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We Want to Put Ourselves Out of a Job: What Makes STL Different

Go to any tutoring website, like Kaplan and Collegewise, and what you'll see on their about us page is a plethora of tutors and college admissions counselors who flaunt their perfect SAT and ACT scores or their degrees from highly selective colleges. Of course, this is a marketing technique - this appeal to authority - so that parents feel secure placing their child's educational fate into what appears to be well-qualified hands. But what scientists like Sian Beilock Ph.D, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, know all too well is that the brightest in the industry rarely make the best coaches.

As you get better and better at what you do, your ability to communicate your understanding or to help others learn that skill often gets worse and worse.

Strive to Learn's founder, Josefine Borrmann seems to have picked up on this difference intuitively. . After all, we don't require academic perfection from our employees. Instead, she focuses on something a bit harder to teach. And in this interview, we discuss what exactly makes Strive to Learn so different than the plethora of other tutoring centers. And how this difference has helped us win Orange County Register's Reader's Choice Awards in tutoring for seven years.

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What Parents Love about Strive to Learn

Josefine Borrmann

I think you have to develop strength of character because learning isn't always easy.

Shawnie Leaf

Hey, guys, it's Shawnie from Strive to Learn to with another episode of Mindful Admissions. Now, a lot of people don't know this, but back in September, this Strive to Learn just won Best in Orange County for tutoring for the seventh time. And considering how saturated the market here is in Orange County, I mean, there's hundreds if not thousands of tutors and tutoring centers, you know, I feel like we're the New England Patriots of tutoring centers, except we're better than the New England Patriots because we've won seven times.

Kind of got me thinking like, well, what makes us so different? And I felt a little bad because, you know, I work here. This is my job. I should know what makes us different. But I couldn't quite put my finger on exactly what made us work so well. So I asked our founder Josefine Borrmann.

Josefine Borrmann

I really think it's because mentorship is the center of our mission. We are tutors, we're college counselor hours, we're academic advisors, and we're test prep coaches. But even though we all have different specialties and do different things with our students, one thing that we all have in common is that we really want to be mentors for our students. So filling a space that might not be fillable by a teacher, a parent, a friend, what kind of it's own niche of being someone who can help guide the student to become more confident, more empathetic, more curious, and to really believe in themselves and to believe that they can tackle any challenge that they want to.

When Learning Fosters Self-Confidence

Shawnie Leaf

Why did you decide to implement those values in a tutoring center? Are they formative in your own experience?

Josefine Borrmann

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that if you want to learn anything, I think you have to develop strength of character because learning isn't always easy. And I think a huge part of learning is learning how to make mistakes and to embrace those.

And I think you have to be pretty confident with yourself to be able to embrace mistakes and you have to have empathy towards yourself and towards others in order to understand that learning is really a process. It's not an on-off switch and it's not the same for everyone. So really being able to hold space for yourself as well as for your classmates or friends who might be struggling with different things and you're struggling with and understanding that learning is a really multi-faceted, fun thing that can be really challenging sometimes, but that you can embrace that part of the challenge because it really means that you are learning.

For me, since you asked me about my personal experience, I think a big part was really sucking at math throughout all of school. Basically, after elementary school for, you know, after German elementary school. So starting fifth grade, I really struggled with math and I had to take two years of calculus because I went to high school in Germany.

And that's the basic math there. And everyone has to take it. And I had D's all the way through. But the thing is, I made it through. I may have had a D all the way through, but I made it through. I got towards the end of it. I graduated German high school with the AP tour, which means you're allowed to enter college and that in itself is something to embrace.

And the fact that I got through it may not look pretty how I got through it, but I got through it and I learned patience with myself. I learned that I can get through anything, even if it sucks and it's hard. And I learned that sometimes the thing you're learning is actually what you're learning. I remember nothing from calculus, but I definitely remember how to work hard, how to push through challenges and how to pick myself up even when it's really frustrating.

So that's what I learned throughout my very frustrating high school experience with math. And I find that it has really benefited me now in the long run, and that's what I want my students to gain. You don't have to love every single– or our students at Strive– to gain. You don't have to love every single subject. But I hope that you can at least glean one little, you know, shiny little diamond.

