Building Advisory Buy-In

When advisories or homerooms thrive in Middle orHigh Schools we see connection, empathy, and support for learning ripple throughout the community. While it can sound simple to think of creating a thriving advisory program, we know planning and thought nurtures a careful design.

IFSEL curated a set of ‘Eight Principles for aThriving Middle and High School Advisory Program through our experiences as advisors, running advisory programs, and in work with schools across the US and internationally.

One perplexing Principle about which Advisors often have a lot of questions is, ‘How to build Advisee Buy-In’.

"The bottom line is this - a defining question for any school or company is: 'What is the quality of the emotional relationships here?’ " David Brooks

We hear that many students see Advisory as a time to connect with their Advisor and their peers, to get support on academic or personal issues, to have some downtime (restorative non-task oriented time),or to get information about school business. These elements fit into our hope, right? Being part of a trusting, fun, connected and purposeful ‘family’ at school.

There is abundant research to back up this idea that relationships need to be at the core of our education systems, structures and practices. David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times on this exact issue and cites compelling research on the importance of emotional relationships between teachers and students.

Advisors who are worried that their Advisees just don’t buy in to Advisory, say that their students might perceive it as a waste of time, that they don’t see the point, or that they do not feel connected to their advisor or co-advisees.

So, how can we build buy-in, to create the connected communities that our students deserve and require if they are to thrive:

Here are 6 of IFSEL’s low-prep, high-impact strategies:

1.    Buy in. As an Advisor at an IFSELSchool put it, “Advisees buy in when Advisors buy-in”. Try taking a moment to ask yourself how you feel, think and talk about Advisory and your role as anAdvisor. Perhaps these questions might help

a.    What kind of an Advisor do I want to be? What kind of Advisor do my Advisees need me to be?

b.    How do you want your Advisees to feel when they’re in your Advisory?

The ways we choose to model and communicate commitment to the purpose, joy, and potential of Advisory is perhaps the biggest opportunity we have to model and set high-expectations for our advisees and build buy-in.

Perhaps ask a trusted colleague to help you reflect on these questions together. These questions could also provide a great starting conversation for an Advisor’s meeting, focused on sharing the practice of Advisory as well as teaching each other experiences that have gone well with your Advisees.

2.    Shift the vibe. We hear from students that connected Advisories feel ‘different’ to the rest of the school day. To create this different energy for advisory, try:

a.    Shifting your mindset from ‘teacher’ to ‘facilitator’. Set high expectations, model engagement and commitment and join in! Share a little of your own experiences and life. Guide the conversations, but let your Advisees drive it. Ask open ended questions. And sometimes just hold the space, but hang back and let your Advisees lead.

b.    Change the physical space. If possible, rearrange seating or shake up the set-up so that it feels different and special.

3.    Honor student voice. How has Advisory been explained to students and what are their previous associations? Have their hopes and opinions been authentically included into the design and planning ofAdvisory? What opportunities do advisees have to create meaningful and fun rituals and traditions? How is feedback from Advisee’s collected and how often?How transparently is that process and what happens with the ideas that students put forward in their feedback? What roles can students have in advisory, and how can Advisors authentically let go of some control to empower student agency? 

4.    Develop Rituals and Traditions. IFSEL recommends working to create a unique advisory-identity. Some advisors like to create a spirited name for their group. Others enjoy making an Advisory Flag,Banner or Shield that hangs in their Advisory room/space. We recommend developing rituals that are distinctive to the Advisory group as well as some that are shared across all advisories in a particular grade therefore building something for advisees to look forward to each year.

Try developing student-led  rituals such as openings and closings to advisory time, or themed days such as HFF (Health Food on Friday) or Mindful Mondays. Eager to be a part of a community, but often at a loss fora way in, if you start with and model a few such rituals, students will be making up their own and taking ownership before you know it.

5.    Build consistency, with options. IFSEL recommends planning a varied range of activities that all advisories do at the same time, alongside offering thoughtful flexibility and options to advisors.For example, if the focus of the week in Advisory is communication strategies, offering two or three communication games or activities from which Advisors can pick wisely honors our different instructional preferences as educators. That said, equity in access to high quality Advising is vital and consistency of themes and experiences in each Advisory ensures this. To get the balance right, we suggest engaging all Advisors in this conversation and generating an agreement together. This flexible consistency is essential for buy-in since students are quick to notice which Advisories are focused, purposeful and fun, and which advisories are less so.

6.    Bring yourself. Sharing silly or fun stories and experiences with your advisees lets them get to know you.  Being yourself with vulnerabilities and stories is a hugely rewarding element of being an Advisor. This builds trust, and invites students to be more open with you in return. If we want to ask our students to share their insights deeply and meaningfully, it seems fair that they should expect the same from us. Middle and High School students yearn to relate to their Advisors as human beings with hobbies and interests beyond the subject matter they teach. Share aspects of yourself with your Advisees.

A final note, in support of the tired and overwhelmed advisors out there: remember that students don’t always show us what they really feel inside and may appear defensive about opening up, buying in and engaging. Your calm consistent presence and commitment to Advisory will be felt however, so take comfort in the knowledge you are making a difference at this crucial stage of development for our adolescents. Keep going!

There is much more that can be shared about how to build a thriving Advisory Program in Middle and High School. IFSEL offers regular workshops on this topic, and Advisory is also a major part of our Summer Institutes each year. For more information, visit

Ps. We can’t really write about Advisory buy-in without mentioning snacks. In summary, we believe they’re essential - but that is also topic for another blog sometime soon.

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