By Jo Meredith, Director of Tutoring Plus

Recently, I have been reflecting on the barriers to learning that I have experienced myself and what kind of environment or learning conditions suit me best. After almost 40 years in education, this prompted me to do a deep dive into the barriers to learning for the many children and young people that I have worked with over the years.

We are aware of the cliché that ‘behaviour is a form of communication,’ which is true, but it is more complex than that. We all exhibit a variety of behaviours at different times and in different circumstances. We then interpret others’ behaviours based on our own experiences – cultural, social, societal, etc. – which is also complex.

My experiences have led me to the conclusion (and it is not rocket science!) that all forms of communication are greatly improved if supportive relationships are built. We all want to be loved and need to be able to trust others.

Humans are social animals and need strong, supportive, and loving relationships to thrive. This got me thinking about those children and young people that we work with that have experienced trauma in their lives, and how we can moderate our approach to show integrity and authenticity in all our interactions. It is always helpful to know that anyone we interact with could have suffered trauma in their lives and to ensure that we build relationships through a trauma-informed lens. This means firstly being sensitive to the impact of trauma on others and yourself, and secondly, understanding this and using strategies to support yourself and others in regulating emotions during times of stress.

This enables us to understand that trauma is widespread. Many of us have a trauma story or narrative in our lives and as mentioned before, these experiences will affect how we perceive the world. Once we understand this, it allows us to think differently about how we interact with the people around us.

With this in mind, here are my top three tips for developing supportive relationships with young people that you may be working with:

  1. Express care

Use language and physical cues that show genuine and authentic care. For example, active listening and empathy.

  1. Share power

Be clear that the tutor-tutee relationship is equal. Show the young person you’re working with that what they are saying is equally important and that the power dynamic is equitable, showing them that they’re valued.

  1. Provide choice and opportunities to take control

Provide the young person with options during your sessions. Pose questions such as: “Would you like to start with X or Y task?”, “What do you need to look at next time?” and open statements such as “It’s now your turn to show me what you understand about…”


If these aspects are part of a learning relationship, children and young people can feel valued, seen and heard. And remember, consistency is key.

As it’s  Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week 2023 this week (6-12 February), I’ll be hosting a special webinar for @TheTutorTrust to delve more into the topic of building strong relationships with the young people you’re working with to guarantee success in the classroom. You can sign up here, via our Thinqi platform.