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Belonging in academic personal tutoring

I recommend keeping a dialogue with your tutor. You should never be afraid to ask for help... most of my support comes from my personal tutor

I had a meeting with my personal tutor and student support officer, which gave me the boost I needed: they told me many students were in the same boat as me and that I wasn’t falling behind

What's great about having a personal tutor is that they know exactly the academic issues that I may face and are able to help with their vast experience around the subject matter

Why is this important for belonging?

As we can see from the quotes above, a positive relationship with an academic personal tutor can play a key role in helping students feel seen and supported during their time at university. Positive tutor/tutee relationships in these meetings can lead to students being more comfortable to share their previous experiences that may be affecting their behaviours and interactions in the university environment. For example, a student who comes from an educational background where mistakes were not tolerated may be fearful of speaking up during lectures and seminars. If students feel comfortable to share this previous learning experience with their tutor during an APT meeting, this can then lead to a helpful discussion about how mistakes help us to learn and around expectations that tutors have (or don’t have) of students at university. Another example is a student who believes they are less capable than other students around them, even though their performance in formative work so far does not support this view. This student may be experiencing imposter syndrome or elements of the hidden curriculum. They may perceive other students as being more capable just because they (other students) seem more confident, and norms are more apparent to them because of the educational and social background they may come from. Knowing that a student feels like this can help us to have conversations that encourage the student to see what they are capable of. The impact of the tutor/tutee relationships and conversations on students’ confidence and learning cannot be underestimated.

What can we do?

  • Get to know your tutees and find out about their previous experiences, not just on an academic level, but when and if appropriate, on a personal level too. An easy way to do this would be to introduce something personal about yourself (if you feel comfortable to do so), that way your tutee will feel more at ease, creating a familiar and welcoming environment. 
  • Ask your tutee about their expectations and fears and reassure your tutee early on that there will be other students, no matter their situation, with similar concerns and worries. This may help students to feel that they are not alone 
  • Explore what your tutees want to achieve for themselves and how you can best support them: prior to first meeting, you could ask your tutee to write a list of their wants, needs and must haves for their academic journey so that you can manage expectations and see where your support is needed. This information can help you tailor questions, advice, and signposting 
  • Consider setting up tutee groups that include tutees from different levels of study – this can provide another layer of support and connections for your students– structure these group interactions with ice breakers and activities that support students in developing relationships with each other