Out of all that hard work you're putting in, all that pressure, you're putting yourself under and squeeze one little diamond out of all that pressure that you can say, "Hey, I made this, I got this. It may not be why I did this, but this is something I learned that I can take into my life beyond academics, beyond just this class",

Why We Say "Let's Put Ourselves Out of A Job"

Shawnie Leaf

You don't normally think about what learning really teaches you.

It's awesome. Those qualities kind of portray in how you conducted your session with the students.

Josefine Borrmann

I think that we always want to get to know our students as humans, and we really want to teach our students just skillset to help themselves so our sessions are not homework help start something that someone's looking for, you know, someone hand-holding the student while the student is doing homework they could probably be doing on their own. That's not something we do at that point. We'd probably say, "Hey, you know, I don't feel like you don't really need this session. You know, maybe we we skip today or something like that." So in that sense, like, we don't teach, we don't do the work with our students. We teach our students the tools so that they can then, after the session, confidently complete their homework on their own and have that learning experience, because we don't want to foster dependency, we want to foster self-efficacy.

That's really important to us because if our student, if our students are dependent on us, then we are doing them a huge disservice. And that's in the end, who we're in it for? We're here for the students. That's why I started Strive to learn. It's to help students find some sort of joy in learning, even when this subject might be frustrating for them, and to really help them gain that belief in themselves.

And we can't do that if we're going to make them dependent on us. So our motto is always Let's put ourselves out of a job. Let's work with the student in a way that the student at the end of the session feels confident, or at least is a step closer to feeling confident. I'm doing this by myself. Of course, there's a lot of scaffolding.

You know, you have to let go a bit by bit over the course of sessions. So it's not like you have one session and all your learning issues are solved. Of course not.

But as a young person moves through, especially high school and learns to take on more and more independence with their learning, it's really important to that, that mentorship kind of scaffolds around that so that the student is the one who keeps climbing a mountain but has a guide.

Right? But we're not carrying the student up that mountain. We're not going to do that for them. The student has legs. They can learn, right? Well, we'll give them an ax, a pickax. We'll hook them up to safety rope and will guide them along the way, whichever way or route that student wants to take up that mountain.

Right. But that's still the student's responsibility. We are here to help and guide you. So what does that look like in an actual session? Well, I think really important is to get to know the student's life, because confidence is so much more than just an academic subject. Right. Something may have happened with your boyfriend that day, something maybe your dog died.

Maybe you're having some issues with your parents. Maybe you're struggling socially at school, maybe you tried out for a play or for a team and it didn't work out. So what else is going on in your life? You really take a holistic approach. That's why we love being online, because actually allows us to be really, really personal with our students.

We get to know each other as pets, right? All of that sun zoom stuff. So it's kind of nice. And it opened going completely online and really stepping away from any brick and mortar work really allowed us to see a side of our students that we hadn't seen before, which makes the sessions really fun. Interesting. How are some other ways that staff learn is different than other tutoring centers?

What Makes Strive to Learn Unique

Shawnie Leaf

You mentioned that we don't do homework help, but really more about mentorship. What makes it besides, I guess, our philosophy about learning? What are some of the ways that we're unique?

Josefine Borrmann

I think it's that we really try to be a support system for our clients throughout different realms. So we do three things and I crafted this on purpose, that we do these three things so that one family could get all the help they need throughout Middle and high school. Of course, we also have younger and older clients, but the majority of our clients are high school age and so we offer tutoring what you might need tutoring and academic coaching, what you might need that kind of support when you first start high school, getting used to a heavier load, starting apps, etc. We also offer tutor sort test prep, which allows us to help those students that we already know from tutoring figure out how to handle these standardized tests or not.

Hopefully, because of test-optional, not everyone needs a test anymore. So we do advise on that as well. Really trying to find the least stressful way for the student. And as you're taking these tests, you're taking them because you want to go in to get into college. So we also have a robust college counseling team ready to help any student along their journey, especially throughout junior and senior year.

