What is one thing you would most like to change about the world?
That’s a big question for anyone to answer. Now imagine you’re one of a group of “half-asleep, hungry, hormonal, sassy middle school students at eight in the morning.” Liberty Middle school Advisory teacher Makayla Henry described her class that way, but said none of those obstacles stopped her amazing group of kids from diving right into a very in-depth conversation.
“They were sharing with each other the need for more musical education, the acceptance of any person — and belief in every person’s humanity, the need to care for our planet, the need to stop hating on someone based on a difference of opinion,” said Henry. “These are thoughts that were deeply personal to my students, and they had found a space to believe that their thoughts were worth hearing, sharing, and developing as they posed them to their class. If that isn’t success in any class, I don’t know what is.”
Creating that safe space for students is part of the middle school Advisory program. Even in a non-pandemic year, middle school students are already going through a lot of changes.
“Their sense of self changes, their relationships to friends, family, and teachers change. Not to mention the academic side of school,” said Henry.
“Emotions towards these changes are so valid, and Advisory is that school family that students can come to and process the world around them. I think a benefit of Advisory is that it gives students the space to reflect on all of the things they are experiencing as they go through middle school,” she said.
Advisory also gives them that place to be themselves, and to prepare themselves for the day and life ahead of them.
“Advisory is that morning cup of coffee and newspaper for our students,” said Henry.
In Lauri Isaksen’s Advisory class at Spanaway Middle School, students were working on their Student Led Conference slides, adding in their recent STAR reading and math data and reflecting on their performance compared to their data from earlier in the year.
Isaken’s eighth grade students also work on high school registration, “Character Strong” lessons, and school-specific expectation videos. Advisory is also the place where middle school students receive lessons in social emotional learning from the district’s Second Step curriculum.
From Zoomies to Roomies
With middle school students now learning in-person via the district’s hybrid model, Isaksen and the other teachers at Spanaway Middle are teaching Advisory to students in the room and students who are at home at the same time, connecting via Zoom.
“I have my Zoomies who are with me on Zoom and my Roomies who are in the room with me during the period,” she said. “It is a huge change, but it is going really well. Students are all logged into Zoom so they can see the chat and see what I am screensharing. Sometimes I carry my laptop around so the Zoomies can see what I am doing.”
Along with having students simultaneously online and in-person, another big change this year is that Advisory at Spanaway Middle is being held every day.
“This year we have Advisory five days a week and the relationships we have built with our students are so much stronger than when we do not see them every day,” said Isaksen. “Students have commented that they like having Advisory every day — it is a great way to start each day.”
Students generally keep the same advisory teacher during the school year. Henry thinks this system works well because it allows time for strong relationships to be built, while giving students and teachers a different perspective year after year.
“I think it teaches students to become more flexible and — hopefully — trusting of the staff at our school because they have at least three different adults they have built close relationships with, and that they know they can go to for guidance, help, or a quick hello,” she said.
The pandemic year has changed the world as we knew it, and these unprecedented times have forced countless changes on everyone. But Henry found comfort in her Advisory class, and her students did too.
“This year’s group was something really special to me. Being in a remote setting can be lonely for everyone — teachers, students, parents, grandparents, and so on. But at 8:15 every morning this group would log in to Zoom, and share celebrations, frustrations, contemplations, hesitations — without blinking an eye,” she said. “They would share their concerns for the world, their annoyance with the term ‘unprecedented times’, their concern for those who regularly experience harassment, especially with race, gender, and sexual orientation. But they also talked about their dreams and their joys, their sources of inspiration.”
Advisory Task Force
The district currently has an Advisory Task Force, that both Henry and Isaksen are a part of, that is looking at the Advisory program across the district in both middle and high schools.
“We are currently creating goal statements for Advisory with the goal of common Advisory across the district for six through eighth and nine through 12th grades. We want to ensure we have consistency,” said Isaksen. “Advisory is a time for us to build relationships with our students and plan for their life beyond high school.”