Establishing Verbal Rapport to Enhance Writing Success

Kyle Harley, Tutor, Kaplan University Writing Center

Over the past few weeks, I have found that students often seek more than a simple session with a writing tutor. The writing issues vary by student, of course, but one consistency that I picked up on includes the students’ desire to feel part of the process as a whole. What I mean by this is rather simple, but even I used to overlook this aspect of tutoring from time to time: Establishing rapport with students, in sum, creates an atmosphere where each individual can feel at home and continue to do so when returning to our services.

This moment really jumped out at me when, of all things, I began discussing horror films with one of my students after our session concluded—this particular dialogue embarked on the path of ’80s slasher films, so it was nearly impossible for me to turn down. Sure, the subject matter deviated a bit off the mark, but I almost wish I would have initiated the session with this conversation due to how the student opened up a bit more and began enjoying himself. When in a tutoring scenario, the atmosphere can at times be a bit awkward for the student, especially given the online context—this in and of itself makes for a difficult task in terms of establishing rapport; however, by relating with the student on the simplest of levels, we broke down the awkward barrier that sometimes rubs students the wrong way and became that much more ‘human’ in our online world. Our tutors do a fantastic job of relating to students on a daily basis, and I now feel that, along with the activity that we conduct in the session, establishing rapport remains just as important for students’ success. As a bonus, they may well end up finding someone with similar interests, and that initially captured my interest when I first visited a writing center what seems to be decades ago.

This particular success may well be beginner’s luck, yet other centers  may share the same success—though accomplishing the task at hand takes precedence for the student’s benefit. Each educator, of course, is not required to ramble on about horror films while in a session, but establishing some sort of connectivity with students will ensure a returning, happy customer. This may not always be the case due to the fact that some students like to accomplish the task at hand and then simply move on; for the others, though, reaching out a bit may in fact make their complex assignments look a little less intimidating. I have since worked with this same student five or six times due to our little conversation after our session, and it appears that each subsequent session after our original meeting improves due to how we both feel comfortable in our surroundings, and the student, overall, appears far more confident than before. In fact, the very same process can easily be applied to the classroom, and I implore more educators to get to know their students more—even if just for a few moments. Most of us sit behind screens all day long, which can at times be a bit daunting and lacking personality, so why not extend the proverbial olive branch and see what comes of it? Creating meaningful connections can make a world of difference, especially when one begins to see progress made by the student in a comfortable, relaxed space. Sure, it is a bit more work on our end, but these are the students that we ‘see’ on a weekly basis; furthermore, I firmly believe that each of us can make a difference by simply connecting with our students while simultaneously changing their lives through education.

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2 Responses

  1. Kyle Harley says:

    Hi, Anne!

    Thanks for your kind words 🙂 I feel very much the same as you do, so it’s great to see those of us out there “fighting the good fight!” It’s always great to do a bit of reflecting on our methods to see what areas can be best improved. Then again, we as English folk, have always been critical of ourselves, haven’t we? 🙂

    Thanks again!


  2. Kyle, your post has me thinking this morning about the particular challenges of establishing rapport with students through an online, asynchronous environment–and how particularly important that rapport is, perhaps, in such an environment. We aim to create a welcoming atmosphere through our social media channels and in our paper reviews, but it’s always good to revisit the idea and reflect on how we’re doing this well and how we can improve. Thanks for the post.

    Anne Shiell, writing instructor and coordinator of social media resources
    Walden University Writing Center

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