Pre-Service Training Guidance

Why is tutor training important?

Training your tutors is the most effective way to ensure they are building and maintaining the skills and mindsets required to successfully tutor in your program. There are two main methods of training: Pre-Service Training, which takes place before tutoring sessions begin, and In-Service Training, which is an integral part of a tutor’s ongoing support.

Why does Pre-Service Training matter?

Pre-Service training is the best way to set tutors up for success before their very first tutoring session. While the specific content and length of Pre-Service Training will vary based on the Model Dimensions of your program, there are three fundamental design principles to consider when designing Pre-Service Training and a series of topics that should be incorporated into sessions regardless of Model Dimensions. (This tool also includes additional model-specific training topics at the end.)

Design Principles

These principles set the foundation for Pre-Service Training and should be considered at every step of the design process regardless of specific content.

Principle 1: Map out Knowledge, Skills, and Mindsets.

All Pre-Service Training sessions should have an achievable objective that maps directly to a skill, mindset, or value that is required for your unique program. The need for this specificity may seem obvious, but if objectives aren’t explicitly considered, programs may not end up training tutors on the highest-leverage content until problems emerge in implementation.

Principle 2: Combine Asynchronous and Synchronous Components.

Whether in-person or online, Pre-Service Training is most successful when it combines asynchronous and synchronous components. Consider including information-heavy content as pre-work or online coursework that can be completed at the tutor’s own pace and dedicate synchronous sessions to interactive discussions, skill-building workshops, and practice sessions. Whenever possible, tutors should have opportunities to discuss with, learn from, and teach their peers.

Principle 3: Ground Training in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Training should promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by both creating a culture that allows tutors to elevate these topics when they come up and providing time and space to question systems of oppression and entrenched power structures that may threaten the advancement of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Incorporate specific sessions dedicated to:

  • Setting a foundation for exploring identity
  • Building self-awareness through uncovering implicit bias
  • Exploring different forms of privilege
  • Generating awareness around the history of systemic racism, paying special attention to local context
  • Building understanding of the local context

All of these sessions should incorporate opportunities for tutors to build awareness related to their attitudes towards education and the experiences they’ve had that inform their vision of the type of instructor they want to be. Engaging in this kind of exploration and discussion will help tutors uncover the biases they potentially hold about education. For example, do they value silence over discussion? Lectures over group work? Note-taking over project-based work? If tutors don’t get the opportunity to unpack why they favor certain behaviors or approaches over others, their actions while working with students may unintentionally work against student learning and uphold a culture of white supremacy.

Universal Training Topics

All programs should incorporate these topics into training sessions. The time you should spend on each, however, will depend on your Model Dimensions. Please see example: Saga Coach’s Pre-Service Training Course.

Tutor Expectations

  • Training should open 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.
  • Formally communicate expectations verbally and give tutors the opportunity to ask questions and get clarification. The training session during which you have this discussion is an ideal time to give tutors the expectations in writing and have tutors sign off on them.
  • To learn more about setting expectations, see the Setting Expectations with Tutors tool and model your training sessions using it as a lens.

Content Proficiency

  • If content proficiency is not prioritized as a selection criterion, Pre-Service Training should incorporate strategies tutors can use to effectively prepare to deliver content fluently and facilitate student learning.
  • When working with students, tutors should be able to explain concepts in multiple ways, identify students’ misconceptions, and proactively plan to address those misconceptions.
  • Pre-Service Training should give tutors the chance to grapple with these strategies and consider how they will structure their own pre-session prep time. Pre-Service training should introduce any specialized content knowledge or skills unique to your program (e.g. some literacy programs need to teach tutors the science around how young children learn to read).

Program-Specific Pedagogy

  • Regardless of tutors’ content proficiency, you must train them on your program’s particular pedagogical practices.

Effective Facilitation

  • Pre-Service training should include skill building for effective session facilitation. Tutors should not only see examples of strong facilitation, but also have the opportunity to practice through role play and giving/receiving feedback.
  • Examples of effective facilitation include implementing an appropriate warm-up, giving clear directions, asking appropriately rigorous and scaffolded questions, and finding opportunities to build the student-tutor relationship.
  • To learn more about facilitation, see the Effective Facilitation Checklist and model your training using it as a lens.

Data Practices

  • Pre-Service Training should be used to 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.
  • To learn more about data use and best practices, see the Example Data Collection Tools and Student Data Privacy Guidance tools and model your training sessions using these tools as a lens.

