Teachers assess Advisory: fixable flaws or lost cause?

Katherine Haden and Lydia Winstead

According to PA’s Advisory co-lead Ashley Karunaratne, the biggest issue with Advisory is the attitude of both teachers and students: “I think Advisory could be good, but everybody hates it, and…if you hate something, then you’re not going to get anybody else to like it, are you?” 

In other words, a teacher’s approach to Advisory can make a big impact: student experiences with Advisory can vary wildly depending on whether or not their teachers present the lessons in an engaging manner.

Karunaratne serves as a liaison between VBCPS and PA, receiving the Advisory curriculum from the district, then finalizing and distributing it to teachers. While there are some components she is required to include in the lessons, she also has some flexibility.

“Some of the lessons that are provided to us we have modified a lot because as they’re given to us, they’re not conducive to using at all,” said Karunaratne. These modifications can range from adding icebreakers to changing the activities entirely.

Karunaratne’s goal is to lessen Advisory’s burden on teachers as much as possible by clarifying directions and making lessons easier to follow: “Usually the lessons that we get [from VBCPS] are pretty…basic, in the sense that there’s not much to them. We try to make it so we’re still doing what’s being asked of us, but we’re making it somewhat more interesting than just ‘here’s a website, look at it.’”

In a way, Advisory could be beneficial to teachers because it can be used for assemblies that would otherwise take up their instructional time.

When it comes to scheduling, Karunaratne hopes for more consistency in the future rather than frequently changing formats, so that the process can be gradually improved upon rather than starting from scratch nearly every year.

Conversely, Government teacher Angela Cosimano believes that Advisory is a “waste of time.” Critiquing the format, Cosimano says, “I’m not sure putting groups of strangers together for 30 minutes every other week is the way to build relationships.”

For Cosimano, Advisory planning ends up being an afterthought on top of two fast-paced 4×4 classes to prepare and grade for, diluting the lessons’ potential to benefit students.

“I understand that we might still need to do SEL…but I think we could work that in better in other ways,” says Cosimano. For example, the return of One Lunch would allow students with similar interests to meet and form relationships organically, and SEL lessons could still be offered to interested students during that time.

IB and AP Psychology teacher Amanda Augustine shares Cosimano’s belief that while SEL is important to teach students, there could be other ways to accomplish it. “SEL is important; it’s maybe one of the most important things to happen in school,” Augustine explains. “But I don’t think a 30-minute session with a teacher you don’t know…doing a lesson that [they] didn’t create…every couple weeks or so…[is] the best way to do Advisory.” 

Augustine proposes that the lessons taught in Advisory, shouldn’t really be given their own class at all. “I think [SEL] is embedded into my class. Any teacher that is doing their job for VBCPS is teaching SEL in their actual classes.” Augustine explains how in the past, teachers were simply expected to teach content to their students but now, it’s “totally different.” 

“Now, mental health matters more,” says Augustine. “We’re not just teaching students content. We’re teaching them to be responsible, to make good decisions, to be a good person, and to manage their emotions. And many teachers are, they’re teaching that stuff in their class. If we’re all doing that, then we’re meeting the whole purpose of Advisory without having to meet with random groups of 12-15 kids every two weeks, because you’re getting [SEL] from all of your other teachers in your classes.”