Middle School Advisory: Putting The Puzzle Pieces Together

This week’s “Notes from the Middle” is written by Jeff Snyder, Assistant Head of Middle School.

“We are all a part of something larger than ourselves.”

This mantra is embedded within the fabric of the TVS Middle School, and nowhere is this more evident than within the philosophy and goals of our advisory program. In advisory, we balance individual student growth and development with the importance of connectedness to the community at large.

This year, as we continue to shape relevant and meaningful advisory experiences, we have focused on developing a curriculum that meets both the specific needs of each grade level while also promoting growth over the four years of middle school. To fully support faculty and students, we have reshaped the look and rhythm of weekly advisory meetings. Each change is influenced by our TVS Middle School Advisory Mission:

The TVS Middle School advisory program is designed to nurture self-advocacy and self-confidence in all of our fifth through eighth grade students. Recognizing the whole child, each advisor blends social and academic support with an advocacy that listens to and values all student needs. Our advisors strive to provide students with a strong personal connection that balances guidance and independence while fostering the importance of dignity and empathy in interactions with others.

Curriculum

Until last year, middle school advisory lessons were consistent across grade levels. This summer we reviewed our mission, looking at the developmental need of each grade level. We realized that the program needed to model the same adaptability we hope to impart to our students. In other words, at each grade level, lessons needed to speak to the “in the moment” needs of each individual age group and some of the struggles surfacing on a daily basis.

To accomplish this, we outlined the fundamental skills that are most necessary for supporting positive academic and social growth. Four faculty members — one representing each grade level – have been developing advisory lessons together to ensure a smooth and deliberate path through all the middle school grades. These lessons look a little bit different depending on the grade level, and they focus on one of the five “big ideas” that are especially relevant to adolescent development: Skills for Success, Self-Care, Self-Advocacy, Tech Health, and Community Interaction. Click here to view a full chart of grade-specific topics and themes.

Time and Structure

With the addition of our new spaces, especially Middle School Assembly Hall, we have implemented new advisory structures. Now we have both dedicated advisory time for lessons and multiple 10-minute check-ins. This gives advisors more time to provide individual support to each advisee. We have also scheduled time for advisor-advisee one-on-one conferences, “floor meetings,” a fifth/sixth and seventh/eighth specific community time where teachers and students lead large group discussions, and “hangout” time to build a greater sense of camaraderie within each advisory.

Putting the Puzzle Pieces Together

This year we kicked off advisory with an exercise in recognizing our individual roles within the TVS Middle School community. Each student designed a puzzle piece to collectively represent students’ individuality, the goal of their individual advisory group, and the overarching middle school community. Advisory sayings included:

  • Work hard, play hard!
  • Take care of the squad!
  • Life is like a marker sword, if you don’t stick together, you fall apart!
  • Work for it!
  • TrojanTrust!
  • Just love!
  • Orbis Unum!
  • Be a Fruit Loop in a world of Cheerios!
  • Dream big, love bigger!
  • An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
  • Nothing is impossible, because impossible says “I’m Possible!”
  • Rowe in the right direction! (From Ms. Rowe’s Advisory)

Students are also exploring how they can be agents of change within the community. For example:

  • One advisory spent time on thankfulness, and the advisees sent emails to teachers or people who were influential in their lives, thanking them for the work they do. Several teachers and staff at TVS received those email.
  • Another advisory discussed the value of listening and respecting people’s space. These eighth graders also discussed how to help their hotel roommates make wise choices, as well as thinking through how to settle disputes.

These small group experiences help empower students to take big ideas and break them down into actionable steps. They see how they can make a difference in our community as they learn to leave a place better than they found it.

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