10 Ways to Build Trust and Investment in Your Advisory

Getting students to share their feelings and be invested in their advisory period can be a huge struggle. Many students have had traumatic experiences being vulnerable with peers and adults, and repairing that damaged trust to create a strong advisory culture can take enormous effort. Advisory should be a place where students feel at home, where they are loved and supported without reservation, and, if done right, advisory can be a crucial system of support that carries students throughout all four years of high school.

How do great teachers create trust and investment in advisory? There are so many styles and techniques that work at varying levels of success depending on the teacher and the students, but here are ten things that have helped turn my advisory into a place where students are excited to share and listen to others.

1. Proactive Circles: This is a great tool for building relationships and setting norms for communication. Set up your room so that there are enough chairs for everyone to sit in a circle. Establish brief norms for talking and sharing, including a “talking piece” that grants the person holding it the floor for sharing. Create a list of easy topics and questions like, “If you could have lunch with any celebrity, who would it be?” Ask a student leader to choose the topic for the day and hold peers accountable for the norms while discussing the topic. Circles should be short and sweet, never more than 10 minutes in length.

A twist on a traditional circle: hide sticky notes under each person’s chair with a positive message (“you are loved”; “you will be successful”; etc.) and ask students to read their sticky notes to classmates in the circle.

2. Restorative Circles: This is a tool for initiating an advisee back into school after a suspension or emergency. Set up the chairs in a circle and review the norms for talking and sharing. Start the circle by welcoming the student back and letting the student know that you are available for support. As the talking piece is passed around, have each student welcome back the returning student, and say anything else that might be encouraging or positive. Then, allow the returning student a chance to respond to peers. You may want to create a goal together for the returning student related to behavior or academics, and the whole advisory can help hold the student accountable for achieving it.

3. Shared Novels: If you’re lucky enough to have access to high interest teen novels and books, carefully selecting one to read with your advisory can be powerful. This isn’t your typical English classroom approach to a novel, but instead, a relaxed experience that can include reading out loud and discussing important issues that arise through the narrative, such as gang violence, sex, drugs, and abuse. Be sure the discussions are all student-led, perhaps jump starting with a few probing questions or ending with a short reflection question.

4. Team Spirit: Some schools create time and space for advisories to compete in various activities as a way to build investment. “Advisory Olympics” or a few rounds of competitive trivia and games against other advisories might be something you can coordinate with other advisors and administrators as a way to build investment. If this isn’t possible, consider competing in a canned goods drive or hosting penny wars for charity. The winner gets to do something fun with their advisory like have a pizza party!

5. Individual Conferences and Goal Setting: Talking to each student about his or her academic progress and setting realistic goals for improvement can have a big impact on student relationships and investment. Have students write their goals down and save them, and celebrate students for meeting those goals.

6. Public Data Sharing: Track student progress for meeting goals on the wall, and reward students for meeting them. Refer to your tracker in your advisory lessons, and praise students who are making progress in achieving their goals.

7. Parent/Guardian Involvement: Calling home can have an enormous impact on investment and trust in the classroom. Be sure to mention student goals and academic progress to the parents of your students, and ask parents for their advice and input on how to help support students as well.

8. Get Up and Moving: Take a break from the monotony of the school day by doing some whole group yoga or stretching. GoNoodle.com has some amazing, empowering videos that help students think positive thoughts while exercising their bodies.

9. Tackle Awkward Subjects: When students ask tough questions, address them. If students are asking your advice about taboo subjects like drinking, drugs, gangs, or sex, don’t be afraid to facilitate a safe dialogue. In fact, creating a space to talk about these subjects will peek the interest of your students and get more of them interested in contributing to the conversation as well.

10. Dance Parties: After a great circle or some relaxing yoga, letting your students play a song or two for some singing and dancing can be a fun way to end advisory and get students excited to come back for more.

Teachers: how do you facilitate strong support networks in your school? Tell us in the comments.