Being a tutor means investing in a relationship with a child

If you want to be a great tutor, consider being more. Be a Literacy Mentor. ESLC and national education research suggests that effective instruction is closely linked to the quality of the relationship between each child and the tutor or instructor. 

We ask you to consider a what relationship impacted you as a child. Think about a time when you faced obstacles. Who influenced you? Consider the quality of that relationship. Did you trust that person? Do you believe that person cared about you, your history, culture, values, or interests? What motivated you to listen? To act? It is likely you believed the person cared about you and understood you. You, therefore, trusted the person. 

You can be that person for a child as an East Side Learning Center Literacy Mentor, previously referred to as a tutor. Here are some tips that will help you get to know the child by listening, asking questions, and engaging the child in conversation. 

  1. Invest time and effort in the relationship. They invest time because the increased learning only comes when the adult takes the time to know and understand the child's perspective. High-impact teachers (or tutors) have, “really deep relationships that are about a child’s potential, their interests, their strengths, and weaknesses” (Immordino-Yang, 2015). So ask the child about their life, interests, what they think they do well and what they are struggling with that day. 
  2. Be empathetic and put yourself in the student’s role to understand. Ask questions to understand. Don't assume that because the child appears to be from a particular ethnic group they are like others who look similar. Every person is unique and every family has a unique culture. When the child is explaining their perspective or opinion about something try to understand it from his or her perspective. 
  3. Engage students in thought-provoking conversations with open-ended questions. Instead of, "Did you like that story?" Ask, "What in the story is interesting?" Follow it up with "Why?" 
  4. Create a safe place for the child to make mistakes and try again. When shamed, a person avoids that situation or people associated with the shame, including reading. Effective teachers don’t shame children. Instead they focus their time and energy on making each mistake a natural part of the learning process. 
  5. Use a reciprocol approach. Guide the child in sharing knowledge with you. Talk less. Listen more. Affirm. If you are simply friendly with the goal to attain participation, the child will not learn as much or as quickly. But if you practice give and take in the teaching process, the child is more likely engage in learning and acquire the lesson. Give and take involves being willing to "learn" from the child. They child's way of doing something to learn may be better than what you had in mind and giving the child the freedom to control aspects of the learning process will increase learning. 

Yes, students need to practice their reading skills and learn their phonics, but if we insist on this without taking the time to know the child, hear the child, and to interact with the child, no amount of instruction or practice will produce compliance and learning. A child may comply, but learning is diminished when the relationship is absent.

A child is more likely to look forward to a tutoring session if the child is looking forward to being with you. So invest in that relationship to help the child know you and so the child knows you care deeply.

For a discussion of why ESLC has always focused on relationships in its program, read this blog post.


Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. The teacher-child relationship and children’s early school adjustment. Journal of School Psychology, 35, 61-79, 1997.

Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen, Emotions, Learning, and the Brain, W.W. Norton & Co. 2015
Kaufman, Trynia, MS. Building Positive Relationships with Students: What Brain Science Says, Understood.

Sparks, Sarah D. “Why Teacher-Student Relationships Matter -New findings shed light on best approaches,” Education Week, Vol. 38, Issue 25, Page 8, March 13, 2019.

Abt Associates, Experience Corps Social-Emotional Evaluation, Abt Associates, 2019. 
Collaborative for Academic, and Social Emotional Learning website, 2020.