Students Speak Out

Students Speak Out: Minnesota

george mayer

Ideas to Introduce an advisory period during school, PLEASE GIVE FEEDBACK!

Student Leaders in Milwaukee have created this platform to enhance the quality of learning and teaching:

We, the students, decided we want to work to influence and improve Quality Learning in Milwaukee Public Schools by advocating district-wide implementation of a clearly-defined advisory or ‘stillpoint’ program. Visit our Work Group at (click “groups” in the navigation) to find written discussions and videos about this topic.

Working on SSO, we’ve established the following core beliefs about Quality Learning in Milwaukee Public Schools:

1) Authentic relationships with other students and adults are positively related to the level of student engagement, motivation, and achievement.
2) Students are less motivated to work hard when they feel the teacher cares only about a paycheck, and not about the students.
3) Quality learning experiences can help students overcome home situations that do not value or appreciate education.

Our Recommendation:

We recommend that an advisory, or ‘stillpoint’, period be implemented into the weekly schedule or each middle and high school in Milwaukee Public Schools.

The value of advisory periods

Often advisory periods are seen as “pointless” and a “waste of time”. We don’t see it that way, and have found that there can be real value when advisory periods are used to:

- Get advice about graduating, look at transcripts, and handle any business that we wouldn't otherwise be able to do because teachers are too busy.
- Create community and trust between teachers and students.
- Give students input to school level decision making.

At Marshall Montessori IB High School in Milwaukee this period was known as “Stillpoint”. We like that term because it designates the point where you are still and at peace with the day you've had. Changing the name also distinguishes these new uses of advisory time from any former unproductive uses.

Suggested structure for advisory periods/stillpoint:

1) The period would be an hour long, once a week, throughout the school year.
2) Each advisory group would have no more than 20 students and would be comprised of students from each grade. Students would be assigned to a teacher in their first year at a school and would remain with that teacher, and that advisory throughout their career at the school.
3) The advisory period would be unstructured with an agenda in order to meet its goal of creating community between students and teachers. This is a confusing concept, but in practice it is straight forward. There will be a goal for the advisory time (the agenda) but there will be no mandated way in which the teacher and students must reach that goal (unstructured). For example, in the beginning of the year, the agenda (or goal) might be to get to know each other. The way in which the different advisories go about accomplishing that is up to the individual advisories. Some might elect to do formal introductions, another might choose to write short stories that are shared at the next advisory time, one might want to do an ice breaker, like a human knot, to break through the initial discomfort with each other. The end result would always be a better understanding of the people around you, but the way in which it is achieved would depend entirely on what the students and teacher in that particular advisory are comfortable with.
4) The implementation of this advisory program would begin in the fall and be mandatory for all middle schoolers and for freshman and sophomores in high school. Advisories would be optional for juniors and seniors in the first year and optional for seniors in the third year of implementation, and then mandatory for all middle and high school grades in following years. The first year of freshman and sophomores would be a part of the same advisory/stillpoint for all 4 and 3 years (respectively) and all classes thereon out.
5) In order for the advisory period to be taken seriously, we suggest that it be treated as a course and have credits attached. We would suggest a ¼ credit per year, a full ‘community building’ credit by graduation.

The rationale for this is as follows:

Students and teachers must begin to create community in schools both big and small in order to work toward quality education. Students will benefit by having a consistent advocate and resource for questions. Teachers will benefit because students will be more connected in their schools. In addition, separating teaching time and purely community building time will make each period more effective. Though there will be overlapping benefits, trying to establish and maintain relationships with students during valuable instructional time is difficult for teachers, which is why we suggest a separate advisory/stillpoint time.

Students are very sensitive to teachers’ motivations to be in the classroom, but also realize that not knowing teachers very well can contribute positively to their impressions of them. An advisory period allows students to get to know teachers as more than a teacher, but as a person. Students believe that once they have a connection with a teacher it is more likely that they will not act out in class and be motivated to learn.