So the nice thing is you don't have to go out of the house, meet someone new, or shop around again. You can really get help from a team that's really united behind the scenes that share information about you. Your tutor and your college counselor can discuss what's really important for you right now. And you know, you really have this team at your back.

At the same time, we're a small business, so our team is 5 to 8 people, right? Yeah, we're really close. It's not like they're like 30 people and, you know, people you don't even know, know stuff about you. It's not like that. It's all very confidential, and very tight-knit. And we're really here as a tight-knit team to support all of our students.

Shawnie Leaf

That's awesome. Personally, it sounds like you guys could triage, you know, like the triage support services, like, oh, they need to work on this more this week. I'm sorry my cat is like really, really like on the keyboard. So we do a small team and what I know is actually really unique about strive is that we keep our tutors and our staff members for a lot longer than usual. tutoring has a high, you know, high turnover rate.

What We Look for When Hiring Tutors

Why do you think our employees stick with us so long?

Josefine Borrmann

Because I always, always am hoping for them to do so without out into the universe. Well, I think that just as we value each and every student and client who we work with as a whole human being, I think we do the same thing with our employees. I hope at least that's what we strive for, you know, So we really try to keep communication really open between our employees. And we also really try to hire employees who are really at the top of social and emotional intelligence, who are able to make what they are good at in their field really accessible to a student in the way that that student can learn it.

So we hire people who are very excited about the human aspect of tutoring. We don't hire someone just because they got a perfect score on the act, because we don't believe that that would automatically make them a perfect tutor for the act. I'd rather hire someone who made a couple of little mistakes that are fixable, who is extremely good at connecting with people and bringing people out of their shells, and reading subtle nuances of body language gestures, and facial expressions.

You can really kind of dig in deep with students and notice what might be going on because that's the tutor who's really going to resonate with that student. That's the tutor who is going to be a mentor. That's a student tutor who's going to be motivating to a student.

Shawnie Leaf

Thank you. That was actually what answered the next question I was going to ask. So I appreciate that. You know, it's good. And I and I totally agree that I think how you approach your students is definitely how you approach your employees. That kind of quality of like treating them as whole human beings and like human beings first definitely show through. What stood out to you most when you hired William versus Josh is Ramzi. I know each of us brings our own unique take on the world.

Josefine Borrmann


Yeah. I'm going to start with Ramzi actually I have to admit, the tutor, I know the least since he doesn't live here, but I remember reading the word empathetic twice in his resume. So even before I met him, I was like, Wow, I don't think I've ever read a resume that actually highlighted this value. So it really, really intrigued me.

And Ramzi is someone who knows several cultures more multilingual, has lived in and grown up in two separate cultures, and is also an extremely interdisciplinary interested human. So all of that really spoke to me because tutoring is quite interdisciplinary and the fact that kind of the humanistic aspect kind of stood out from the start was really intriguing to me about Ramzi.

And he's been great with our students for quite a while now.


William is our head counselor, hired William a long time ago. I think it's been over six years now. I actually have to check what is either at the six-year mark or just over it. And I believe it was December, so might just be right there at that anniversary right now. and with William, it was really interesting because I hired him as a test prep tutor. It was a very part-time test prep tutor. And over time, William, someone who kind of comes out of his shell bit by bit. His biggest vice is being too humble. Bit by bit I just realized that he has this tremendous calming effect on students.

So he does really well with students who really stress themselves out. And he's a very, very open and understanding person. He loves storytelling and writing. I was like, you know what? Maybe he's interested in helping students with college essays. So that's how he kind of started becoming a college counselor. And then, yeah, he became a full-fledged college counselor.

Several years ago. I trained him myself and he completed a certificate in the UC system towards educational consulting, and he's grown so much over the years that now he's our head counselor and spearheads everything and trains our entire team. So with William, I really saw all of this come out. The more I got to know him and the more he worked for us.


Josh is really quite interesting because he loves hanging out with the students and he loves getting to know them. He loves finding shared interests. I remember when we still had the center, I walked into a tutoring room where the light was still on. It was like 8 p.m. I'm like, Oh, I thought everyone's sessions were done and he's sitting there and has two big monitors and is playing a video game with his student Paul, and they're just gaming together and having a ball.

