Many high schools have an advisory period, but are there high school advisory program models that can help your school make advisory more effective? Below we’ll examine what advisory is, what it can be used for, how you can structure it within your high school schedule, and what will help make it successful.

What is an Advisory/Flex Class?

An advisory/flex class is a specific period built into a school’s master schedule that is not a content-specific class. Instead, students and teachers often use advisory or flex to engage in academic, socio-emotional, and school-wide culture building. There are a variety of models high schools may use for advisory. Let us delve into the usage of advisory and different ways it can be structured at your high school site.

Academic Supports

There are distinct ways to approach how advisory periods can support student academic success. Some schools approach advisory as a tutorial, where students are assigned to a class that they need extra academic support in. This could be as evidenced by current grades or teacher or student advocacy. Especially in smaller high schools, this approach might allow for focused 1:1 or small group work between teachers and students.

Other schools may approach academic support by taking advisory lessons to focus on instructional material that the majority of students may not receive in a typical class. For example, an advisory offering could be financial literacy lessons.

Yet, another school may use advisory time as a general study hall period where students are assigned to a homeroom for the year and use advisory to study or complete homework for any class. It is more likely that any school implementing an advisory or flex period utilizes a mix of these approaches.

Social and Emotional Supports

Having an advisory incorporated into the broader school schedule allows for students to receive additional support, outside of classroom instruction. Advisory or flex can provide time for small-group pull outs (for example, for conflict resolution work or social skills) or individual check-ins for counseling or mental health related support.

Another way schools might use an advisory or flex for socio-emotional support is by utilizing specific SEL lessons that either the entire school or specific grade levels engage in. There are several types of SEL curriculum available that help schools meet this need. Alternatively, some schools work with their counseling department and assistant principals to write these lessons themselves.

School-wide Expectations and Culture-Building Supports

Advisory may be a great platform for school staff and students to engage in site specific culture norming. Here, advisory lessons might focus on a MTSS (multi-tiered system of support) such as PBIS (positive behavioral interventions and supports) and RTI2 (response to instruction and intervention) school-wide components.

So as to not get into the nuances of the differences between MTSS, PBIS, and RTI, we will use MTSS as an overarching term. MTSS lessons might revolve around essential school-wide behavior and consequences work. For example, a specific advisory lesson here could focus on the “R” in “respect” and what respect means in the classroom, the gym, the hallways, the office, and other areas across campus. This is also a great opportunity to solicit feedback and buy-in from students for a school that has yet to establish a school wide expectation matrix.

Another lesson might focus on classroom entry routines and anchor charts, so students and teachers can practice and actively model/teach the expectations for how instructional time begins in every class (phones turned in or put away, materials out, attendance taken, etc). Using an advisory or flex to actively teach and review these kinds of tier 1 supports are not only in line with the research on MTSS, but if done consistently and well, can go a long way towards alleviating common tier 1 issues at school sites.

Ways to Structure Advisory

Advisory as an Option

You may choose to incorporate advisory as an additional, optional resource for students. Here, flex is conducted prior to the start of or after the end of the regular school day (for students).

Advisory could take place during a zero or eight period. Students might sign up the day or week before if they plan to attend an advisory. This setup is more conducive for small group and 1:1 work in a structure similar to tutorial sessions. This can be done on a daily basis or take place on a specific day(s) each week.

It would be essential that there be a clear signup and scheduling process so that students and teachers can more effectively collaborate. Ideally, all teachers would know which students were planning to attend the upcoming advisory so teachers can plan additional academic supports based on individual or small group needs. An optional advisory setup without scheduling could work too, but it would be more akin to office hours, such as in a college setting.

Advisory with Specific Class Assignments + Cohorts

Perhaps the least complicated way to incorporate advisory, especially if you do not have a reliable and organized way to track student attendance, is to assign specific students to specific teachers for every advisory period.

