Posts Tagged advisory programs

Our Visitors See It: Advisory Is Essential

At Wildwood School we design our programs with our students’ futures in mind—helping them learn the key content, build essential skills, and develop the necessary habits for success in college and life.

Advisory is an essential part of our design.

A recent "chalk talk" discussion in a Division Two  advisory

A recent “chalk talk” discussion in a Division Two advisory

We dedicate much more time to advisory at Wildwood than most other school, public or private (four hours per week in most grades). That’s intentional, and has helped our advisory program gain notoriety—nationally and internationally.

This past week, I had occasion to reflect on how meaningful that commitment to advisory truly is. Every year The Wildwood Outreach Center hosts visiting educators from across the world, curious to see how advisory works at Wildwood, as they consider how their own schools’ advisory programs can develop.

Students in Erin Hansen's Division Two advisory engage in discussion

Students in Erin Hansen’s Division Two advisory engage in discussion

Visits to Wildwood’s middle and upper school advisories in action are a key part of the work.  I believe it is significantly helpful for our visitors to see the consistency of purpose common to all strong advisory programs. Last week at Wildwood, that meant in all four Divisions, one theme—multiculturalism—played out in four different, developmentally appropriate lessons.

Our advisory program’s multicultural theme provides a full scope of work that ensures each student understands and assesses the elements of one’s own multicultural identities (e.g., race, gender, physical ability, etc.) and how they operate in the world around them.

Here are snapshots of what our visitors saw our students working on during one advisory period:

Division One (6th grade) Focus: Choosing ally behavior
Students circulate through four stations, each prompting them to consider the different perspectives of people in conflict: bullies, targets, bystanders, and allies. Using this “four square” model, students discuss, among other topics, the challenges and benefits of choosing ally behavior over being a bystander.

Division Two (7th and 8th grades) Focus: Physical appearance
Through a “four corners” discussion, students grapple with how our society’s obsession with physical appearance can often lead to objectification—treating a person as a thing without considering his or her humanity.

Division Three (9th and 10th grades) Focus: Socio-economic status
Student teams are assigned hypothetical socio-economic profiles (some wealthy, some poor, some in-between) which either help or hinder their abilities to simulate a year in their lives: find housing and transportation, build a budget to meet household needs, etc.

Senior Institute (11th and 12th grades) Focus: Education
Advisory discussions focus on how socio-economic status, race, and gender intersect to create distinct advantages and disadvantages for students taking the SAT and ACT for college entrance.

What our visitors see is that through advisory, we live our school’s mission, daily—providing students the time and space to think, learn, and reflect on the topics relevant to their future success amid the competing priorities of a complex, evolving, and multicultural world.

That’s an advantage Wildwood students will take with them—to college and into life.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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GRIT: It’s About Relationships

Grit from NYTimes

As the conversation continues among educators about “grit”, that determiner of long-term success for students, I believe we should be hearing more about the role of relationships.

My years in the classroom as a teacher and advisor have made it clear to me that while the perseverance we call grit may be innate or instinctive for some, it can also be learned, cultivated and instilled – with help from caring adults.

Why grit matters is clear: the ability to envision and attain goals and long term achievement can keep a student on course during a dry spell, a downturn, or even a series of disappointments.  Adults as advisors can help build grit by documenting progress and incremental successes along the way.  Those positives are critical in creating grit as a habit.  The data shows that success is not mostly or only about talent, its correlation with grit is very high. But you need to get there.

Student-advisor relationships are most valuable when the goals are not just about the semester ahead, but take in a broader, big picture scope. Mapping ultimate destinations – in college, career, and life – with consistent guidance from caring adults over a long period of time matters. Kids are not always ready to take the long view, but adults can show them how many short views add up to a long view, and a picture of greater success.

I’m also interested in how thinking about thinking fits in.  Helping students develop what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset is another key determiner. In other words, a student’s capacity to see herself as capable of learning ever greater amounts of information and applying new thinking tools influences outcomes.  Advisors remind students of their status as growers – the advantage is with young students in re-setting the brain’s capacity to integrate new data and habits.

Unpacking the conversation about grit is helping to inform our work at Wildwood around how we structure our advisory programs. Grit, like advisory, is essential to students success – both in school and life.  Find out more about how advisory programs can help students develop grit; click to learn more about workshops offered through The Wildwood Outreach Center – Advisory Is Essential 101 and Advisory is Essential 201.

~ Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Public School Change: One Advisory At A Time

The Wildwood Outreach Center continues shaping teacher practice and student learning in public high schools on both the East Coast and the West Coast.

Landmark High School in New York City and The Banning Academies of Creative and Innovative Sciences (BACIS) in Los Angeles both are consulting closely with the Wildwood Outreach Center for a second year to shape their advisory programs with a view toward student achievement.

