social-emotional learning

Social-Emotional Learning Through Tutoring

I need help with my math. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to start. I didn’t understand it when my teacher showed me. I am totally lost.

Many tutoring sessions start out this way. In reading between the lines, the tutor can immediately identify that this student is feeling helpless and defeated, but they still took a huge step toward self-efficacy. They didn’t give up, but instead, reached out for help. Now, it’s the tutor’s job to help the student not just academically, but also socially and emotionally—not just show them how to solve a math problem, but also guide them toward a new degree of confidence and independence. Tutoring provides an opportunity to extend social-emotional learning beyond the classroom. 


Self-awareness goes hand in hand with self-confidence, and confidence building is what tutoring does best. Tutoring fosters a growth mindset where students can realize that needing help means believing that they are still capable of achievement: Just because I got stuck and feel frustrated doesn’t mean I can’t advocate for myself, get help, and get past that roadblock. Next time I feel like this, I can do it again. I can learn and be successful.


Often when students determine they need help from a tutor, they have already reached a point of frustration and self-doubt. That frustration is conveyed to the tutor when the student starts out fatigued and annoyed. We often see this when we hear, “Can’t you just give me the answer?” The tutor’s first order of business is to validate the student’s emotions and help them identify those feelings: “I know you’re stressed and frustrated right now, but I’m going to help you learn how to do this, so let’s take a deep breath, and why don’t you show me right where you got stuck?” This process teaches students to manage stress, and rewards them for having the courage to reach out for help when they need it. 

Another aspect of self-management is being able to set academic goals. A tutoring session provides a differentiated approach for each student—right where they are and right when they need help. Collaboratively, the student and the tutor can identify learning goals and set a roadmap for the session.

Responsible Decisionmaking

Teaching students to make responsible decisions is also a part of tutoring. How can students identify when their struggle toward understanding means they should get help? Rather than just saying, “I can’t do this so I won’t do it,” students can instead realize that coming to a place of confusion or frustration just means there is another opportunity to make a wise decision, persist, and get additional support. 

Relationship Skills

Communicating effectively is one of the hardest things for a young student to do in a tutoring session. Articulating their problem and explaining exactly how and why they need help is often best done with a parent’s assistance. As the communication between parent and tutor is initiated, students observe the interaction and learn how to communicate more effectively on their own. They learn how to build a relationship with a trusted adult and problem-solve effectively.

Social Awareness

Two of the most consequential components of tutoring are empathy and compassion. Tutors meet up with students at all stages of the learning curve and set a tone where the student feels safe and supported. By interacting with empathetic, compassionate tutors, students also learn social cues about showing respect in interactions with new people in their own learning communities.

In short, the lessons learned in a tutoring session venture far beyond any math problem or the reading assignment. Tutoring provides an extension of the classroom—we partner with schools and teachers to engage with their students and reinforce key social-emotional competencies.