Advisement Matters

I have worked on my school’s advisement team for four years now. When I initially joined, my primary motivation was to simply be involved at another level at my school. (The small summer stipend didn’t hurt either.) What I discovered as I worked beside our group’s lead counselor and a few of my peers was that I have a genuine heart for what an advisement program means for all stakeholders–students, teachers, parents, and administrators–everyone.

Our superintendent puts an emphasis on advisement in our district; the county has spent a good deal of money developing analytics and devising ways to interpret the data we get from student and adviser surveys. Five years into developing these tools, we’re just now understanding what they could mean for us and our kids. Seems like a long time, right? What aggravates me and many others in education is that no one is willing to stick with anything long enough to see its true implications, so I commend my district for sticking with the analytic tools they’ve developed since the dividends are just now visible. Even within any given school, advisement is different and often times changes on a large scale as someone gets the next big idea from year to year. That’s how it was at my school the first few years, but now for the last three years we’ve kept with the same basic format and we’re starting to see its benefits on a larger scale.

For the last five years we’ve had freshman mentoring where our junior and senior leaders mentor our freshmen throughout the year. To a degree, this has become a popularity platform and something to notch on a college application resume; however, at its heart it really does give our students the ability lead our youngest group and generates safe and beneficial relationships between a freshman and their often times feared (a misrepresentation) upperclassmen peers. From tenth to twelfth grade, our students have one adviser for all three years and each is attached to an interest topic (i.e. sports, movies, music, health, gaming, etc.), and we try our best to keep groups to no larger than about 16 students. (Bear in mind that we have nearly 2,700 students total.) This year my students are seniors. What I’ve enjoyed most, as I reflect on our current program so far, is that I really know these students. I care for them deeply, and I have an experience with them that is leveled in a way that typically doesn’t happen in a regular classroom.

I’ve never been more conscience of what we do right at my school and district than while taking class this summer. I witnessed stories of broken approaches to advisement and the defeated spirits of other educators who felt like many of their kids–that advisement is a waste of time.

The truth is that advisement is what you and your school make it. Is it a priority? Do you gather feedback from the stakeholders? Do you take that feedback seriously and make changes accordingly? Do you see advisement as the great equalizer that it should be? I don’t mean to be accusatory, but advisement could be the difference between a student gaining a scholarship, making an informed decision about a career, taking the SAT or ACT, or going to college at all. No matter the socioeconomics, advisement can provide access to information that many students and families do not know how to find on their own or answer the questions they don’t even know to ask. Maybe more importantly though, is advisement’s ability to form relationships between students and faculty that genuinely matter.

I realize I’m appealing to a great deal to peoples’ pathos right now, but the logic is there too; there are facts that back up advisement’s importance and relevance. Most are found in the retention of college students, but the premise is the same in high school. If a child knows someone cares about them, what happens to them, their success, then students care in return and engagement changes as well.

Simply put–advisement matters.