Tutor Training

Tutor Training Overview

The Writing Center works to provide high-quality, multifaceted training for students throughout their careers as peer consultants:

  • A summer team building and training session for all tutors.
  • A two-week tutoring “jumpstart” at the beginning of the year that educates students on basic Writing Center values and fundamental tutoring processes.
  • Weekly Skytime training sessions centered around key issues of peer tutoring. Skytime is meant to be sequenced, spiraled professional development for peer tutors.
  • Tutors read and reflect on Writing Center pedagogy throughout trimesters in which they are a consultant. Readings are discussed during Skytime training sessions, and tutors apply lessons from the readings during sessions.
  • To ensure tutors are engaging in reflective practice, tutors maintain a tutoring journal, reflecting on each tutoring session. Consultants are expected to use readings, peer observations, Skytime and workshop trainings, and teacher and student feedback data to assess their areas of strength and areas for improvement.

Research-Based Pedagogical Foundations

Throughout their career as a Writing Center consultants, Skyline consultants are given a strong pedagogical foundation to help them grow as tutors and leaders . The Skyline tutor training handbook, which is developed jointly by the director and the Writing Center’s student leadership, features readings in three (3) core areas:

  • “The Idea of a Writing Center:” This section helps tutors situate the Writing Center in both historical and institutional contexts, getting a sense of its mission and vision.  Tutors are also provided with strategies and methodologies to use during all stages of the writing process to help students become better writers. Just as there is no singular writing process, there is no singular strategy or method for conducting sessions. Tutors learn a menu of techniques that can be deployed in different contexts.
  • Identity in the Writing Center: This section permits consultants to see themselves as change agents in the institutional contexts with respect to the promotion of diversity, inclusion, and growth mindset. The goal of the Skyline Writing Center is to ensure that all students have access to and feel welcome at all times.

While tutors are encouraged to develop their own consultant identities in their work, a strong pedagogical foundation permits them to contextualize those identities in research-based best practices for helping every student achieve at their very best in writing and literacy. Our goal is to ensure that tutors are making informed decisions on how to best work with students who visit the Writing Center, as every student needs something different. The Writing Center’s tutors strive to provide individualized, differentiated support.

Skytime Training Sessions

Skytime, which functions similar to a homeroom or an advisory period, is an opportunity for weekly professional development for Writing Center consultants. Skytime training is generally oriented around a specific topic or theme selected as a focus for the year. Readings, observations, discussions, simulations, and activities are connected to the selected focus, as consultants work together to ensure that they are improving personally and that our program is growing to meet the needs of our school and our community.

2020-2021 | Focus: “Holding Change:” Navigating the Pandemic School Year

During the pandemic school year, our four-day per week Skytime allowed us to extend our focus on being in the “right relationships” with one another (adrienne maree brown), which was as important as ever.   Having strong, durable relationships allowed us to hold space for change, strengthen our structures for addressing conflict, and create meaningful structures for prioritizing individual and community care each day.  This meant that, within our group, we could practice our advocacy skills, setting healthy boundaries, working in mutual support of one another, and amplifying joy.  Skytime featured circles for sharing vulnerability, training to support writers in the online space, teambuilding games to engage our joy, and student-developed presentations on their funds of knowledge.  Our whole-group community and our House structures allowed us to stick together, navigate change collaboratively, and celebrate our collective brilliance and joy.

This year’s activities included:

  • Imagining, designing, and implementing badge projects focusing on building passion and purpose, working toward advocacy, activism, and abolition, promoting valuing all languages and literacies, collaborating meaningfully with community partners, and strengthening systems of transformative justice within our program, school, and community.  Examples include advocating for grading reform and writing the first draft of our Skyline Writing Center Access and Accessibility statement.
  • Working with community organizations, like the Washtenaw County Writing Center for Secondary Students (WCWC), and local (like Kate Wells, Yen Azzaro, and Desirae Simmons) and national guest speakers (like Audrey Watters and Antero Garcia) to sharpen our ability to ask questions about education systems, advocate for equity, fairness, and justice, and imagine a different future together through writing.
  • Building on last year’s efforts, tutors continued their advocacy training to help amplify their voices and create material change in our school spaces to reduce harm and trauma, build new systems and structures from the margins, and continue meeting and exceeding our commitments to equity, justice, and liberation.

2019-2020 | Focus: Community and Connection: Toward Transformative Practice

After a year spent immersing ourselves in restorative practices where we sometimes succeeded and sometimes learned important lessons, we realized that restoring, while important, simply didn’t go far enough in changing conditions in our program and our school.  To go further in our work, we knew we had to spend even more time building a team willing to personally reflect, collectively share, and openly discuss harm in a way that seeks meaningful change rather than quick punishment.  Lines needed to be drawn, erased, and redrawn between accountability and punishment because mistakes were made and will continue to be made until the conditions are transformed so that harm becomes impossible.  Building the intrapersonal and interpersonal skills necessary to engage in transformative justice took most of our time this year, as we moved forward and back, engaged in conversation and silent reflection, and started to understand how small changes can have big impacts.  As school closed, we continued our work online, and we’ve spent our summer using transformative circles to start creating a path forward for pushing this work even further in 2020-2021.