And so this was of course after their session, not paid time, but they had planned this for a few weeks after that session. They were going to, you know, both play this video game together that they both loved, that they found out they have a shared love for. So I love that Josh always finds the time to really engage with his students beyond just the tutoring or the subject matter.

If they do have something unique like that in common. And he kind of has this little fan club of people or students who just really vibe with that because he's a very, very kind of yeah, like casual, could you know, could be a friend, tutor. Well, he's also an expert in the subject matter. I mean the man has a master's in physics.

Just saying I have no idea what he teaches. I can't even understand those concepts. So, you know, that's kind of a nice mix, especially in the science and math tutor, too, to have that kind of personalized attention on top of it.


Amanda, one of our counselors, Amanda, whom I hired also several years ago. I actually met through my fiancee. And he just felt like she's a great person who kind of lights up the room and would do really well on our team. And so I took his word for it and interviewed her a few times and really felt that she has this quality of really instilling optimism in anyone who is sitting in front of her.

And I think that's something that's really difficult to learn and it's something that, you know, everyone who's thinking about applying to college can really use in their lives. Right? And so her, too. I trained as a college counselor. I like finding my people green and really giving them the knowledge and molding them into what our students need as long as they already have those personal qualities that aren't learnable basically, you know, once you're an adult.


And then I hired you because you think outside of the box and you have great ideas and you're also not afraid to do like an eight-hour interview, because, for anyone listening to this or reading this, it's not that easy to get hired at Strive. It's not just one interview and you're in.

There are tests to be taken, and if you're going to be a test prep tutor, there are mock tutoring sessions. You're going to do, or if you're going to be more on the administrative side, we have a lot of little tests and practice scenarios for you as well, because I find that it's easy to talk about doing something well, but just doing it is the bigger indicator, right?

So I have no problem hiring someone who has no experience as long as I can see that you have the kind of those unteachable soft skills underneath that will make you good and quick at learning or whatever hard skills you may still need for the job.


Thank you. So Jose is probably our newest hire and he's also been with us for over a year already. Time just flies, like a year and a half now. Yeah. So it's yeah, it's kind of crazy because you're right, there's a lot of turnovers usually for tutors. So we're extremely lucky that we've been able to hang on to them for so long. Yeah. Jose's really unique because he is studying engineering, but math didn't always come easy to him.

So he's in all these high-level calculus classes, all that fun stuff. But, you know, he's studying, he's making mistakes. And I think that really makes an excellent math tutor paired with his youth. He's a college student right now and can really resonate with what the younger generation needs because he is part of that generation, which I think is a huge, huge strength.

And he also has helped his brother a lot who has some learning differences. So he has that sensitivity just from over the years of being around other people who might have focus issues or whatever else going on and really understands how to adapt to every student and what that student needs and also has the biggest smile. It's like impossible to not smile back.

Shawnie Leaf

He's really a joy to be around really, he's a cool person. He loves Rubik's cubes and had like as dyed pink hair. It's cool.

Josefine Borrmann.

Oh, man. Yeah, those are Rubik's cubes. They're all over the walls in his dorm, which is so cool.

How We Train Tutors

Shawnie Leaf

And what is your training process?

Josefine Borrmann

Yeah. So once we decide to hire someone, which, as I said, is several hoops to jump through to get to that, we have several sessions on giving feedback on mock tutoring sessions, so really helping the tutor kind of hone in on the nuance is the working with the student and really getting to know kind of the typical things that students might say or do that actually show something.

But you have to dig a little deeper to get to what's really going on. So really helping the tutor develop that sense and that that sense of, hey, there might be something more here and how to dig towards that in a way that puts the student at ease instead of making them uncomfortable or anything like that. We also train our tutors extensively on how to teach independence.

So how do I need to structure my session so that I'm not making the student dependent on me? So how can I encourage a student to ask questions? How can I kind of scaffold so that I'm stepping back bit by bit so that the student is neither too lost because they were asking for too much independence nor not lost enough because we're holding their hand every step of the way.