Supporting Students with Learning and Thinking Differences

  • Training sessions should include opportunities for tutors to practice facilitating sessions that incorporate strategies for working with students who have learning and thinking differences, which are variations in how the brain processes information that can affect how people learn, work, and interact.
  • After practicing, tutors should debrief and receive feedback, then try again (incorporating the feedback).
  • To learn more about supporting all learners, see the Example Tutoring Session Structure, Accessibility Checklist, and Personalizing a Tutoring Session tools and model your training sessions using these tools as a lens.

Tutor-Tutor Team-Building & Networking Activities

  • Tutors are people, too. While social activities aren’t “topics” per se, they are universally useful to include.
    • 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.
  • If your Pre-Service Training includes a session on the program’s mission/vision/values, consider supplementing that training with plenty 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.
Model-Specific Training Topics
These topics are only relevant for specific Model Dimensions. Not all tutoring programs will need them, but those that do will need to prioritize them highly.

Virtual or Blended Instruction

  • If your Delivery Mode is Virtual or Blended, Pre-Service Training should include demonstrations of all features of the online platform and coaching of tutors on how to use it effectively.
  • Tutors should be familiar with all the platform’s basic capabilities (e.g. communication abilities, screen sharing, group discussion features, etc.) and should have a general sense of how to troubleshoot if there are technology issues. They should receive guidance about whom to contact for more advanced tech support if necessary.
  • Tutors may need to employ adjusted warm-ups and/or behavior management strategies in a virtual environment.
  • To learn more about online learning, see the Choosing and Using Blended Learning Software and Choosing and Using Virtual Tutoring Platforms tools and model your training sessions using these tools as a lens.

Tutor-Student Relationships

  • If your Tutor Consistency is Consistent, Pre-Service Training should strongly emphasize the importance of tutor-student relationship-building, along with providing guidance to help tutors understand what effective and professional relationships look like in practice.
  • The more tutors are taught to prioritize healthy relationship-building in interactions with students, the more quickly they will get to know them as people and as learners, the higher their expectations will be, and the more effective and productive their instruction will be. In other words, student-tutor relationships should not be the topic of a singular Pre-Service Training session, but rather should be embedded in all sessions.
  • To learn more about relationship-building, see the Strong, Academically Focused Tutor-Student Relationships and Relationship Building Activities tools and model your training sessions using these tools as a lens.

Small-Group Facilitation

  • If your Student-Tutor Ratio is Small Groups instead of one-on-one, your tutors will need detailed guidance on facilitating small-group instruction effectively while redirecting off-track student behavior and keeping student discussions productive.
  • If the tutors will be responsible for creating the small groups themselves, they should receive training and tools to help them leverage student academic data for this purpose to ensure that groups are both purposeful and flexible.
  • To learn more about facilitating small groups, see the Tips for Creating Data-Informed Student Groups and Effective Facilitation: Small Group Tutoring tools and model your training sessions using these tools as a lens.

Pre-Service Training Examples

Link to Pre-Service Training Overview
Model Dimensions Design of Pre-Service Training
Content Area & Grade Level: 9th Grade Math (Algebra 1)
Target: Universal or Problem-Driven
Setting: In-School
Take-Up: Required
Tutor Type: Paraprofessionals (AmeriCorps)
Delivery Mode: Traditionally In-Person (Implementing SAGA OffSite Virtual in 2020-2021)
Dosage: 45-60-minute sessions 5x per week for 1 school year
Student-Tutor Ratio: 2:1 or 3:1
Tutor Consistency: Consistent
  • 3-week training
  • 5 days a week from 8:30am - 5:30pm
  • Multiple sessions per day
  • For the first two weeks, each day follows a specific theme
  • The last week is dedicated to site-specific time


Brown University Online Tutoring
Model Dimensions Design of Pre-Service Training
Content Area & Grade Level: Elementary School All Subjects
Target: Universal
Setting: Outside of School
Take-Up: Voluntary
Tutor Type: University Students
Delivery Mode: Online or In-Person
Dosage: Dependent on student preference
Student-Tutor Ratio: 1:1
Tutor Consistency: Consistent
Tutors must earn the following three badges by completing the three Community Engagement Orientation Workshops below.
  • Providence: Many Stories (understanding local community context)
  • Providence is not our Playground (privilege awareness & culturally-responsive approaches to the tutor role)
  • Healthy Boundaries and Professionalism
Once completed, tutors undergo a series of trainings pertaining to:
  • Online etiquette and communications skills in an online setting
  • Similarities and differences between online and face-to-face tutoring
  • Problem-solving or growth mindset: applicable to both in-person and online tutoring
  • Empathy and relationship building between tutor and student learner