Making Great Teachers into Great Advisors: Advisory Training at Parker Charter Essential School

Many Coalition schools have incorporated advisories into their school structure to helping students find personal connection and opportunities for growth in school. Schools that find advisories essential to their success have learned that they need to devote thought, time, resources, and training to put advisories at the center of school life. Several years ago, to help each other bolster the skills they needed to make the most of their thrice-weekly advisories, staff at Parker Charter Essential School decided to put advisor training at the heart of its professional development efforts.

Parker’s advisory program encompasses four goals: academic advising (students develop personal learning plans, meet with advisors to monitor their progress, and discuss ongoing assessments of their work), community service (each advisory group designs and implements a community service project), community conversations (citizenship in the Parker community), and recreation (students have fun and learn about group dynamics). Advisory groups are age-specific, staying together while students complete the work of the school’s two-year divisions and then, as students move on to the next division, regrouping. Advisories are crucial to the school’s mission to know all students well and help them make the most of their skills and opportunities, but as principal Teri Schrader says. “Several years ago, we concluded that terrific teachers don’t always make terrific advisors.”

Schrader and other Parker staffers decided to help themselves improve their skills as advisors. “We named a faculty collaborative inquiry question: what does it mean to be an eVective advisor at Parker? We hired Debbie Osofsky, a former Parker teacher, as our advisory coordinator and she met with a task force of ten teachers. The task force asked, ‘What do we know? What do we need to explore advisory from teacher’s perspective?’ That group came up with what we knew and wanted to institutionalize, what we wanted keep alive. During the summer, the whole faculty participated in six advisory panels. We relied on the advisory coordinator to figure out what we needed next, and we devoted one staff meeting per month to advisory issues.”Following Parker’s intense focus on helping excellent teachers become excellent advisors, the school incorporated elements of the advisor training into its ongoing professional development work. Schrader says, “Now Debbie comes in once a week-she moves around the school, checks in with advisors, helps those who are having trouble locating community service or getting their group to come together. Our new teachers spend twelve hours of their summer planning in advisory training working on material developed during our summer training.”

Schrader feels confident that the time, personnel resources and effort devoted on strengthening advisories have been spent wisely. “Advisory is central to our mission. It puts the kids at center of their education and helps them see their academics as an integrated experience. It pushes them to make sense of the world.”