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Advisories Are Essential

BLOGSchool is only a few weeks away so we will be sending home our advisory letters shortly.  Any student new to Paulo Freire Freedom School gets a letter from his/her advisor welcoming them to our school and scheduling a “get to know each other” meeting before school starts.  During that time advisors can answer questions, address concerns and it gives our families a chance to share any information that is important for us to know to insure a smooth transition into PFFS.   It is our families’ first introduction to our highly successful advisory program – the heart and soul of our school.

I have worked and consulted at many schools who have scheduled into their instructional day a period called “Advisory” but these tend to look more like a traditional homeroom and serve mainly as a time slot for completion of bureaucratic tasks.  Too often schools implement advisories without proper attention to defining its purpose or providing professional development to their staff.  In many cases these attempts to implement an advisory program last only a few years before disappearing and the time being reallocated to academic classes.

In our school and at other notable exceptions (we were inspired by the advisory programs we observed at Wildwood School in Los Angeles and the MET Schools) advisories are critically important.  The purpose of advisory at PFFS is to guarantee that every single child in our school is known well by an adult.  Advisors work to make sure that their advisees are all thriving – not just academically, but emotionally, socially and physically as well.   It is our way of operationalizing our commitment that “no one will fall through the cracks” at Paulo Freire.  At our school, advisories function as little tribes with their own traditions and inside jokes, where students know they belong and that others have their backs and will stand up for them.

When I worked at a large comprehensive high school and had up to 300 students a year – there was no way I could know and value each of my students.  So I started a practice where each night before going to bed I would imagine one of my kids – usually an unassuming one who was easy to overlook – and I would hold that child in my heart and send compassion and care to him/her.  This practice was well meant, but it was a poor substitute for actually forging real relationships with my students.  That can only be done where the numbers are small and the structures allow for real personal relationships.

For those who might be wondering what I’m talking about when I say a “real relationship” this is what it looks like at Paulo Freire:

  • Taking a child to get a cup of tea during literacy to discuss a problem she is having with her best friend
  • Creating a safe space during advisory to allow someone to share the pain of a parent’s suicide
  • Taking time after school every day to check a student’s homework planner to make sure they know what they need to do and have the necessary information
  • Coordinating with a family to figure out rides to a service learning project required for their 8th grade portfolio
  • Bringing food/clothing/school supplies to an advisee who needs it
  • Sharing a painful experience from one’s own adolescence to build connection and trust
  • Helping an advisee write a letter to his/her parents about an issue that it would be too difficult to talk about in person
  • Finding a community mentor in a field of interest to talk at the school

I could go on and on writing examples of how seriously our staff takes the role of advisor and how much care they put into that role, but instead I’ll end this with the words of one of our teachers.  In a memo providing advice to one of our new advisors she shared that her advisees heard these words from her all the time:

“I can’t believe how kind you are to each other.” “Being with you guys is one of my favorite parts of the day. You always fill this room with love.” “Whenever you notice someone feeling left out, you guys all reach out to bring them into the fold. You’re so wise and thoughtful for your age.” “I love how you guys can facilitate without me. It’s like you can run yourselves and I’m just here to help guide you on the agenda.” “You trust each other so much and never tell anyone’s secrets. You know how to listen when someone is sharing something difficult.”

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a school community where this is your culture?

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