Growing Your Own Program: Training and Supporting Tutors

Overview: Why is tutor training and support important?

Tutor training is required to fill gaps between your selection criteria and your ideal tutor’s qualities. While the level of training required depends on tutor experience and student-tutor ratio, pre-service training alone will not be sufficient. All tutor types perform better with direction and coaching. Use tutor feedback to customize training content, and read more about Tutor Training and Support on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

How will you prepare your tutors before they start tutoring?

While the specific content and length of your tutors’ pre-service training will vary based on their experience and your program, all programs should incorporate some universal topics into their pre-service training. Saga Coach offers free online pre-service training modules that you should consider. Regardless of whether you use pre-existing training, or develop your own, all pre-service training should include the following topics at a minimum:

Tutor Expectations

  • Open pre-service training with an explicit definition of what it means to be a successful tutor in your program. Carving out time at the outset to discuss what constitutes success makes giving feedback when expectations aren’t met much easier.
  • Communicate expectations verbally and give tutors the opportunity to ask clarifying questions.
  • Create a formal understanding of expectations by having tutors sign a written version.
  • Learn more about setting expectations by referring to the Setting Expectations with Tutors tool.

Content Proficiency

  • If content proficiency is not prioritized as a selection criterion, include strategies tutors can use to effectively prepare to deliver content fluently and facilitate student learning.
  • Incorporate multiple strategies to explain concepts, identify students’ misconceptions, and proactively plan to address those misconceptions.
  • Introduce specialized content knowledge or skills unique to your program (e.g., some literacy programs need to teach tutors how young children learn to read).
  • Provide opportunities for tutors to grapple with these strategies and consider how they will structure their own pre-session prep time.

Program-Specific Pedagogy

  • Regardless of tutors’ content proficiency, provide training on your program’s particular pedagogical practices.

Effective Facilitation

  • Provide training and skill building for effective session facilitation including implementing an appropriate warm-up, giving clear directions, asking appropriately rigorous and scaffolded questions, and finding opportunities to build the student-tutor relationship.
  • Include examples of strong facilitation and the opportunity to practice through role play and giving/receiving feedback.
  • Learn more about facilitation by referring to the Effective Facilitation Checklist.

Data Practices

  • Familiarize tutors with the data-collection tools they will use throughout their time as a tutor with your program, along with expectations related to student data use and privacy.
  • Learn more about data use and best practices by referring to Example Data-Collection Tools and Student-Data Privacy Guidance tools.

Supporting Students with Learning and Thinking Differences

Tutor-Tutor Team-Building and Networking Activities

  • Provide opportunities for tutors to engage with and learn from each other. Examples include incorporating icebreakers into sessions that promote getting to know each other, providing optional affinity spaces, and organizing events outside of training that build positive culture among tutors.
  • Include a session on your program’s mission/vision/values and consider supplementing that training with of team-building activities — both to promote socializing during less-interactive sessions and to leave tutors with strong implicit associations between their positive social-emotional experiences that day and your program’s identity.

Read more about Tutor Pre-Service Training on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

How will you match tutors with students?

High-impact tutoring works best when students consistently work with the same tutor and build a strong, academically-focused relationship with that tutor. Intentionally matching students with tutors whose individual personality and instructional style works best for the students will help keep students motivated to reach their academic goals. Students also have different academic and accessibility needs, and pairing each student with a tutor who can best meet their needs increases the impact of tutoring on their academic growth.

Best Practices for Matching Tutors with Students

  • Use predetermined matching criteria. Using articulated criteria is the most common method for matching tutors and students, though the criteria can vary depending on your focus area. Use surveys to gather relevant data, then make matches accordingly. Common matching criteria include the following:
    • Student struggles/tutor expertise
    • Student accessibility needs/tutor skills (e.g., bilingual tutors for ELL students)
    • Shared identities or academic interests
    • Similar personalities or backgrounds
    • Available days and times
  • Rotate through matches and see what works. It can be hard to predict which matches will work, so try rotating through several possible matches early on in the program before settling on a consistent match.

Alternatively, you could consider the following methods, though they have both practical disadvantages of being difficult to implement and the potential to result in unintended inequities.

  • Let students inform their tutor match. Allowing student input into their tutor match can give them a sense of agency in their own learning, but they will need coaching to provide good input, and may be disappointed if they do not get their first-choice tutor.
  • Let caregivers inform their students’ tutor match. Giving caregivers a role in tutor selection can help build their investment and involvement in the program, but caregivers might recommend tutors based on their own preferences, not their student’s.
  • Let teachers match tutors with students. Teachers know students’ academic needs best, but sometimes may match students based solely on perceived deficits without regard for personalities or learning styles.
  • Let tutors choose their students. If tutors have enough experience to know their own strengths and can access detailed student data to inform their decisions, tutors can identify good matches themselves.

Whichever method you choose, re-examine student-tutor matches at regular intervals: use surveys to gather feedback from caregivers, teachers, tutors, and (above all) students to assess the success of the match. If a match isn’t working, identify why not, and consider re-matching the student with a different tutor if necessary.

