Synonyms for the word “advisor” include mentor, aide, teacher, guide, counselor, confidant, consultant, and coach. In the Upper Division at Park, advisors are, at various times, each of these things!
The advisory program at The Park School deepens school culture and encourages positive and productive relationships among students and adults. By addressing the needs of the whole child, the Advisory program inspires students to learn and practice the skills needed to be responsible, contributing and caring school citizens.
The advisory program is certainly not new to Park. What is new however, is that this year, Upper Division advisors are working with Division Head, Caroline Beasley and me, the Advisory Coordinator, to provide a more consistent, intentional program, to find ways to devote undivided time to advisory (without a schedule change), and to incorporate new elements, such as student-created Personal Learning Plans and student-led conferences into the program.
At its core, the advisory program is relational: students experience a one-on-one relationship with an adult who serves as a student’s touchstone for academic, personal and social development. Students receive academic guidance from their advisors through reflection, goal-setting, charting of progress and celebration of successes. Students also come together to practice decision-making and conflict resolution skills; this can be done in single advisory groups or in larger groups, made up of advisories from multiple grade levels.
Creating more dedicated advisory time was essential in order to achieve the above goals. This year, advisors sit with their advisees in Morning Meeting, allowing for a quick check-in four days a week. Certain Morning Meeting slots have been given over entirely to advisory activities in order to create a morning time for advisory groups. The Tuesday advisory period has also been restructured in order to provide time for individual advisory groups to meet rather than for grade level meetings. This is time for game playing, problem solving, and team building as well the chance to share a meal together and have a once a term advisory party. The TEACH period (TEACH stands for Time for Enrichment, Advisory, Challenge, and Help) has always been a time for advisors to see their advisees, but it is also a time when students can meet with other teachers and/or leave early for away games. Creating a series of “No Move” TEACH times, when advisory groups can be together without interruption, will allow advisors to help their advisees to focus on the academic tasks of reflection and goal setting and preparing for student-led conferences.
My role, the Advisory Coordinator, a newly created position, provides oversight for the program and organizes resources and materials for advisors. Advisors, Division Head and the Advisory Coordinator met as the school year began for a half day of work together; this work will continue during the course of the school year in division meetings on Tuesday afternoons.
Students in the Upper Division are at a time in their lives when they are more than ready to work with a number of teachers and to move from classroom to classroom. The departmental structure of the Upper Division is exciting and enriching. But adolescents – and their parents! – still need to know that they can count on one trusted adult the way that they counted on a homeroom teacher in the Lower and Middle Divisions. The advisor is just that person. Giving the advisory program more of the time it needs, providing a more consistent structure for all advisory work, and supporting advisors with training and materials allows each advisor to do their best work and allows each child to experience a meaningful connection with an advisor who is mentor, guide, counselor and more.