An advisory is a regularly scheduled period of time, typically during the school day, when teachers meet with small groups of students for the purpose of advising them on academic, social, or future-planning issues. In some cases, other adults and staff members, such as guidance counselors or social workers, may act as advisors or participate in an advisory program. “Advisories,” as these meetings are commonly called, may be casual and loosely organized in some schools, or they may follow a prescribed curriculum and clear set of routines determined by school leaders, teachers, and students. Advisories may meet daily, multiple times a week, or only a few times a month. Advisory periods tend to be shorter than a typical class, perhaps as 20 or 30 minutes long, and they are often used as an alternative to more traditional homeroom periods.
The broad purpose of an “advisory period” or “advisory program” is to ensure that at least one adult in the school is getting to know each student well, making sure their learning needs are being met, and encouraging them to make good academic choices and plan for their future. Advisories are designed to foster stronger adult-student relationships and a stronger sense of belonging and community among students. While many advisories pair groups of students with individual teachers for a single school year (in this case, students would move on to a different advisor the next year), advisory programs may also pair students with the same teachers for multiple years (e.g., all four years of high school). Proponents may argue that the most effective advisories tend to be well organized, scheduled frequently and during normal school hours, and focused on specific advisory objectives, such as providing academic assistance or guidance on planning for college and career goals after graduation.
Depending on the priorities and structure of the program, students may receive guidance on a wide range of topics during an advisory period, including course selection, future planning, study skills, social problems, and outside-of-school learning opportunities. In addition to one-on-one conversations with a designated advisor, students may also participate in group discussions or team-building exercises intended to build stronger peer relationships and teach students the value of collaboration, constructive feedback, and healthy peer interactions. Some schools also use “peer advisories,” which pair students with peer advisors, which are typically older mentor students or peer tutors who can help fellow student with specific academic problems.
Advisories are one of many possible strategies that schools use to make sure that students don’t “fall through the cracks”—that is, to ensure that their social, emotional, and academic needs are not being overlooked or left unattended. For this reason, advisories are often considered to be a form of personalized learning or academic support focused on helping all students succeed academically, stay in school, and make more informed educational decisions that will help them prepare for the future.
Advisories may also be seen as reform strategy focused on using available school time more intentionally and purposefully. In many schools, advisories will take the place of traditional study halls and homeroom periods, which—in the view of some educators—are often underutilized as learning time or student-support opportunities. In schools that are experiencing high dropout rates, low academic achievement, or other indicators of poor performance, for example, educators may argue that these schools should not squander available time that could be used more effectively—i.e., to help students catch up academically, prepare for college, or receive guidance, mentoring, and academic assistance. Advisories are one of many strategies for using school time more productively.
While advisories may be used in all grade levels, they have become a common school-improvement strategy in high schools, where students have historically had more limited opportunities to build strong relationships with teachers and other adults in the school.
While the advisory concept is not typically controversial, it is a fairly common for specific advisory programs to become the objects of criticism, usually due to wide variability in the quality of their design or execution. As a reform strategy, advisory programs are often created with good intentions, but these periods can easily lapse into unfocused inactivity or socializing if they are not properly structured and monitored. For example, if school leaders fail to establish clear expectations and goals for advisory periods, or they fail to regularly monitor and evaluate how the time is being used and whether it’s being used effectively, both advisors and students may become confused about the purpose of an advisory and therefore critical of the program. If advisory periods are too infrequent or too short, or if too many students are assigned to an advisory group, adult advisors may also struggle to maintain focus and continuity, use available time effectively, or give students the attention they need.
In addition, teachers may not feel comfortable advising students on non-academic problems, or they may feel unprepared or unqualified to be advisors, particularly when it comes to addressing a student’s personal, social, emotional, or psychological problems. In these cases, teachers may argue that the advisory role is not part of their job description, and that advising students on non-academic issues should be the responsibility of trained professionals, such as guidance counselors and school social workers.
School leaders and educators may not support advisories for any number of reasons: some may perceive these programs to take instructional time away from the school day, for example, while others may become frustrated if an advisory program is either overly prescriptive or completely unstructured, which may require teachers to spend more time planning and preparing for advisories—a situation that can become problematic or contentious if teachers are already feel overworked because they are teaching large classes, teaching too many classes, or taking on additional professional responsibilities.
As with any school-reform strategy, the success of advisories depends largely of the quality of their design and execution, and schools may need to provide relevant training or professional development to increase the likelihood that advisories will be effective.