If you work in public education, or have a child attending a public school, you likely have experience with advisory. Unfortunately, like many buzzwords in public education, the advisory period sometimes gets turned into study hall, tutoring, or a free-for-all. While these are all valid options for students, they are furthest from the true purpose of advisory in school.

So, What is Advisory in School?

At its core, advisory should be a time to build connections between students and staff. Having a strong advisory in school contributes to a positive school climate and culture. The activities and programming during advisory should be focused around establishing a safe space for students before, during, or after a difficult day. Ultimately, advisory is all about relationships.

Engaging in school-wide community-building activities is a key component of student success. These could be driven by the ideals of helpfulness and responsibility.  Advisory programs help build this community through activities that focus on shared values.

Beyond the individual advisory classrooms, this time is also well-used by implementing occasional school-wide assemblies or programming, to give an entire campus the same shared experience. This shared experience in turn is what shapes the overall climate of the school.

How Does Advisory Impact School Climate?

The National School Climate Center defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life” and develops around the “norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures” of the campus.

All of these components, although present in some way in individual classrooms, can be woven much more into the fabric of a school through an advisory program.

For example, in the early days of the school year, an advisory period might be used to review school-wide rules and expectations like hallway behavior or dismissal procedures, or to introduce behavior management systems like PBIS. Some campuses also give school-wide leaders like school counselors or assistant principals time during advisory to introduce themselves and explain their roles to students.

But it’s not enough just to have concepts like positive school climate in mind when establishing an advisory program. Each campus must find a way to incorporate quality programming and activities into their advisory period.

Advisory Period Activities

There are many high quality curricula that campuses can purchase for use in their advisory period. Additionally, there is no lack of team-building activities and free online resources that help students learn each others’ names, be vulnerable, incorporate humor, and get up and move around. Games like the human knot, or trust falls make stand out as something different than ordinary academic classrooms.

Being intentional with curriculum and activity choices helps establish advisory as a place in which both students and adults feel safe and want to engage.

When Advisory Doesn’t Work

However, even with the best intentions, there are a number of pitfalls that campus leaders should consider when adding advisory to their schedule. Although understanding the true purpose of advisory is key, without the right tools for implementation, the program will fall flat.

Beyond assigning teachers to individual advisory groups, campuses should consider assigning a staff member to manage the planning and distribution of lessons or activities, monitor classes to ensure advisory facilitators are following the curriculum, and regularly evaluate whether or not the programming is meeting its goals.

Consider how the master scheduler will input advisory into the schedule-building software (as a homeroom? as a coded elective?) and how to sort students into the course (randomly? by grade-level? individually?).

If the advisory period isn’t an official block on the schedule, a plan for taking attendance will also need to be developed. Facilitators should not be given a stack of suggested materials and never followed up with nor should the logistics of advisory be a second thought. If advisory is treated like an afterthought in the planning stages by campus leaders, then building buy-in from teachers and from students will be an uphill battle. Both of these groups will need guidance, support, and accountability as an advisory program begins.

Additionally, schools may want to give students choice in advisory. This could mean a project one teacher is overseeing, time with a school counselor, or some extra support in a subject area. Having a flexible approach to advisory can give students a variety of opportunities. Using a software tool like Enriching Students can enable teachers to know where students are supposed to be during advisory, take attendance, and set up custom advisory offerings.

To Make Advisory Work, Don’t Lose Sight of the Purpose

If campus leaders are interested in implementing an advisory program, they must consider these key metrics of community- and relationship-building, school climate, and quality programming.

Without a clear, school-wide focus, it is too easy to lose sight of the overall purpose of advisory: positive student outcomes and success for all.