Core skills of a personal tutor

Posted in: Professional development, Student support

I was doing some reading about the qualities and skills needed by Personal Tutors to form effective relationships with their students, and I came across this extract from Lochtie et. al (2018). There are 13 core skills that have been identified that will help personal tutors succeed.

You may find the table below helpful as bit of structure to help self-assess your own strengths in the following areas and to identify some some areas of development.

Taken from Lochtie et al. (2018)

Core skills Explanation and/or examples
1.Building genuine rapport with your students Developing a harmonious relationship with a student in which each person is able to communicate effectively and understand the other’s feelings or ideas.
2.Active listening and questioning Asking intelligent questions and listening to/observing the responses is integral to ensuring that tutoring aids retention (Wilcox et al, 2005; Dobinson-Harrington, 2006; Wisker et al, 2007; Thomas, 2017; Stenton, 2017). It is also important to the student that their tutor listens actively and is able to interpret clear verbal and non-verbal messages.


Students are more likely to succeed if tutors challenge them to achieve more (Mayhew et al, 2010). Challenging may be possible in discussion sessions, when setting goals and milestones or when encouraging them to embrace autonomous and independent learning (Rhodes and Jinks, 2005; Mayhew et al, 2010; Thomas et al, 2015; Ralston and Hoffshire, 2017). Guiding students to think more carefully about their situation and challenging the assumptions that they make may help them to see things they may otherwise fail to recognise.
4.Reflecting back and summarising


It is important to help students to reflect upon their motivations, aspirations and needs alongside their assessment feedback in order to make sense of their academic progress (Hughes, 2004; Stephen et al, 2008; Stenton, 2017; Calcagno et al, 2017). Showing students you understand what they have said by listening actively and paraphrasing it back to them will not only help your students to learn but also help you to continually reflect upon your own experience as a practitioner (Schön, 1983; Wisker et al, 2007; Small, 2013).
5.Developing independence and resilience


The quality of the academic environment is critical in helping students foster the resilience they need to succeed. The ability to embrace and learn from failure can be developed by personal tutors if they possess the innovative pedagogies required to do so (McIntosh and Shaw, 2017). As nurturing strong, independent learners is a traditional value and mission of HE, academics need the skills and knowledge required to help students understand and practise effective independent learning (Thomas et al, 2015; McIntosh and Shaw, 2017).


The ability to work effectively with your fellow tutors is paramount. It is also likely to grow in importance as you progress throughout your career and develop your academic programme (McCabe and McCabe, 2010).
7.Decision-making and problem-solving


Thinking through and making difficult decisions, even when there doesn’t appear to be a clear consensus or solution.
8. Role modelling Serving as a role model, academically, professionally and in terms of reflective practice, is an important part of being a personal tutor (Small, 2013). Embracing positive core values sets a healthy precedent for students; it also maintains professional boundaries and helps students to see what professionalism looks like.
9.Proactivity, creativity and innovation


Creativity is a requirement to succeed as a tutor and innovative practices are an indicator of success in student retention. Effective personal tutoring needs to be proactive because students prefer any interaction to be instigated by the tutor (Malik, 2000; Whittaker, 2008; Stephen et al, 2008; McCabe and McCabe, 2010; Thomas and Jones, 2017). However, a balance between proactive tutoring and student choice/autonomy is also required, especially in the face of competing daily pressures faced by both tutors and students (Stephen et al, 2008; Whittaker, 2008). The management of boundaries and the discussion of expectations is very important here.
10.Working under pressure


Tutors are often exposed to many emotional situations, including listening to some distressing circumstances involving their students. This may leave both tutors and students feeling anxious and overwhelmed (Earwaker, 1992; Stephen et al, 2008; McFarlane, 2016). The time to support students in this way may not necessarily be included in their timetable or the time allocated may not be sufficient, forcing tutors to work beyond their contract to provide the best support they can (Hart, 1996; Owen, 2002; Havergal; 2015). In the face of these significant challenges tutors need to remain calm in order to stay effective and be sure to ask for help and support from others in order to perform their role.


Tutors need to be a consistent and reliable point of contact and so must be transparent in letting students know when and how to contact them. If tutors advertise certain times when they will be available to students in their office they have to make sure that these times are consistent and communicated to students properly. If these circumstances change they must offer a clear alternative (Swain, 2008; Ross et al, 2014).
12.Critical thinking



It is vital that academics demonstrate and model to students a critical thinking approach to the management of information and help them to appreciate the dialectic processes of constructing knowledge (Wingate, 2007; Thomas et al, 2015).


13.Digital literacy



Digitally fluent tutors use technology to support their tutoring. This can promote innovative pedagogical practice and can lead to richer interactions with students, validating particular aspects of digital literacy and recommending these practices to them (Bennett, 2013; Higher Education Academy, 2017; Grey and McIntosh, 2017).


Lochtie D, McIntosh E, Stork A, et al. (2018) Effective Personal Tutoring in Higher Education. Northwich:
Critical Publishing.

Posted in: Professional development, Student support


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