This year’s activities included:

  • Students engaged in basic advocacy training to help amplify their voices and create material change in our school spaces to reduce harm and trauma, build new systems and structures from the margins, and continue meeting and exceeding our commitments to equity, justice, and liberation.
  • Continued Community dialogues with 826michigan and the Eastern Michigan University Office of Campus and Community Writing on identity, social justice, and building equity in  schools and across the region.
  • Teambuilding and communication workshop with tutors from the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan’s Adventure Course.
  • Establishing an extended tutor training course called Radical Youth Literacies to reflect on, talk about, and work to transform school harm and curriculum violence using advocacy, activism, and leadership skills using the work of thinkers and activists like Dr. Marcelle Haddix, adrienne maree brown, and bell hooks.
  • A series of Summer Circles that continued on our Skytime work, bringing returning tutors and new tutors together to reflect on big questions and start the process of developing small-yet-sustainable changes to address them.

2018-2019 | Focus: Restorative Practice

With 30 new members, the Writing Center team would need to form meaningful, lasting relationships to help reduce literacy disproportionality at Skyline and around our region.  Elements of student-led Restorative Practices were implemented as an essential, intentional part of tutor training to build and maintain effective team bonds through sharing vulnerability and centering student stories and experiences.  Building trust and effective relationships within the Writing Center are keys to building trust and effective relationships outside the Writing Center with those we tutor.  Throughout the year, including in community dialogues with 826michigan and Eastern Michigan’s Office of Campus and Community Writing, tutors also used their stories and experiences to interrogate their literacy histories and identities and how they impact their practice as tutors.

This year’s activities included:

  • Proactive restorative circles centered on personal reflection, team building, and, when necessary, community healing.
  • Director conferences with each returning junior in order to build working teacher-student relationships, ensure open lines of communication, and set goals for the future.
  • Community dialogues with 826michigan and the Eastern Michigan University Office of Campus and Community Writing on identity, social justice, and building equity in  schools and across the region.
  • Continued regional literacy work with community partners to work against literacy disproportionality in Washtenaw County.

2017-2018 | Focus: Reflective Practice

In 2017-2018, the Writing Center will welcoming 23 new members to our team, our largest cohort of beginning tutors since we opened six years ago. We believe that being an exceptional peer consultant requires students to also be exceptional reflective practitioners capable of making meaning from their experiences, unearthing assumptions about themselves, other students, the education system, and the writing process, and self-assessing their work in an effort to multiply the funds of the knowledge they do have and make plans for future learning and growth based on the theoretical and practical foundations we establish. Being a reflective practitioner is not an innate skill, and it takes time, effort, and practice to become adept at engaging in rich, thorough self-assessment. Indeed, our training on reflective practice will be ongoing, structured, contextual, and meaningful, all of which encourages students to share vulnerability and engage in dialogue with other practitioners both inside of the Skyline Writing Center and outside in the broader community. Moreover, students will understand how the work of reflective practice is transferable to contexts outside the Writing Center. We know that the emotional labor of reflective practice is high, but we also believe that this is a worthy place to expend our finite energy.

This year’s activities included:

  • Learning how to use our new Reflective Practice form at the end of every session to maintain ongoing, longitudinal self-assessment records.
  • Maintaining a weekly journal on links between theoretical approaches of peer tutoring and lived experience in an effort to consider how the two inform one another.
  • Considering how our own experiences, assumptions, and biases impact our equity and social justice work in the Writing Center in order to raise our consultants’ level of cultural consciousness and responsiveness.
  • Engaging in a “rounds model” with fellow consultants during Skytime to consider problems of practice in meaningful, solutions-oriented ways.
  • Brainstorming ways in which reflective practice can be transferred to other dimensions of our lives–including non-academic dimensions–in order for consultants to be more mindful.

2016-2017 | Focus: Revising the Writing Center

In 2016-2017, students will be reviewing and revising the mission and vision statements for the Writing Center, providing an organizational blueprint for the next five years. This is incredibly important, as the Writing Center has grown tremendously over its first five years of existence. This process will require students to have a strong pedagogical knowledge of both writing and tutoring, important practice in the work of the writing center, and a collaborative spirit to work together to create a strategic plan to propel the Writing Center into its next decade.

This year’s activities included:

  • Defining the non-negotiable traits of a writing center from their theoretical knowledge, practice, and experience with other writing centers.
  • Distinguishing between values and beliefs, providing a rank-ordered list of each for dialogue.
  • Performing a SWOT analysis of the Writing Center to establish an organizational blueprint.
  • Imagining possibilities for the growth and expansion of the Writing Center over the next five years.
  • Prioritizing the Writing Center’s work through the creation of “nesting egg” visual organizers.

2015-2016 | Focus: Growth Mindset

In 2015-2016, consultants have been working on building growth mindset in themselves, those who visit the Writing Center, and the school community as a whole to ensure that they are also attending to the affective dimensions of peer tutoring. This focus was selected due to build even better relationships with students visiting the Writing Center to help Skyline close persistent achievement gaps within its student population that lead to a “Focus School” designation from the State of Michigan, a designation that was lifted in part because of the work of diligent, committed tutors.

This year’s activities included:

  • Painting and decorating the Writing Center to create a welcoming environment for all students.
  • A rotating “gallery walk” to brainstorm responses to questions about affective dimensions of peer tutoring.
  • Building implementation plans based on question responses from the entire Writing Center community.
  • Constructing a “courage board” using Padlet to model shared vulnerability in the Writing Center.
  • Establishing a vocabulary for growth mindset.

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