Authenticity is the most important quality of a teacher and student relationship. Race, gender, and age become less important when a teacher is honest and open with their students. This includes knowing, accepting, and embracing differences in culture, language, and behavior (among others). Authenticity allows students to see teachers as allies and assets, not only as the authority. Advisory time provides opportunities for students and teachers to grow into their authentic behavior.

Trust is key and is built and maintained through regular communication and understanding of each other. Students and teachers can build trust through regular meetings, open dialogue, and honesty. In addition, teachers can build trust by leading by example. Students expect teachers to treat them as equals, not as criminals, statistics, or failures. When relationships are not purely academically based, some teachers’ motivation to learn more about students may increase.

Community does not have to be school-wide to affect student motivation. Students from big and small schools alike agree that individual connections with adults are more important to motivating students.

Students admit that they are more motivated to learn when they feel as though someone is expecting them to perform. Often times, that expectation doesn’t come from parents, siblings, or other adults in a student’s life. Creating that kind of a connection with a teacher is nearly impossible in the current school environment, which leaves a lot of students without reason to succeed educationally. An advisory period would set aside time for these relationships to form and thrive and supplement or replace that encouragement that may be lacking at home.


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This sounds like a fantastic idea! Especially because Avalon has something very similar to this, with our own interesting twists that would take too long to explain on this post. I don't know how an hour one day a week would be the most effective, because my previous school was unsuccessful with that layout. At Avalon, we have twenty minutes, first thing in the morning. That seems the most effective, because it is everyday, with enough time for announcements and a check-in. Depending on the direction this plays out, that might not be as beneficial as the one hour a week.

I would suggest using something implemented at Avalon called a talking piece. Usually it is the same everyday, like a beany baby the advisor brings in. The talking piece gives you chance to speak, and prevents dominance by a few loud, opinionated people during a discussion. After using it, we don't know how to function without it! I strongly advise using it.

Also, we always have a check-in to start the "meeting", and help bring some community into the group. This is just a simple question like, if you were going to have a movie star play you in a film who would it be and why? The question can be anything! It helps us keep the advisory interesting, and helps grow the community as we get to know each other. Everyone sits in a circle, and everyone answers the question. The talking piece is used during the check in, and throughout the rest of the advisory time. You mentioned something similar to this, but I couldn't tell if it would be done every time.

Just a few questions,
Why would this not include all grades in high school right away?
Why would students be split up by grade for these "stillpoints"?

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I think this sounds like a good idea. I also like Brett's idea of a check-in and talking piece but I think that one hour a week would be more beneficial than 20 minutes every morning. In sixth grade we had half an hour each morning in our advisory class and it didn't work out too well, so they eventually cut it to ten minutes.
My question is, would each advisory or stillpoint group choose the topic they wanted to focus on and would it be the goal for just that year or through the four years? I guess that was a sort of two in one question.

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I completely agree with Brett. I go to Avalon as well and I really enjoy the twenty minutes of advisory we have every morning. It makes a sense of home or a safe place within the school where you can discuss your feelings about anything openly. I don't like the idea of one hour a week because I used to go to Wayzata and we had that system. Every Wednesday we would have 30 minutes of "advisory" time. We didn't talk to each other and when we did it was about topics that the school thought were meaningful but ended up being filler to waste the half hour. I got absolutely nothing from that system other than taking useless surveys and filling out questionnaires that would "help" our school. At Avalon, the twenty minutes a day works because it's every day and provides a little bit of stability in our independent time filled days.

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What sort of things do you talk about in your avalon advisory?

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I personally think that my advisory period is a waste time, but your forum made me think about what advisory was really meant to be used for: "...[To] Give students input to school level decision making", and maybe I'm the one to blame for my own feelings of school discord.

Or maybe you're an idealist.

Either way, advisory CAN be a good thing if you actually have the student effort.

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How do you get that? You're saying if teaches make the advisory period available, then its up to the students to put forth effort, and the combination of those two things equals a valuable advisory period? What is your school missing? How could that be remedied?

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