Here, the same students would work with the same teacher during each advisory. This approach could be beneficial in building strong student to teacher relationships over the course of the year. Some schools use this model while having the same group of students with the same teacher for all four years of high school.

In this cohort model, the idea is that this further increases the relationship building components of school culture. It also allows for a teacher to invest years into understanding the needs of their specific students. The trade off here is that students do not get a voice or choice and generally cannot move around to different teachers in order to receive reteaching or support from the teacher who teaches the actual content.

Advisory with Student Choice

Certain schools elect for students to self-select their advisory courses, whether advisory be every day, once a week, or several times a month. The concept here is that students take responsibility for their learning and have choice in how they want to use this time.

This approach might be especially ideal for larger high schools with strong sports, performing arts, or other programs. Students could choose to use advisory to practice for their upcoming solo while their music teacher is in the room, or meet with their athletic director as they work to get a new sport established at their school site.

The student choice approach, while perhaps more difficult to structure, could possibly allow for the unique ability for students to advocate for their needs while reinforcing elements of school culture. The caveat here is that this approach relies on students making choices that are in their best interest and attending advisory (and the school’s ability to track such attendance). The upside to this setup is a strong student-led approach to extended learning and positive school culture.

One Period a Week

One common way to structure advisory is to implement the flex period once a week, generally on Wednesdays. This approach works well for several schedule types, including traditional period schedules and block schedules.

At many school sites, Wednesdays are shorter days for students (so as to allow for school staff to conduct staff meetings for their PLC, MTSS meetings, etc.). Taking additional minutes from each period or block on a Wednesday, and devoting those minutes to a specific flex advisory period can have the least impact on the overall schedule.

With a Wednesday flex, whether in the morning, midday, or after school, students and staff quickly get into the habit of a consistent flex period one day a week.

Several Blocks a Month + Hybrid Assignment and Choice

Some schools incorporate advisory into their schedule a few times a month. For example, one high school in Napa Valley, CA, conducts advisory three Wednesdays a month for an hour and half each block. This approach gives teachers the time to prepare a list of students who they would like to meet with during advisory.

Here, any student who is failing a class is automatically placed on that teacher’s advisory list. If a student is failing multiple classes, then teachers work together to have the student come to their advisory for different times within the same hour and a half block. These lists are finalized the day before the upcoming advisory, and then communicated out to students by being placed around the school for students to check. If a student is not failing a class, then that student gets to choose which advisory they would like to attend or can attend a general study hall overseen by other school personnel.

What Makes an Advisory Successful?

It is important that any incorporation of a flex/advisory period be done with clear and specific intent. All stakeholders should understand the purpose of advisory and how it is meant to be implemented.

Advisory is not meant to be a “free” period without structure and routines. Teachers and students both need to be on the same page here. Administrators and other educators involved in planning and supporting implementation need to clearly communicate (and model) how advisory should be conducted at the school site. Without clear communication, effective modeling and training, understood intent, and stakeholder feedback, schools may struggle to successfully implement advisory.

Keeping track of student attendance during advisory can be logistically challenging. This is especially true if students are not assigned to specific teachers for advisory.

If students are allowed to self-select which classes they want to attend for their advisory (whether advisory is daily or specific days each week), that would mean that the same student may not be in the same advisory on a given day.

Technology can help here, as student attendance can be tracked via 5 codes and/or student IDs can be scanned as they enter classrooms. Here, however, there would need to be very specific expectations regarding coming and going from class to class. Are students allowed to enter one class during an advisory period, get the help they need, and then leave to attend another class for the remainder of the same advisory period? If so, how do we track attendance and ensure students are attending advisory? Furthermore, if advisory is, say, at the end of the day, and students self-select which class they attend, how do we ensure students are attending advisory and not leaving school early? You can learn about using Enriching Students to schedule advisory sessions, and track attendance and accountability, by scheduling a demo here.

Advisory may hold a lot of benefits towards supporting students and schools, but the expectations, structure, and methods for scheduling students need to be well thought out and clearly communicated to all.