Read more about Matching Tutors with Students on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

How will you ensure your tutors’ sessions align with your students’ school curriculum?

Why does curriculum alignment matter?

Students derive the greatest academic benefit from tutoring and can best apply what they learn in tutoring to their schoolwork when their tutoring curriculum aligns with the High-Quality Instructional Materials used in their classrooms. Therefore, your program should provide tutors with rigorous, standards-aligned, grade-level-appropriate instructional materials to use.

Note: A Grow Your Own approach is not recommended for districts where High-Quality Instructional Materials are not already in place because high-quality materials are essential for high-impact tutoring. If you are not yet using a high-quality curriculum, partner with a provider who is, and work to improve your own instructional materials until they meet the same high standard.

What resources do you need to align tutoring sessions with school curricula?

Survey the school curricula in use across your district and collect the following High-Quality Instructional Materials for each subject area and grade level in your tutoring program’s Focus Area:

  • Scope and Sequence: Scope and sequence materials help tutors see the year-long arc of student learning, avoid overlap, and narrow down content. Tutors can also use this information to identify opportunities for remediation or learning acceleration.
  • Unit Plans: A Unit Plan typically includes the standards covered over the course of 4-6 weeks, the lesson plan objectives and their order, a calendar, and the unit assessment. Unit Plans help tutors identify prerequisite skills and knowledge students will need in order to access the new grade-level material they will learn.
  • Lesson Plans: A detailed explanation of exactly how a teacher will instruct on a particular standard or learning goal. These plans can be useful for tutors to internalize and mirror terminology, review the content their students are learning, and see what their day-to-day learning experiences are like.
  • Textbooks: A single textbook sometimes serves as the entire curriculum. If multiple textbooks are used, use the scope and sequence to focus on the parts of each textbook the class will cover (and in the right order).

Using these resources to reverse-engineer a tutoring curriculum

Once you have assembled key materials, review them thoroughly and consider two fundamental questions:

  • What are the foundational skills students need to be successful?
  • What are the most important standards that students are learning?

Then, overlay your tutoring program’s scope and sequence to align each session with the classroom curriculum. Ask:

  • What prerequisite skills might students need to access upcoming content?
  • What new skills will students be learning each week?

Finally, create and adjust supplemental materials as necessary based on feedback.

  • Ask teachers to identify tipping points where students tend to fall behind if they fail to master a particular standard and core skills that students will apply all year; focus on those standards and skills.
  • Work with implementers, particularly Special Educators, to pinpoint likely misconceptions that students may hold about concepts or terminology; address misconceptions preemptively during tutoring sessions.

How will you supervise and support your tutors?

In-Service Training

Regular in-service training is an integral part of a tutor’s ongoing support, helping your tutors consistently meet your expectations, support their students, and continue growing as educators within your district community. This training should refresh tutors’ knowledge of what was covered in their pre-service training, but also build on it by introducing more advanced content or facilitation strategies as tutors progress and gain experience.

Plan a scope and sequence for training, establish a regular cadence for sessions, and share the scope and sequence with your tutors ahead of time to help them plan ahead. However, remain flexible, and adapt or modify this plan as necessary: Just like your tutors, you should use your observations to identify and meet individual learning needs. If you notice common struggles across tutors, consider addressing these via in-service training sessions.

Ongoing Supervision and Support

The level of supervision and support should reflect tutor experience levels and tutoring program modality:

  • Heavy oversight and individual coaching support from a Site Director or Coach. Highly effective, but very time-intensive. Mandatory for less experienced tutors, but still helpful even for classroom teachers.
  • Daily oversight from school faculty with routine support from program staff. Most appropriate when tutors and teachers can collaborate intensively without running into problems with established collective bargaining agreements.
  • Virtual oversight and support. Most effective when the tutoring itself is completely (or mostly) virtual. Supervisors can either pop into sessions or record a session f to watch and later provide feedback.
  • Light oversight with peer support via professional development communities. Most effective with expert or master tutors (e.g., classroom teachers). Less experienced tutors will need more support than this.

Regardless of how intensive your support model is, tutor support has four key best practices: creating a culture of open communication and feedback, supporting tutors in creating their own goals for improvement, conducting regular observation and debrief cycles, and creating a clear rubric to assess tutor performance (see section title Rubrics). Read more about Tutor In-Service Training and Support on the National Student Support Accelerator website.

Staffing Needs for Tutor Supervision and Support

Depending on program scale and tutor type, you will need to decide if you are able to cover direct coaching and training through your centralized staffing model. If not, you may want to consider whether you should appoint school Site Directors or Coaches who are managed by district central personnel. Depending on the number of tutors per school and their experience level, a single Site Director or Coach could work across several schools.

Typical responsibilities of a School Site Director or Coach include:

  • Actively partnering with school administration to set a vision for tutoring at the school site.
  • Ensuring strong implementation of the tutoring program by reviewing data and making improvements.
  • Observing and providing feedback on strategies to facilitate adjustments when needed.
  • Providing ongoing coaching to tutors and sharing feedback from tutors with central district staff.