Build personal connections in teacher advisory

“Every student gets greeted at the start of every day.”

build personal connections in teacher advisoryAt Peoples Academy Middle Level, educators have taken the role of teacher advisory, or TA, to a whole new level. They conduct their advisory to build personal connections with their students. As a result, at PAML, advisory has become a very special thing.

But how can you build personal connections in advisory? Let’s find out.

(re)Build from the ground up

build personal connections in teacher advisory

When educator Joe Speers and his wife first moved to Morrisville, they were impressed by the fact that around town, students looked them in the eye and were very respectful.

That was 10 years ago.

Over time, Speers noticed less and less of this out-of-school behavior, and wondered what he and his fellow teachers could do to build back those personal connections with students. He and his peers decided to focus on teacher advisory.

Start with scheduling

PAML took the opportunity to do some experiments with their school schedule this year. They used that opportunity to go from a twice weekly to a daily advisory.

Tie the advisory to school mission and culture

PAML aligned their advisory model to their mission goals, which happen to be the school’s own transferable skills:

  • Construct
  • Express
  • Act

And if that wasn’t enough, PAML also aligned their advisory to the school’s own expectations around behavior. As educator Alex Bacheller puts it, “PA Wolves are safe, respectful and responsible, so we decided to tie those expectations to our mission goals.”

Test your changes with action research

The PAML teachers’ driving question was this:

“Does this new advisory structure provide students opportunities to act responsibly, not just in advisory but in other aspects of their school day and their life? The team specifically focused in on acting responsibly in the day when students are on their own, like at recess or in the lunch room. Are they acting responsibly or using responsible strategies?”

What does acting responsibly look like?

Joe Speers teaches science. He defines responsibility simply. “Last year, I wouldn’t give them the lighter. This year I feel like I can give them the lighter.”

What kinds of activities help build personal connections in advisory?

In addition to the popular Circle of Power and Respect, PAML’s advisory includes:

  • A sign-in board, featuring some type of question for which there is no wrong answer. “Where’s your favorite place?” for example.
  • A personal greeting for every student. Every single student gets a personal greeting from an educator, every morning. Think about what kind of difference that would have made to you as a middle schooler.
  • A morning meeting-style setup.

How do the PAML teachers know it’s working?

Objective data results:

Since adopting the new advisory model, the teachers have seen a decrease in Incident Reports. Incident Reports document behavior that fails to meet the school’s criteria for community. In other words, incidents where students have not acted responsibly.

Additionally, the PAML teachers administered a survey to both teachers and students, collecting data on perceptions of responsible behavior and school culture.

Subjective data results:

According to Joe Speers, “Walking around town is now a much more pleasant place to be.”

What could your advisory look like if you build personal connections with students?


Susan Hennessey

Susan Hennessey is a reformed librarian and current professional development coordinator with a particular interest in digital credentials and scavenger hunts. She's addicted to flavored almonds, salty, crunchy snacks, and Google Hangouts.

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