What Works
I’m always curious about how schools organize and use advisory time, especially the ones that have vibrant, engaging programs that everyone—students, teachers, parents—support. I’ve found that they have several things in common:

  • The purpose of advisory is very clear to everyone, and everyone can articulate the purpose. There is not one “magical purpose,” but rather it’s the clarity of the purpose that is important. Also, the purpose supports the mission/vision of the school and its goals.
  • There is often a committed group who are the “keepers of the flame.” They meet regularly to monitor the progress of the program, to problem solve issues, and to generate additional ideas for keeping the program strong. It seems to be critical that each team (interdisciplinary and allied arts) be represented in this group. This representation ensures each group has a voice at the table and helps communication remain open and clear.
  • Many schools design their advisory program so that the days of the week have different functions in advisory—for example, one day might be portfolio day where students spend time reflecting on their work and assembling their portfolios; another day might be a community action project day; and yet another day might focus strictly on developing group relationships through discussions, team building, or games, etc. I’m not sure that it matters what “themes of the day” are, but rather that everyone understands the purpose for each one and that the days support the overall mission/vision of the school.
  • Advisors have some support in planning their advisory time because it is recognized that advisory activities do not come naturally to everyone, especially new teachers. Some folks are uncomfortable facilitating a group that is not content focused. Also the advisory program is revisited regularly in staff meetings. This attention to the program certainly sends a message that the time is valued and important to the overall progress of the students.
  • I’ve learned through experience and my travels that if time is not provided for the staff to build a common understanding of the purpose of advisory and to refine its implementation, then advisory becomes a peripheral that is easily lost. Everyone needs to understand how advisory time supports their overall work with students. The concept of advisory seems so simple, yet it is so very difficult to implement well.

Jill Spencer is a senior partner in Learning Capacity Unlimited and can be contacted at

AA (Advisor-Advisee) Throughout the Day

“But my school doesn’t have an advisory, period!”

Unfortunately many schools have made the decision to do away with a dedicated time for advisory. My team at Kernodle Middle School in Greensboro, NC, faced this dilemma last year. In previous years we had successfully used the Distinctions of Integrity as the basis for both our advisory time and our team discipline procedures. The Distinctions were our team’s core values of acknowledgement, appreciation, commitment, compassion, communication, honesty, kindness, participation, respect, responsibility, risk, and trust. These are such an integral part of our team’s operation that the only rule on our team was to follow the Distinctions of Integrity. When faced with the news that advisory periods were being eliminated, we decided that the benefits of our program were far too important to be allowed to disappear so we set out to find ways to infuse advisory throughout the day.

First, we needed time. In years past, the team had used an extended AA period to explore the meanings of each of these core values through discussions, skits, and writing assignments. With time no longer in the schedule, we made the commitment to use 10–15 minutes of each core class for three days for this purpose. Each teacher would focus on one Distinction a day. In order to ensure variety, we designated the type of activity that would take place in each classroom. For example, day one would find students in math class exploring “acknowledgement” through skits; English students completing a Frayer graphic organizer on “appreciation;” science classes creating posters about “commitment;” and the social studies classes having a discussion about “compassion.” On the following days, the activities would be changed from classroom to classroom as the remaining Distinctions were explored. We felt this investment of time helped ensure that every student had a thorough understanding of the core values and emphasized to the students just how important these values would be in our life together for the coming school year.

Often teams do an excellent job teaching their rules and procedures at the beginning of the year but fail to revisit them during the year. However, we made the Distinctions of Integrity an integral part of our daily routine. When a student acted inappropriately, he/she was asked to determine which of the Distinctions had been violated and how to fix the problem. Before field trips, students were expected to set “Distinctions goals” for the trip and to assess their progress toward meeting these goals afterward. During weekly team meetings, students were acknowledged for their successes of the past week both academically and behaviorally and were invited to acknowledge their fellow students. As a part of project reflections, students were asked to consider which of the Distinctions had best been utilized by their team and which were needed. In social studies class, students used the Distinctions as they considered famous people from history. While reading African myths, parallels were drawn between the values of ancient civilizations and our team’s Distinctions. In English class, character analysis included considering the character’s core values. Students-of-the-month were recognized based on their accomplishments in one (or more) of the team Distinctions.

This consistent reference to the Distinctions of Integrity helped our students understand the relevance of these core values to their daily lives both in and out of school. By integrating the heart of AA into our established curriculum, we were able to maintain our advisory program despite the loss of dedicated time.

Theresa Hinkle is an educational consultant and the 2007-08 president of the National Middle School Association. She can be reached at