John M. Jenkins
Advisement is a fundamental concept of successful school renewal and one of the key components of personalized instruction, as identified by Keefe and Jenkins (2000) and adopted by the Learning Environments Consortium International. Advisement is so structured that a professional staff member has close association with a student over an extended period of time. Usually teacher-advisers remain with a small group of students for the duration of the students’ time at a particular school. In that way, teacher-advisers get to know each student well enough educationally to help them do better in school. The role of the teacher-adviser is best understood in terms of four essential relationships involving the teacher as adviser and others who impact student achievement.
The practice of assigning a small number of students to a teacher-adviser is not a new idea. It was one of the most popular elements of the NASSP Model Schools Program (1969-1975). The Project reasoned that a guidance counselor with a counselor-counselee ratio of 300 or more to 1 was exceedingly impractical if the objective was getting to know individual students well enough to personalize the educational process. With teachers and administrators serving as advisers to a smaller number of students, usually 25 or fewer, students could be known as “total human beings educationally.”
Probably the first public school program to offer some form of advisement was the Dalton Laboratory Program (1921) in Dalton, Massachusetts. Although the term “advisement” was never used, the functions of homeroom teachers in the Dalton Plan looked very much like what would later be the functions of the teacher-adviser. Homeroom teachers at the high school in Dalton met with their assigned students each morning to help them select areas of the school in which to spend time according to their needs and interests.
The first formal program of advisement in a public high school was established in 1924 at the New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois. The “Adviser-Personnel Plan,” as it was called, was designed to provide educational, vocational, and social guidance to all students in the school. Teacher-advisers were assigned by grade levels and remained with their students throughout their high school careers. The teacher-advisers were expected to serve as both teachers and friends to their advisees.
In the New Trier program, teacher-advisers were expected
to be in their classrooms each morning by 8:15 a.m. to arrange individual
conferences after school hours. An advisory period of 30 minutes was scheduled
each day so that specific grade-level material could be presented. A close
connection between teacher-advisers and guidance counselors was expected.
New Trier has continued to expand teacher-advisement over the years.
A number of middle-level and high schools have incorporated advisement into their programs. Middle school advisement programs have emerged from such reports as Turning Points: Preparing Youth for the 21st Century (1990) and have become a staple of the middle school movement. The NASSP-Carnegie publication, Breaking Ranks: Changing an American Institution (1996) recommended that every high school student should have a personal adult advocate to help him or her personalize the educational experience. Subsequent follow ups to this report by NASSP have attempted to help high schools implement the recommendation. The Coalition of Essential Schools with some 400 participating secondary schools has identified advisement as one way to help make a student’s education more personal (Cushman, 1990).
In some sense, every high school in North America already has an advisement system for some students. Think of the role that coaches, band and choral directors, club sponsors and some individual teachers play in the lives of some students. Individual students often seek out these teachers to help with school and personal problems. The main difference between this existing practice and a formal advisement program rests in the number of students served and the incorporation of advisement as a systematic component of the total school program.
Systematic advisement addresses all students in a school. It says loudly that no student is “unspecial.” When only some students have advocates, the school seems to be saying that some students are more special than others. The noted psychiatrist and educational reformer, William Glasser, asserts that “when we talk about secondary schools, we are really talking about two different systems within each school. In the first, both teachers and students are functioning well and filling good colleges with qualified applicants. In the second students . . . are nonfunctioning, and the teachers, despite hard work are able to do little more than serve as custodians.” Advisement addresses the needs of both first and second “system” students.
Dimensions of an Effective Advisement Program
Many successful advisement programs evidence the following characteristics:
Organizing for Advisement
Some schools group students by grade level and have advisers advance each year until the advisees graduate. Others place students from three or four grades in the same advisory group. Still others separate out ninth grade students and mix grade ten through twelve. One of the values of a multi-grade organization is that older students take younger students under wing and help them adjust to the school culture. They serve as successful role models. Central Park East Secondary School in New York City, for example, is organized into three divisions: 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12. The students change advisers as they enter each division. Adviser-advisee assignments are completed by matching students with an adviser based on data about each one.
The assignment of students to advisers usually takes two forms: random allocation or by student choice. When students choose their advisers, some teachers can get oversubscribed. The adviser then chooses an appropriate number in accordance with school procedures, and the students not selected are assigned to a second or third choice. When students are randomly assigned, you get a more diverse group. But occasionally a mismatch between an adviser and an advisee occurs, in which case, some procedure for changing advisers should be in place.
