Many Essential schools use the advisory group structure as a way of increasing the personal connection among students and between students and the teaching staff. At New Mission High School in Boston, where “advisory” opens and closes every day, students begin the morning meetings with a ten-minute ritual that Essential school teachers often use themselves to build professional community. At the day’s beginning, the group shares verbal “connections”–setting goals and strategies, recording them in journals, and occasionally discussing them in the group. At day’s close, the group takes ten minutes for “reflections”–revisiting the goals set in the morning, and doing a homework reminder. Though both practices follow a similar format, connections are more emotional in their tenor, and reflections more analytical as the student rethinks the day past. David Perrigo, who directs New Mission, offers these guidelines for the rituals, which follow the same format:
Connections (mornings): “How am I feeling, and why?” “What would be good for other people to know about my general state of being today?”
Reflections (afternoons): “What worked well about my day today, and why? What did not go well, and why? Was I successful completing my goals today? What helped and what got in the way?”
- The group picks a student facilitator for the day (usually in a predetermined order).
- The facilitator pulls the group together in a close circle, with no students scattered around the room.
- The facilitator asks, “Who is missing?” and the group acknowledges any absences.
- The facilitator requests, “All distractions aside, please,” and waits for all present to focus their attention.
- The facilitator says, “Connections [reflections] are now open.”
- People speak one at a time, indicating when they have finished by saying “I’m done,” or “That’s it.”
- No one interrupts, comments, or has side conversations.
- After each speaker, a pause of at least five seconds allows the contribution to be considered and respected before the next person speaks. Silence is okay!
- No particular order of speakers is followed, and no one is forced to speak, but everyone is encouraged to con- tribute at least several times a week, if only to say, “Good morning, everyone.”
- When it seems that everyone has spoken who wishes to, the facilitator asks, “Would anyone else like to connect [reflect]?” If no one chooses to speak after a few seconds, the facilitator says, “Connections [reflections] are now closed.”
- Connections and reflections should typically not exceed ten minutes; a group that loves to talk should be coached to become disciplined in the use of the time.