Landmark High School—New York City

The Rustin Educational Complex in Chelsea-- Home to Landmark High School

The Rustin Educational Complex in Chelsea– Home to Landmark High School

A third visit to Landmark in November focused on measuring the positive changes to the school’s advisory program—in both student and teacher attitudes about advisory, and plans for ensuring future student success.

During an initial visit to Landmark in April, it was clear that students at this small, urban public high school benefit from a highly engaged and reform-minded teacher corps. The spirited and thoughtful debate here about how to best serve student is invigorating. Even more impressive: in a very challenging environment, these teachers are not only engaged, but positive, and very optimistic about the opportunities for their students. It would be impossible not to be inspired by this group.

Student art abounds at Landmark

Student art abounds at Landmark

The Outreach Center’s work with the full faculty began with re-focusing a new set of goals for the school’s advisory program. After fifteen years, the leadership team paused to assess, and assign tasks and plan for strengthening the existing program. Landmark High uses Wildwood’s Advisory Toolkit and shares Wildwood’s fundamental belief in the value of helping students foster relationships with influential adults and keeping advisory central to their school’s educational mission.

Landmark HS ClassroomWe began our work together by mapping a plan for the school’s re-envisioned advisory, and in a return trip in August, put the plan into action—working with the full faculty to help them develop their own advising skills, as well as provide tips on leading advisory sessions. As we wrapped up our engagement in early November— the work focused on collaborating with the faculty to assess their program’s success and solidify plans to keep the program strong and serving the needs of Landmark students. Particular areas of growth were identified—greater consistency of the program from advisory to advisory, as well as deepening students’ familiarity with their peers—while several faculty member will be working on making the advisory curriculum and activities more relevant to students’ lives.

A thoughtful approach to moving forward, the Wildwood way.

The Banning Academies of Creative and Innovative Scieces (BACIS)—Wilmington, Calif.

BACIS's home campus: Banning HS in Wilmington, Calif.

BACIS’s home campus: Banning HS in Wilmington (from The Daily Breeze)

BACIS is a new Los Angeles Unified Small Learning Community school on the Wilmington campus of Banning High School near the Port of LA.  The school is dedicated to graduating students with specialized preparation for college and careers in engineering, manufacturing, digital arts, and computer science.

Science teacher Adam Paskowitz, who heads the BASICS design team, attended an advisory program workshop at Wildwood several years ago. His strong impressions prompted him to reach out to Wildwood when it came time to design BACIS because he understood that a strong advisory program needed to be at core of the new school’s mission.

The Wildwood Outreach Center began working with the BACIS design team last spring, and continued through the summer until the program was launched this fall.

Early on we were listening to what the faculty wanted for their students, helping them design a site specific program that, like Wildwood’s, puts a strong emphasis on the development of real relationships between students and with an advisor .

After listening to the BASICS staff over the course of several meetings, the Outreach Center designed the structure for the weekly schedule that accommodated what the design team wanted to accomplish through their advisory program—personalizing students’ school experiences, building a strong home/school connection, academic preparedness and career readiness, and academic tenacity. The Outreach Center provided curriculum to get the program up and running and teacher training in some essential teaching techniques with which most Wildwood middle and upper schools students would be familiar—chalk talk, four corners, and fishbowl.

Wildwood Outreach Director Steve Barrett address the BACIS Community

Wildwood Outreach Director Steve Barrett address the BACIS Community

This fall, the school welcomed it’s first 9th grade class of over 200 students. Advisory is a central part of the program, and will build out over the next three years as the faculty adjusts the advisory offering to meet the evolving needs of their students in this urban school where most of the students receive access to free or reduced-cost lunch—a common indicator of low socio-economic status. What’s most important is that BACIS students benefit from having determined, enthusiastic teachers who are dedicated to preparing them for college and careers that our new century will offer.

In August, the design team asked Wildwood Outreach Center Director, Steve Barrett, to address over 400 parents and students at BACIS’s orientation night, highlighting the new advisory program’s benefit to students and their learning, and how to use and get the most out of it.

Our work continues with BACIS as we provide program support, observing advisories and giving feedback to teachers on their practice, along with designing curriculum to meet their needs as their program grows.

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Planting Seeds Across the Atlantic– Wildwood Goes to London

I traveled alone, but I took Wildwood with me.

Last week I had the opportunity to take the best of Wildwood and its advisory program to coach the middle school faculty at The American School in London (ASL).

For years, Wildwood School has been nationally recognized for defining educational best practices with our advisory programs and professional development. We enjoy the many benefits of advisory and teacher-led workshops at home, and through the Wildwood Outreach Center, we’ve continually been exporting those practices to schools across California and nation for over ten years.  Now we are going global, responding to international demand for insights on how we do what we do.

