Tutors are change-makers.
Daniel Pink talks about it in his ‘To Sell is Human‘: anyone whose job is to move people from one position (not knowing, not perceiving, not understanding) to another (knowing, perceiving, understanding) is a salesperson.
Tutors are selling learning, and not only in the obvious service-provider sense. We are making learning happen. Coaxing students out of their comfort zones, cajoling them towards what Rachel Botsman calls ‘the sea of uncertainty’.
The unknown is an exhilarating space to occupy, but it can be terrifying.
You can’t learn anything new unless you’re willing to step forward into uncertainty, and if a student is too paralysed with fear to take the plunge, how will they ever progress?
What gives some of us the gift of being able to face that incapacitating fear of failure, of humiliation or disappointment and still leap? Trust.
Trust in others, trust in the learning process and ultimately trust in ourselves.
Trust is the basis of learning, and so really what tutors sell is trust.
What does trust cost, and how do we get others to buy? In myriad ways, constantly and wordlessly. In our Qualifications for Tutors we talk about the 7 Ps of Professionalism: Punctuality, Presentation, Politeness, Preparedness, Positivity, Patience, Persistence!
(Friends, this is an original model – please let me know and reference Qualified Tutor if you want to use it)
By building up these characteristics of an inclusive, collaborative new professionalism, we indicate our trust-worthiness constantly. We show our students that their progress is our priority. We show them the intrinsic value of their learning.
More than that, as mentors, tutors become models for the precise behaviours that are a far greater predictor of their life outcomes than exam grades. By showing up with the 7 Ps, we show our students what patience and persistence and positivity can do, and how preparedness set us up for success. We model soft skills and we send them into life better equipped. We show them how to be whilst we show them how to learn.
But what about those students who need the most help? The students who have had the worst experiences with learning, with classrooms. Students who have been disappointed or even betrayed by adults in the past. Then a tutor has to build trust from the ground up. In an act of total acceptance, we have to relinquish our assumptions and go to where the student is. We assess the student’s starting point, what the destination is, and we build them their own road map.
If the student has ASD (autism spectrum disorder), maybe the destination is independent living, and one step on the way is making a sandwich. If the student struggles with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), maybe they can access high-level academic work but only in short bursts, broken up by physical activity breaks.
What if it’s simply a lack of confidence (and who can’t relate to that?) – the tutor will build in quick wins, opportunities to connect effort with success (quoted from Headteacher Amy Welch), moments that the student can use as new touchstones on their path towards building trust.
How do we know when we’ve been successful as a tutor? When the student trusts themselves. To have a go. To step forward into that sea of uncertainty with the knowledge that even if it’s uncomfortable, confident that it won’t kill them and it may be a thrilling experience.
How do we know when they’ve bought what we’re selling? When they move on.