Clustering a group of advisers with an administrator and a guidance counselor can establish a flow of information and facilitate the personalization of instruction. The number of clusters will depend on the number of students and teachers in the school. The size of the cluster ought to be such that multi-directional communication is enhanced. The professional counselor in this arrangement serves as an adviser to the advisers and models effective adviser behavior.
Support for Advisers
The value of the principal and other key administrators serving in an advisement role cannot be overstated. Participation sends an important message to teachers that the principal values advisement enough to be hands-on in the process. Teachers new to a school can be assigned as a co-adviser to the principal and other administrators to take over advisement when the administrator is called away. Teachers can also learn about adviser responsibilities by working side-by-side with a participating administrator.
The most important support that principals can provide to advisers is time. Many teachers will balk at the thought of teaching a full schedule, with added adviser responsibilities. Advisement requires about five hours per week to be effective -- comparable to one period per day in a traditional six or seven period schedule. Five hours gives the adviser an opportunity to meet in conference with individual advisees, to contact parents, to talk with teachers and counselors, and to maintain adequate records. Indeed, the failure to provide adequate time was the main reason that the advisory program in Florida did not endure after funding was removed by the state legislature (Jenkins, 1992).
A cluster advisement system includes a designated counselor and administrator to work closely with specific teacher-advisers. The counselor and administrators are available when problems occur. Clusters usually meet on a regular basis to discuss advisement business and to air problems. Counselors also confer regularly with individual advisers.
Staff development activities also are needed and on school time. If advisers are going to help advisees establish goals and develop plans to achieve goals, then they need the appropriate skills to do so. If a school is going to diagnose students’ learning styles, then advisers need to be able to interpret students’ profiles and offer suggestions for accommodating differences. If advisers are going to help with course selection, then they need to know about school curriculum in areas other than their own departments.
Many schools with advisement programs develop handbooks specifically for advisement. The advisement handbook is a ready reference on what to do and where to go. It also contains sample forms, folders, and other materials used in advisement.
Advisement can stand alone or it can be integrated into a comprehensive approach focused on personalizing instruction. Very likely the most adopted element of the NASSP Model Schools Program, advisement was often accepted in schools with traditional schedules and traditional approaches to instruction. In these cases, the benefits of advisement, although many, appeared to be limited. Group meetings often were given precedent over individual conferences, and advisers had little time to confer with an advisee’s subject-area teachers. When advisement is an integral part of personalizing instruction, it may sometimes be more difficult to implement initially, but clearly it will be more rewarding for students and teachers. Moreover, the likelihood of success over time is improved measurably.
A personalized approach to instruction is based on the assumption that students are different in many respects and learn in different ways. Personalization involves considerably more than a caring relationship between a teacher-adviser and an advisee. Personalized instruction requires a different system of teaching and school organization than the more familiar traditional approach. For one, a flexible schedule is needed to give teachers and students more control over their time in school. This flexibility can be achieved in a variety of ways, from continuous progress arrangements to modified block schedules. (See Dempsey and Traverso, 1983).
The Learning Environments Consortium views the school as a system rather than a collection of independent programs. What happens in one part of the school enterprise affects all others. When one student or group of students fails, the school fails. Viewed in this context, it is important to remember that advisement supports personalized instruction and improved student outcomes. The point to remember is that the allocation of time to advise is critical. In many ways, advisers serve as diagnosticians of relevant student learning characteristics, helping teachers understand advisees’ learning styles, developmental levels and interests. Thus advisement can provide the impetus for the design of more suitable learning environments for all students. As such, it is clearly a fundamental component of successful school renewal.
Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development Task Force on Education for Young Adolescents (1990). Turning points: Preparing America’s youth for the 21st century. Waldorf, MD: Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development.
Cushman, K. “Are advisory groups essential? What they do and how they work.” Horace, 7:1, September, 1990
Dempsey, R.A. and Traverso, H.P. Scheduling the secondary school. (1983). Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Jenkins, J.M. “Personalizing education through advisement,” International Journal of Educational Reform. 1:1, January 1992, 73-75.
Keefe, J.W. and Howard, E.R. (1997). Redesigning schools for the new century. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Keefe, J.W. and Jenkins, J.M. (2000). Personalized instruction. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
National Association of Secondary School Principals (1996). Breaking ranks: Changing an American institution. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals