friendly tutor/tutee relationships with your students. This will keep them interested in returning, learning, and succeeding.

  • Be positive and encourage students to give it their best efforts.
  • Build a good rapport with your students. Initiate a bit of small talk at the beginning of your tutoring session. Ask students how their day went, what they learned that was interesting that week, what school activities are happening at the moment, etc.

Don't be discouraged if there is not an immediate connection with your students as that dynamic can sometimes take some time to establish.

3. Communication & Active Listening

In our daily lives, we are constantly listening and reacting to the world around us. Active Listening allows us to better understand students and their tutoring needs, concerns, and questions. Below are some tips to become good active listeners.

  • Repeat a student’s question back to them in the form of a statement. For example, you may say something like: “It sounds like you’re asking... Is that correct?” Not only does this clarify the question, but it shows your student that you are listening.
  • Body language is essential to active listening. Be aware of your posture, your facial expressions, and your eye contact. Proper eye contact shows your student that you’re listening to him/her.
  • Ask Probing questions. Ask questions that expand conversations and learning. For example, ask questions that could help your student to gain a deeper understanding. You might ask questions like: “What do you think would happen if...” or “Could you imagine another way...”
  • Allow for silence. Sometimes not talking can feel a little uncomfortable but giving your student an extra ten seconds of silence can prompt him/her to speak up, voice concerns, opinions, or ideas.
  • Empathize. If a student is having a bad day, acknowledge that sometimes situations can be frustrating. Say something like “That sounds very frustrating..,” or “It’s understandable that you’re upset about...”
  • When times get tough, redirect. This is a good tactic to use if your student is expressing a lot of frustration about a particular problem or subject. Move on to a different problem, or take a short break. A change of pace helps students to regroup and finish their other work.

4. Trouble with Homework

Remind students that what they’re feeling is important; don’t shut them down.

  • Identify with your student’s frustrations, but direct your student to think about why it is important to complete homework, and how they can work through the frustration. Sometimes, a student may simply need a break from the assignment, and may need to work on another assignment before returning to the first. Sometimes, a two-minute stretch break or a walk to the water fountain may help. Use your best judgment. 
  • Validate your student’s frustrations. For example: “I understand that this is important to you…” Try to understand where your student is coming from. This will help you to find the best approach for moving forward. If you can relate to the student's frustrations with a certain topic, share your own story about how you were able to accomplish the task or finish the related homework. 
  • Ask students what strategies they've found helpful in the past. Come up with homework solutions with them.
Remember to use active listening skills. Listen, ask any clarifying questions, and repeat back what you think the student is asking to be sure you understand. After you have a discussion, you may even want to ask, “Does that make sense?” in order to gauge if you have effectively answered your student’s question. 

5. Trust-building

At the end of the day, you want to provide a place where students feel comfortable expressing themselves and their struggles. Be fair, honest, and consistent with your students. With time, they will return the favor with their trust.