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Why Advisory Matters

There is nothing more important to an adolescent than being known and understood. As they begin to get a sense of themselves as people, they recognize factors that make them who they are, and continually respond to the way the environment in which they’re placed treats them as individuals. This is important to their academic success as well, as studies have shown that students with positive relationships with their teachers show increased skill development across the board, even in math.

Today, more than ever, the relationship between an adolescent learner and a caring, trained teacher/advisor is essential to success in school. Adolescents have to manage challenges and pressures that most adults never had to consider: social media and digital life, the college process run amok, and workloads sometimes up to six or seven hours in addition to their school schedule. Not surprisingly, these elements are causing quantifiable damage to the health of adolescents. Schools are doing whatever they can to respond to the negative consequences of this environment on students, but the reactionary approach isn’t working, Students are even taking to change.org to ask for help.

One of the biggest problems is that in most schools, very few structures or systems exist that explicitly create space for students to create the types of relationships that make them feel known and understood. The task of making students feel known is left to teachers’ power of personality, who are expected to create and maintain these relationships in between teaching 5 classes, grading papers, working on committees, and addressing any other administrative duties they are required to do. While teachers typically can do quite a bit to foster good relationships even in the small time allotted for it, pressures on them to meet other curricular and institutional goals tend to cause them to have to de-prioritize relationships in favor of other demands.

This is why a robust, systemic and sacred advisory program is essential for any school.

Advisors must be given the time to build relationships in which they truly know their advisees, and should be expected to take the necessary steps to make that happen. Every advisor should visit the home of each of their advisees so as to get a holistic view of that student’s life inside and outside the classroom. They should be expected to commit to developing the cultural competence to understand how culture uniquely impacts the worldview of each advisee. The school should create significant chunks of time each day to advisory meetings, where advisors can lead their advisories in conversations that are relevant to the identity development of the group. And advisors should be expected to be the voice of academic accountability for each of their advisees, so that students have a caring, important adult who can help them develop the skills to not only be a great students, but also a self-aware learner who continually develops a better sense of who they are.

In an era of ubiquitous information, it is more important than ever to give each student a guide to not only the massive amount of information, but also the world as a whole. Schools need to invest the time and institutional resources to a system in which each student feels known and understood, and teachers need to consider their primary role to be that of advisor. The positive impact of this will be demonstrated not only in improved academic success, but in healthier, more self-aware students.

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