Advisory + Academics = Student Success
By Jeff La Roux, President of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
As a middle school principal, I have observed a handful of exemplary teachers. I call them "pied pipers." They had the ability to encourage results in their students. Students accommodated their requests — even the crazy requests. Some might say they were good motivators. I viewed it differently. Each of these teachers worked at building strong relationships with their students in their classrooms, and especially in their advisory groups. These are the teachers who were able to capture everyone's attention, who treated every student with respect, and who knew facts about the students' interests and their families. These teachers demonstrated that it takes dedicated work to build positive relationships with students. Dedicating a period of time, as one would find in an advisory program, allowed time to delve into building those important relationships.
I have seen the benefits of building relationships with my students and relationships between students. I have facilitated an advisory group almost every year of my educational career, and that includes my work as a teacher, 20 years as a middle school principal, and work in public schools as well as at the independent school in which I currently teach. In large part, I attribute these positive relationships to the time spent actively engaged with students in advisory groups.
Like any teacher, I know that my students will be tested on the required curriculum, but I have seen students make gains in classrooms where group cooperation and teamwork is stressed. Because characteristics like trustworthiness, character, service to others, and cooperation with others are not tested, some believe we can't dedicate time in our day to these topics. I disagree. I think it is important to help young adolescents grow into caring, hardworking adults. I have found that the focus on building good people creates the desired academic results in students that many strive to find.
When we teach academic content, we address only part of our duty as a teacher. Sure, sharing knowledge is a primary function of schools, but we miss out on the possibilities and potential our students possess. When we teach only the academics, we abandon our own middle school model that has been shown to be effective. Our research demonstrates that we must address academics with the social, emotional, and physical needs of the middle level child.
My passion may appear to be focused only on advisory programming, but I view advisory programs as an integral part of middle grades practice. As I prepare to enjoy the opening day of the AMLE 39th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education, I urge middle grades educators to continue the best practice of advisory and all of the middle grades programming that benefit our students.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.