Earlier this year, Outreach Center work took me to Mexico City’s American School Foundation to offer guidance to teachers there, followed by last week’s engagement in London.  As I’ve been so deeply immersed in sharing the Wildwood way, and explaining how it can work in a range of school settings, I feel motivated to pause and ‘lift the hood’, so to speak, and devote some time here to illuminating how we at Wildwood plan and design exceptional educational experiences for students at home and, now, around the world.

Creating meaningful learning experiences for our students begins with inspired Wildwood faculty.  Our culture supports constant conversation among colleagues about how to meet students’ needs, based on the Wildwood philosophy of teacher-as-coach. And, opportunities for specialized professional development are varied.  Wildwood strikes a balance between in-house, teacher-driven work, bringing in outside presenters and experts, and sending faculty to workshops and trainings focused on leading-edge best practices.  In recent years, faculty have integrated ideas from experts in their fields to positively influence our students’ use of technology in the middle and upper schools, while our elementary school language arts faculty attended summer trainings at Columbia University and adopted Writers Workshop strategies.  Wildwood’s collaborative culture then allows faculty to solidify this work by encouraging teachers to coach their peers in implementing new ideas in their classrooms.

My approach in working with the middle school faculty at the American School was similarly aimed at striking a balance between leveraging their in-house expertise and the insights I could offer. I was brought in to consult with them about advisory programs, which I understand from my years as a Wildwood advisor and my experience as a faculty facilitator. But I also brought with me the foundational Wildwood ethos of teacher-as-coach; I knew that this work needed to be driven by the American School teachers rather than me.

ASL’s goals were clear: they wanted help defining the goals of their nascent advisory program and wanted input on redesigning the program to meet those goals. In my two days of observations I saw that, among other things, ASL students weren’t consulted regarding what they felt their strengths, stretches and needs are during the advisory placement process. At Wildwood that is a crucial input to make sure student needs are best met.

I also advised the ASL faculty that school leaders should prioritize shrinking the size of their average advisory from 21 to at most 15 students. The more intimate, small group dynamic is a proven Wildwood practice.

The experiences most reminiscent of Wildwood during my time at ASL were when I facilitated faculty work.  In the Wildwood spirit, I designed and structured a full-day workshop with an advisory planning committee so as to coach the teachers to achieve their goals.  In the same way that a Wildwood elementary teacher coaches her students through the various strategies to solve a math problem, I guided the ASL teachers along their path to finding the solutions that work best for their students.  I offered advice, asked questions, inspired motivation, but I didn’t dictate answers. The result: A solid plan for a revamped advisory program for students in ASL’s middle school.  It’s vibrant and based on a solid foundation and, most importantly, the teachers felt they had created a new beginning for themselves.

At the end of my week at the American School in London, the middle school principal related to me why she felt my time with her faculty had been so positive: “They don’t like someone coming in and telling them what to do, and you didn’t. You guided their work, but you let them make it their own.”  As I reflected on the flight home to LA, I connected her words to what I know works best with students: help them make their learning their own.  This is my take-away, which will reinforce the work that I do with Wildwood faculty—as they make their teaching responsive to students’ needs and their classrooms fertile ground for learning.

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Wildwood goes to Mexico

This week, I found myself in some very unfamiliar classrooms. I took Wildwood’s Outreach Center on the road to the American School Foundation in Mexico City, where they had requested a tune-up for their upper school advisory program. The American School Foundation (ASF) is a K-12 school in the heart of the city, and I was privileged to facilitate an intensive advisory workshop with a dozen ASF teachers and administrators.

Like Wildwood, ASF began its advisory out a desire to provide a structure allowing each student to have a dedicated, caring adult who looks out for the student’s academic and social-emotional needs.  ASF was looking for ways to strengthen its advisory program.  Enter Wildwood, whose reputation as a leader in advisory programs is growing beyond America’s borders.

After consulting via Skype and email since October, I finalized a custom plan for ASF and boarded a plane for Mexico City, which, at 8.8 million residents, is the largest city in North America.

On Day One, I met with the upper school dean, but not before taking in some of the city’s great sites, like Chapultepec Park and the National Cathedral.  I spent the next day at ASF, on its 17-acre urban campus, complete with an artificial turf-covered football field (that’s American football, by the way).  Inside, I visited classes and advisories and met with ASF students, teachers, and administrators to get their take on their advisory program’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Day Three was, by far, the most demanding. ASF’s advisory steering committee and I met at an off-campus site for a six-hour workshop.  Here, I shared with my hosts the finer points of Wildwood’s advisory program and led them through a variety of activities to help them frame their advisory’s purpose and structure.

The results: ASF is now well on its way to developing a revamped advisory program to meet their student’s needs. Added bonus: I gained insights about ASF that I’ll bring back to Wildwood, and our school’s reputation as a leader in advisory programs has grown.  With other advisory workshops planned for later this year at American schools in the U.K. and Brazil, Wildwood can legitimately claim to be a world leader in educational best practice.

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