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6 Tips from on Building a Strong Advisory Program

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IFSEL recently had the opportunity to catch up with Michelle Cristella, the Head of Middle School at Friends Seminary in NYC. Michelle has worked with IFSEL to build and refine two successful advisory programs over the years at The Speyer Legacy School and Friends Seminary, respectively. Here are her six tips for educators seeking to establish and improve their school's advisory programs using the IFSEL model. 

1. Lead with Your School's Values and Mission

The starting point in shaping an effective advisory program is to lead with the school's values and mission. Friends Seminary, where Michelle currently works, is a Quaker school rooted in values like stewardship, peace, integrity, community, and equity, all of which also align well with SEL. Michelle says, Because we have those values as an institution as a whole, bringing advisory into that is a beautiful marriage. We want to provide students with an advisory program that supports those values.

2. Build Buy-In

Building buy-in among faculty and students is key to success. To enhance buy-in, amplify and uplift existing SEL efforts in advisory, hallways, recess, lunch, and classrooms to reinforce the great work already happening. Additionally, show faculty and students why the work is important and how it will help both students and faculty. Michelle emphasizes how “having that recognition within the institution that this is important to us makes this work much easier. Having buy-in from faculty helped us be a few steps ahead of the game.”

3. Model SEL with Faculty

Friends Seminary implements a 90-minute Open Session* for faculty each year before rolling it out with students, and starts every faculty meeting with a check-in so that faculty can gain experience with the practices they will be leading with students. Michelle shared how she recently brought Play-Doh to a faculty meeting for faculty to mold into something that reflected an emotion or general sentiment they wanted to share. Our check-ins aren't always that complex, but that constant modeling for the faculty and having them actually participate and take care of their own SEL needs is only going to make them stronger when taking care of the SEL needs of students,” says Michelle.

[*Open Session is a core element of IFSEL’s approach to Middle and High School Advisory. It is a structured, collaborative problem-solving process, focusing on student’s real-life concerns and issues. There is robust training for Advisors to lead students through The Open Session protocol.]

4. Expand Beyond Advisory

Building a strong advisory program should expand beyond advisors and the walls of advisory to every aspect of the school. Michelle says, “If you are going to work with IFSEL and implement an advisory program, even your classroom teachers who don’t serve as advisors should still be a part of these conversations and professional developments. There are so many strategies and activities that IFSEL has given us that can be implemented in classrooms, not just advisories,” to reinforce the work. 

5. Seek and Act on Feedback

Actively seek feedback from students, faculty, and caregivers. Michelle says, We are continuing to make adjustments to the lessons. We want to feel like we can shift and respond to the needs of the students, so it's just a matter of asking feedback from faculty, students, and parents and being willing to hear their feedback and respond appropriately.” Feedback doesn’t just have to be retroactive, either. Ask faculty and parents, ‘What do we want to be able to say about our school advisory programs and the way we care for our students?’ Shape your advisory based on that vision.

6. Be Patient

Michelle points out how it is important to be patient, as it can take years to really see and feel the full benefits of these changes in advisory. Michelle says, “It’s easy to say this isn’t working, let's just toss it out, but you’re not giving yourself, your faculty, or your students the time to really reap the benefits of the work.” 

In closing, Michelle emphasizes that a strong advisory program is guided by the values and mission of your school, buy-in, modeling, patience, and a willingness to act on feedback. The process may take time, and adjustments will likely need to be made along the way, but the lasting benefits for students and educators alike are well worth the time and effort.

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6 Tips from on Building a Strong Advisory Program

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K-3

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Middle School

High School

Adult

Michelle Cristella shares her six tips for educators seeking to establish and improve their school's advisory programs using the IFSEL model.

Learn More

6 Tips from on Building a Strong Advisory Program

Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

High School

Adult

Michelle Cristella shares her six tips for educators seeking to establish and improve their school's advisory programs using the IFSEL model.

Learn More

6 Tips from on Building a Strong Advisory Program

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Preschool

K-3

3 - 6

Middle School

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Adult

Michelle Cristella shares her six tips for educators seeking to establish and improve their school's advisory programs using the IFSEL model.

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