So really, how do I kind of get there bit by bit? Then we also do observations of their sessions and give them feedback on that for the first few students that they work with and they observe our sessions, so more seasoned tutor sessions, they get a peer tutor assigned to them in addition to their manager who's their lead, and they meet with both on a regular basis so that they can ask questions, go over students, any difficult situations they may have had.

We also have a several group chats where any tutors can ask other tutors for insights. Hey, I came across this question. I was wondering if anyone figured out an alternate way to solve it. Right? Things like that. So really, again, having a team at your fingertips, so being there to support each other and if you're a test prep tutor, we do a lot of training on how to tutor for the SAT.

So both on content as well as on method and tips and best practices. So that's another 15 hours or so or 20 hours even on top of our regular tutor training.

A Little-known Fact about Strive to Learn

Shawnie Leaf

So thank you. What is a little known fact about Strive to Learn and then what do you wish that your parents or students knew so little known fact about Strive to Learn started that sentence without knowing how to end it.

Josefine Borrmann

So little known fact about Strive to Learn. I started that sentence without knowing how to end it. Hmm hmm.Hmm. Mm mm.

I guess it's the amount of teamwork behind everything. I think that as a student, you see your tutor and you think that's it. But I do really think that you know, there is so much that goes into scheduling and really figuring out how to juggle, you know, this the theater student who just got an extra rehearsal with the football student who has a team meeting tonight and having to reschedule.

And, you know, I mean, we do have a cancellation policy, but we do really try to accommodate everyone's needs and communicate that with our entire team. So I think that's something that's probably hopefully not that visible. We try to do it the on the down. And then I think the other thing is that that might not be as well known as that I started Strive to Learn kind of on a whim.

I was a private tutor and I realized one day as I was agonizing over what do I want to do in my professional life and what kind of career would I like to start? I was doing my master's degree at that at that point and kind of lost, and it came out of a tutoring session and I was just so excited.

My student had finally had that aha moment and we'd had like three sessions and it just clicked and I was like, Wow, wait, am I already doing what I wanted to? So that little thought started drive because I kind of built a website on a whim, threw up a Yelp page and was like, Let's see where this takes us.

And here we are nine years later. So we are not corporate. We are really a small business and have stayed a small business. We have grown a lot in our expertise and in our team and the way that we serve our clients. But I think we'll always be a small business that really wants to be a second family or home to our clients because that's really how we started.

That's really what it's about for us.

What Should Parents and Students Know about the Educational Process

Josefine Borrmann

I guess that where you go to college is not who you will become. And those words are kind of stolen. There's a book, Google it.

Josefine Borrmann

But I think there are just parents who worry a lot about their kids. And I think it's really important for parents to know or just to think back about themselves. You know, don't forget what it was like for you and where you came from, and think about the mistakes you made. I really think about where did you grow from, and the mistakes you made?

Are you trying to shield your child from mistakes that you made because you already learned a lesson and so you want your child to skip the mistake and just know the lesson? That lesson is probably not going to stick, right? So this may sound like a tangent, but I think it's just so important to allow our teens to make mistakes and to be there to support them through it, but not to hover over them, to try to save them from mistakes.

Because that's how we learn and that's how we grow. And I think it's really important to instill in our teens that that's okay, let's make a mistake. It's okay. Your life will not be over and you will have grown and learned something. So teens already are putting so much pressure on themselves to be perfect all the time. And I think it's so important to really reinforce that making mistakes is actually a huge benefit in life.

And in that same way, going to college is something awesome, if that's what you want to do. It's also something that you can do in many different ways. You don't have to go to only the one school that you've heard of or that you've thought about since you were two years old. So really, I hope that parents can help their kids open their minds.

And I hope that parents themselves can open their minds to all the beautiful options that are out there when it comes to learning when it comes to higher education because there it sometimes sounds like there's only one way to do something to get to where you want to get to become a young professional. And really there are so many different ways.

And that's really what I hope that we can, especially our college counseling team can help our clients explore and discover and open their minds, too.


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