You might be reading this blog post because you’re a student or parent who noticed a new class on the schedule that you know nothing about. Maybe you’re a teacher whose school is rolling out a new advisory program and you’re doing some research. You might, also, be an administrator looking for more information to add this type of class to your own school. No matter who you are, this blog post is here to help you understand the purpose and function of an advisory class.

So, what is an advisory class?

Congratulations! It’s your first day of high school! As you walk down the halls, butterflies with HUGE wings flutter in your stomach and you can’t remember what your mom told you about taking the bus home. You’ve dreamed about this day since middle school, but now that it’s here, you feel less sure of yourself. A group of seniors walks past radiating confidence and in a hurry to land somewhere, anywhere, you head to your first class of the day: ADVISORY. What the heck is an advisory? You ask yourself. Shrugging it off, you wander the halls looking for the classroom number that matches the one printed on the schedule. A short woman stands at the door with curly brown hair and a genuine smile.

“Good morning,” she sings in your direction as you approach her class, “Would you be interested in a high five, fist bump, or a hug?”

“Huh?” you look at her confused.

“A high five, fist bump, or a hug?” she says slowly, acting out each action, “You don’t have to choose one. If it’s a ‘no’ for you, you can just go in the classroom. That’s an option too.”

You wait for a moment considering this weird question. The bell rings and the butterflies start flapping their wings harder. Tension builds in your body and you’re really not sure what to do. Is anyone watching this? What did everyone else do? You wonder in your mind.

“How about a hand hug?” the teacher suggests, noticing your hesitation. She holds out her hand and you intuitively stretch yours out too. She wraps her thumb around your hand and you wrap yours around hers. You watch her close her eyes and take a deep breath. You do the same thing. When you open your eyes again, she’s looking at you with kindness and you notice that the butterflies have calmed down. You let go of her hand and she steps aside welcoming you to your new school.

The story above gives you a glimpse into what walking into an advisory class might be like. In simple terms, an advisory class is a class that focuses on social emotional learning and building community. Its purpose is to support students in non academic subjects by establishing meaningful connections with a small group of peers and their teacher. In this class, students might cover topics like: effects of too much screen time on sleep, effects of stress on the body, effective communication in conflict, or planning for the future. In the scenario, the teacher greets the students with an invitation to some form of touch and connection. She does this because she knows that touch helps with stress and the question gives her the chance to pause and connect with the students as individuals. Let’s see what happens after that.

What to expect:

You walked in not sure what an “advisory” class is, but by the end of it, you’re pretty sure that you like it. When you entered the class you found only a few other students, maybe 12, and some gentle instrumental music playing from a speaker in the corner. After taking attendance, the teacher invites everyone to do some deep breathing exercises.

The teacher explains how she uses this tool to help her manage anxiety. Next, she starts talking about how anxious she was on her first day of high school. You listen curiously because teachers don’t usually talk about that kind of stuff, ESPECIALLY on the first day of school. Isn’t it supposed to be “These are the rules! You’re not in middle school anymore, time to grow up?” You spend the class getting to know your classmates by talking about “firsts” that you’ve managed successfully. For example, the first day of middle school, the first time you tried to skateboard, or the first time you babysat for your younger siblings. In the discussion, you realize there are a lot of “firsts” under your belt and you feel more confident about your ability to live through the first day of high school.

The last activity of the class is coloring a map of the school. You color in where your classes are: blue for advisory in room 204, green for math in room 205, red for Spanish in 215, and on, and on. Then, the teacher has you draw arrows from one class to the next based on your schedule. You realize most of your classes are in the same area, but you’ll have to speed walk to P.E. because it’s on the other side of the building. When you finish your map, the teacher encourages you to color the rest in or decorate the sides. She mentions that coloring and making art is another simple way to alleviate stress.

This story serves as an example of what a student might experience in an advisory class. Each advisory class is different depending on the school’s intentions and the teacher. The frequency of the class depends on the school. Many schools include their advisory period at the beginning of every day. Others might have students meet once a week and others, once a month. In general, you can expect the following:

● No grades
● 20-45 minute periods
● Small classroom sizes
● A focus on life topics and building connection
● The same teacher and students from one year to the next (optional)

Like mentioned before, each advisory class will be different. This is an example of one class led by one teacher. The students in room 205 might be experiencing something completely different or relatively the same. The structure of the class will depend on the administration and the teacher. Many schools provide teachers with a curriculum for this period. Some administrators expect teachers to follow the curriculum exactly while others encourage the teachers to make the lessons their own. In this example, the teachers had the freedom to add their own flavor. The original instructions were to introduce students to the day with a discussion around “firsts” and go over the map. The teacher from the story added the “fist bump, high five, or hug”, the breathing exercises, and the coloring. Another teacher had their students do a scavenger hunt for the map activity while another had the students act out the “fear vs reality” of some of their firsts. Remember that this class is meant to encourage social and emotional learning while building community. With that in mind, the tone of this class is meant to be less rigorous and more nurturing.

Why do we have advisory classes?

Advisory classes started popping up as a remedy to increase students’ sense of belonging and their academic performance. Additionally, when properly supported, many teachers feel an increased sense of fulfillment in their jobs as a result of the personal connections with their students. The success of an advisory program depends entirely on the school culture, teachers, students, and administration. When everyone involved “buys in” to this class, the effects can be incredible.

What makes a successful program?

A great way to ensure the success of an advisory program is to make sure there’s sufficient support for the task. Some examples of how administrators can show support to their teachers include: being clear about the purpose and intentions, offer teachers pre made lessons, offer teachers more planning time, or include additional training on leading vulnerable conversations.

In closing, advisory classes can lead to teachers and students having closer relationships. With the invitation to be people who are vulnerable, relationships deepen. This closeness tends to increase the amount of satisfaction that both groups feel towards school because vulnerability inherently leads to closer connection. This is true with all relationships and the school setting is no exception. When advisory classes are led with love, good intentions, and the right support, they can become a place for students to experience healthy relationships, and interpersonal skills that will benefit them on into adulthood.

Related articles: