Friday, December 2, 2016

What is an advisory? Excerpts from a variety of sources

Oxbridge Academy in the Palm Beaches has taken on the idea of "15 students and a teacher meeting together for at least a half hour regularly."

Here's how the State of Rhode Island describes the Advisory
 (b) Advisory Structure - A structure or structures for stable groups of students to meet regularly throughout the academic year with at least one assigned adult in an environment with sufficient time and opportunity to support student achievement in the academic, career, personal/social domains

What happens in an advisory?
The Big Picture schools make advisories a core of the school.  When visiting teachers point out that "we don't have time in the day for advisories," some students reply, "Don't have time to listen to students?   What are you here for?"
I spoke with Enrique Gonzalez, the former principal of Frida Kahlo High School and Highland Park High School (where the Big Picture principles inspired the culture of the school.)  Enrique made the following points

At first, the advisory is just another requirement that the school pushes students to attend.  The first reaction of many students is "What is this for?  What are we doing here?   This is lame.  What is the purpose of this meeting?   What does the teacher think we will do here?" 

The end goal of the advisory is for students to take over.  It's a rap session.  It a place for students to talk and the teacher to listen.  However, that doesn't happen immediately or because we say, "This is a good thing.  Take time to tell the group about your dreams, your expectations, your problems and maybe someone here will help.  Or maybe in the process of talking about your situation, you will discover what your next steps will be."  Saying it doesn't make it so.

The ultimate goal is for students to take over the advisory.   It's not going to happen for at least two months.  It usually takes that long for students to build trust in each other and the teacher or advisor and for the "group feeling" to emerge.  If students don't put the energy into the process, then the full impact of the advisory won't happen.


Enrique described the stages that advisories usually go through

Step 1:  Find out about the students.   Get them to tell you what they find interesting.  
This will show the students that this is a good use of their time.   The teacher can use surveys to ask students what their interests are.

Stage 2:  Pursue the interests.  Take field trips, do active searches on the Internet and report back to the group.  Go beyond "just knowing about people;s interests." 

Stage 3:  Develop internships.   What can you do with what you know? (That's the Tony Wagner question.   See "Tony Wagner Seven Survival Skills."  Yes, you have to show that you learned basic information.  Now that you know something, the world wants to know what you can do with that information.)

Stage 4:  Report back to the advisor and the advisory.  The advisory might build a larger group project.

Let's look at each of the stages.

Some information does not have to involve the entire group.   Some students might not want to dump all of the information on the group about what happened at the internship last week and why the student wants to move to a new internship.   One of the advantages of an advisory is LEARNING about "TMI" (too much information).  Sometimes we can respect the feelings of the people in the advisory group and use the time 

"I'm thinking about changing my internship.  I'd lie to talk this out and think it over and get more information, but that's where I'm at right now.   I'm interested in hearing about anybody else who wanted to change their internship and what you might have done to improve working conditions."   That might be enough information for the group.  Individuals who want to know more can meet with the person outside the advisory.  Or the group might vote to give time to hear more.   That's the flexibility of the advisory.

Enrique has made some points about Advisories.

1.  Advisory is a place to explore interests.   Interests become passions and eventually students figure out what they want to do in life.   Some of those discussions start in advisory.
2.  Everyone talks. Advisory starts slowly with interests.  Don't expect the deeper results to happen.  It will happen if you keep the focus on each individual. Everyone talks at least once in the advisory.
3.  A successful advisory happens when students take over.   The students can turn the focus on themselves ("I'm having trouble with my internship.  I need some feedback.") or on the needs of the schoool ("I think the school needs a new cafeteria.  I'd like to discuss sometime in the advisory the options that we have.")
4. One person speaks at a time. Students learn procedures in the Advisory.  Rules in the advisory help students learn how to speak.
5.  Advisories can turn into a second family.  You know that an advisory has matured when a student says, "I've got this problem and I just need to talk it out with people I trust."     
6.  Some students in an advisory decide to remain bottled up.  They don't want to reveal and they don't want to trust the group.   That often means that the advisory stays at Stage 1 (a place to explore interests).
7.  Advisories need consistency and patience.  There will be some advisory meetings that are superficial.   But hold the meeting anyway because that space is open for anyone to speak up.
8.  Advisories have to be a top priority for the teachers and for the students.  It's not an "add on."  Advisory is not "guidance and counseling."  Advisory is the core of what it means to be a school.  It's a safe place where students can be heard.  That doesn't mean that classes are secondary.   The purpose of advisory is to improve conditions in the classroom.  The purpose of advisory is to find out
9.  Advisories don't happen overnight.  It takes time.   Someone has to jump in, take a risk and expose something personal.  Then others in the group can follow suit.  It doesn't have to be public, to the whole group, but eventually a successful advisory has every students saying someting that he's scared to tell to the rest of teh world.  When every student has taken a risk, you have a deeper advisory.
10.  Advisories are not all the same.   Some click, some don't.  If you want the advisory to click, go back to the basics and build trust. Build trust by being there, by listening and by making the time worthwhile.  That includes the advisor meeting separately, one on one, touching base with the students in the advisory (by phone or text or face to face).  Building the connections is important.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
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Dennis Littky points out that most schools ask teachers, "What will you bring to the classroom and the students?  What is your expertise?"  For many people, school is about "what will you do to the students?  How will you mold them?"    But he points out that the real question is "How will you bring out what's in the students?"  Education is "leading out."  Yes, a certain amount of "filling the bucket" is needed, but "lighting the fire" happens when the student lights his own fire and takes a risk.

Jess Lair, an innovative educator who died in 2003, wrote that "Children are not things to be molded, but rather people to be unfolded."  Advisory gives a safe space for people to unfold.
See the QUOTE

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