Element #4 of Highly Effective Tutorial: Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy

For eight years running, Tutors for All programs have achieved jaw-dropping results for Boston kids and the organizations that serve them.

How have our programs accomplished this?  While each program in our history has its own unique story, we believe that seven key elements unite them and offer a road map to follow.

MGH Spring 2014 Report

  1. High Quality Oversight
  2. Professionalization of Tutors
  3. 1:1 or 1:2 Ratios
  4. Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy
  5. Regular Assessment and Progress Monitoring
  6. Tutors for All (not Some)
  7. Leveraged Subsidies for Service

Over the next few months, we’ll be spending some time discussing each of them.  Our goal: a conversation among experts and beginners on how effective programs can work.

Today’s topic: Balanced Collaboration and Autonomy

Although there are many reasons for Tutors for All’s success, one key factor is its strong partnerships with the schools and community organizations in which it works. Tutors for All has worked with a wide variety of partners: district schools, charter schools; high schools, middle schools, elementary schools; organizations like the YMCA and Mass General Hospital. Each of these institutions has its own set of standards and expectations for the students it serves. Tutors for All works needs to collaborate to produce a smooth, collegial environment in which to pursue academic success. At the same time, Tutors for All programs need autonomy in order to instruct each student individually, building on his/her unique combination of strengths and areas for growth.

Upon partnering with a school, the Tutors for All Program Manager spends considerable time molding Tutors for All’s model into a program best suited for that school and the needs of its student population. The Program Manager works with a designated liaison to integrate the standards of behavior into the Tutors for All expectations. This can involve learning how to use a school’s system of merits and demerits, or using the same language when speaking about the academic expectations (e.g. an oft-repeated motto, “Everybody learns here,” acronyms, “Let’s see that SLANT”, or nomenclature, “welcome Bicentennial Scholars!”) Where possible, a program manager will work with teachers to gain insight into students’ learning styles and align curricula appropriately. The program manager and the liaison have regular weekly meetings to check in on norms, expectations and learning goals. It is critical for Tutors for All and school/community partner to represent a united front. An effective Tutors for All program is smoothly integrated within an academic environment. Students are encouraged, supported, and accountable, fairly and equally by everyone invested in his or her academic success


At the same time, however, Tutors for All operates as a “school within a school.” We have our own instructors (tutors), our own curriculum, and our own administration (coordinators and program managers.) The academic content of a tutorial is not determined by daily class or homework, but instead by a student’s progress mastering the skills necessary for the independent completion of that work.  The pace of the lesson is determined by the students needs, and disciplinary infractions are handled by program administration. This level of individualized instruction and intervention (where necessary) in a student’s learning allows a classroom teacher to then focus on the class as a whole, and to follow the grade level content assigned.


This balance of collaboration and autonomy between partner school and its Tutors for All program allows for a united front of tutor, teachers, and administrators working towards providing our students with the most individualized education possible. With the support of the partner schools, tutoring becomes legitimate and incorporated into the school schedule as a mandatory class, rather than a stigmatized, remedial program. With the support of Tutors for All, students are taught and teachers are freed from reviewing and re-teaching remedial skills to students.  The result: students are prepared for and teachers can focus on grade-appropriate content, with “college and career preparedness for all” no longer just a saying, but now an achievable goal.

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