Do you love your students?

Do you love your students? That might seem like an odd question, and not one we often stop to consider, but perhaps we should?

Personal tutoring operates differently in different institutions, and even in different areas of the same institution. In recent years I’ve been intrigued by how we define personal tutoring as no one unified definition exists. At the 2020 UKAT Conference I reported on a research study I undertook with Joe Bailey with the assistance of Ben Walker to replicate a study (Larson et al., 2018) from the US which sought to derive a unified definition of academic advising based on the experiences of practitioners. Our study aimed to similarly derive a unified definition of personal tutoring and adopted an analytics induction approach to refine an initial definition based on the experiences of participants. The initial definition we chose was the one given by Stork and Walker (Stork & Walker, 2015) that a personal tutor is “one who improves the intellectual and academic ability, and nurtures the emotional well-being of learners through individualised, holistic support”.

Recently I’ve been studying a character development course (The Character Course) with friends. In one episode the presenter focuses on the topic of love and reports on the work of scholar Tom Oord who reviewed the philosophical, scientific and theological definition of love in an attempt to produce a unified definition of love which fits all its various forms (Oord, 2010). The definition he came up with was

Acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others, to promote overall well-being

That sounds to me a lot like a definition of personal tutoring, although admittedly is doesn’t mention students or learning. Effective personal tutoring is intentional and purposeful, involves empathising with our students, considering them holistically and acting in a way which encourages and improves their well-being in various ways. Oord’s definition is strikingly similar to Stork and Walker’s definition of personal tutoring if you remove any references to learning.

A few years ago I was invited to deliver an address on personal tutoring to a Universities UK conference. In that address I claimed that there is nothing particularly complex about personal tutoring, we just need to care about our students. I proposed the following acronym based on care to identify some of the important aspects of personal tutoring and the role of the tutor.



Underlying aspirations, fears, assumptions and concerns



Inform, guide and explain



Positively and appropriately for the individual



Encourage personal development; challenge feats, questions assumptions, establish goals, stretch; build resilience, promote resourcefulness


But, based on Oord’s definition, perhaps what we ought to do instead is to LOVE our students:



Listen closely to the story of the individual student before us



Non-verbal communication can often reveal issues that remain unspoken in verbal communication. Where there is a difference between the verbal and the non-verbal communications, there’s usually a matter of underlying concern to the student



Value the individual student, their ideas, opinions, and experiences without judgement



Build up and guide the student to identify goals, explore their own values and act in a way which helps them achieve their aims

This fits nicely with the Narrative approach to advising (Hagen, 2018) which encourages us to engage with the individual stories of our students and to co-author with them their desired future story. Listening and Observing requires us to engage with the student’s existing narrative. By Valuing and Encouraging, we help the student to develop that desired future version of themselves.

So whilst it might not be the first reaction o many personal tutors, perhaps personal tutoring isn’t complicated, perhaps it really is just about acting in LOVE towards our students.


Hagen, P. L. (2018). The Power of Story: Narrative Theory in Academic Advising (J. Givans-Voller (ed.)). NACADA The Global Community for Academic Advising.

Larson, J., Johnson, A., Aiken-Wisniewski, S. A., & Barkemeyer, J. (2018). What is Academic Advising? An Application of Analytic Induction. NACADA Journal, 38(2), 81–93.

Oord, T. J. (2010). Defining love: A philosophical, scientific, and theological engagement. Brazos Press.

Stork, A., & Walker, B. (2015). Becoming an outstanding personal tutor: supporting learners through personal tutoring and coaching. Critical Publishing.

About the author

David is the Chief Executive of UKAT.