Understanding Shore's Advisory Program

Bill Fisher
It is almost impossible to overestimate the importance of the Upper School advisory program at Shore, says Head of Upper School Gustavo Carrera. “It is probably at the center of all we offer to our Upper School students,” he explains. “It is the place where they receive most of our social-emotional curriculum. It is where they’re encouraged in conversations about their life as students—in school and outside of school. It is the venue in which their needs as human beings are central.” It is the program, in other words, that allows Shore faculty to address those critical traits—self-awareness, relationship-building, decision-making, and resilience—that research shows have more to do than almost anything else with students’ ability to succeed in school and life.

In Shore’s advisory program, groups of six to eight Upper School students of all genders are assigned to a teacher who will serve as their advisor for the year, similar in many ways to a homeroom teacher in the Lower School. The advisor is a guide, coach, and counselor, serving as the point person for students as they navigate the challenges—from improving their study skills to negotiating changing friendships—of their Upper School career. Access to an advisor’s support is built into the academic schedule at numerous points throughout the week. Each day during the Extra Help period—an open half-hour at the end of the daily class schedule for catching up on work, meeting with a teacher, or participating in an extracurricular activity—students visit their advisor for what can be anything from a brief check-in to a longer conversation about a specific concern. One day each week, advisee groups share informal conversation over lunch, and during a dedicated long advisory period once every seven days, more formal sessions on specific topics—often drawn from Shore’s Community Code—are convened.

It is these longer advisory periods that anchor the program, perhaps more so than ever before, according to history teacher Pat Coyle. “While the advisory period has always been a time to address social and emotional learning,” he says, “we’ve now adopted a model known as Responsive Advisory Meeting to formalize and give structure to all the ways that we address individual students’ social and emotional needs within the advisory group.”

The Responsive Advisory Meeting approach to social-emotional learning—an offshoot of the Responsive Classroom approach already in place in the Lower School and now a part of the Upper School program, as well—is part of an evidence-based teaching methodology that emphasizes a specific set of academic competencies—academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors—and social-emotional skills—cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control. Responsive Classroom’s guiding principles posit that great cognitive growth occurs through social interaction—that feeling a sense of belonging and success in a healthy community of learners is just as important as what is being taught and how.

“In short,” summarizes Coyle, “Responsive Classroom and the Responsive Advisory Meeting allow us to address the whole child, touching all those parts of the curriculum that go beyond the academics in the classroom. In terms of the advisory period, that means using discussions, group activities, and even games to proactively address areas of growth we recognize in middle schoolers—communication, goal-setting, dealing with stress, organization, and conflict resolution, to name a few—, giving them a toolbox that will allow them to adapt to different situations academically, socially, and beyond. Middle school is an age when students’ responsibility for balancing work, play, and social interactions grows significantly. So as a result, we aim to make sure our students gain not only a solid set of academic skills and areas of content knowledge, but also the ability to be a good, contributing citizen, a thoughtful friend, and a kind person.”

While the advisory program places great emphasis on building community through student-to-student connections, just as important are the student-to-teacher relationships that it nurtures. “The advisory affords the opportunity for Shore teachers to know a small group of students in a deep and meaningful way,” says School Counselor Katie Hertz. That knowledge, she explains, plays a critical role. “As teachers and advisors, we spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking and talking about individual students and how they’re doing socially, emotionally, and academically. That means that when a need arises, there’s an immediate response from the advisor, subject teacher, coach, or myself as the counselor. And with multiple touchpoints for each student, from the quick daily check-in with the advisor to the time spent with a faculty member in class or Extra Help, there’s an incredible amount of collaboration between all of us.” That collaboration ensures that all students receive the support they need, no matter the issue and no matter where in their schedule it arises.

The relationship between advisor and advisee serves yet another critical purpose: preparing students to advocate for themselves in secondary school and beyond. “Students who don’t attend an institution such as Shore are unlikely to find allies among school adults,” says Gustavo Carrera. “But at Shore, we encourage students to seek help and advice from their advisor or from any trusted adult on campus. We want them to feel confident seeking out someone with whom they can connect and find support.” For example, if a student feels they have been unfairly graded, it can be hard for them to say that they believe an adult has made a mistake. However, at Shore they can turn to their advisor first, and they’ll coach them in the language they can use to approach another adult and prepare them for that conversation. “This not only helps them today, but it prepares them for their next step,” says Carrera. “Self-advocacy is a real skill that needs to be taught, and it’s something we want students to take with them when they leave Shore.”

At the end of the day, explains Katie Hertz, what’s most important about the advisory system is the way it helps to ensure that every student at Shore can be happy and successful. “We go to great lengths to meet each student where they are, and to offer individualized support so that each learner has the tools, resources, and confidence they need to thrive in our community.” Middle school is all about navigating social and emotional challenges, emphasizes Hertz, and the advisor helps to create a safe space where there’s room for those worries and struggles. “We recognize from the first day of school that if a student is feeling socially isolated or stressed, then they’ll be hindered in their ability to flourish in the classroom. So if we can use the advisory program to boost their ability to manage stress, give them practice talking openly about their feelings with peers, or model seeking support from a teacher, it’s going to help them succeed as students as they become increasingly independent young adults.”
    • Advisees share conversation.

    • An advisory group gathers for lunch.

    • Advisees work together on an activity.

    • The advisory period is a time for fun, too.