A strong advisory program is one of the hallmarks of the private-independent school experience. Your faculty advisers provide not only academic advice but also personal advice. In the course of personal advising, students will ultimately reveal uncomfortable, scary, and dangerous issues they are facing. Your advisers need to be adequately trained to recognize “yellow light” and “red light” area so they will learn where the boundaries are to protect themselves, the students, and your school.
Yellow Light Issues
Students will share personal circumstances that may hit home with the adviser, generating a “been there, done that” kind of reaction. However, self-disclosure can come with landmines. While the adviser may see it as offering empathy, and indeed suggestions on how to deal with the situation, the student may feel like its “TMI”—too much information—from a teacher. Revealing personal information of this nature also exposes the teacher to the rumor mill, which can have a detrimental effect on everyone and the school. What started as empathy may end up as a serious distraction from the purpose of advisory—guiding and supporting the student.
Teacher advisers must also understand they have inherent power in their role as advisers, and their advisory is not the place for personal agendas. Advisers are obligated to serve the mission of the school and to meet the needs of the student, and not advancing their personal beliefs.
Within the school community, the teacher adviser will fill a variety of roles that can create conflicts of interest. It’s important that when talking to a student, the adviser clearly defines which hat is on at the time. The advisory group may include a friend of the adviser’s own child. In such cases, the adviser needs to say “I am speaking as your adviser now,” for example.
Red Light Issues
Among red light issues are those with potential health, safety, and legal ramifications. Your school needs to explicitly define what advisers can and cannot do when dealing with students, in accordance with laws and your school’s culture and mission.
What happens when a student reveals that he/she may harm him/herself or others? Or that he or she has been abused? What if the adviser suspects abuse? Advisers must be trained in the right course of action. Publish and distribute to ALL employees clear guidelines on handing these situations, and appoint a well-informed designee to receive these reports. Your designee needs ready access to resources and information to take the right course of action, including everything required by law, to protect the student, the school’s employees, and the school. Understanding the extent and limits of confidentiality is also essential.
Your advisers also need to know the school’s definition and policy regarding sexual harassment and acceptable touching to understand their personal boundaries. Can an adviser place a hand on a student’s shoulder? Is hugging part of your culture or a definite no? One of the biggest issues today is personal interaction, especially with burgeoning social media. The school needs to define what type of personal interaction (phone calls, personal visits, etc.) is acceptable, and set up social media policy when dealing with Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Behavioral health concerns are red light issues, and the school needs to define what actions are appropriate for advisers to take. Advisers should not offer clinical diagnosis or make treatment recommendations. Faculty members will not have credentials to make those recommendations, and may only see “one side of the story.” Tread lightly in the area of referrals as well. Clearly identify the right person in your school to make these recommendations.
ISM offers three days of training for faculty advisers in Hands-on Advisory: Curriculum, Themes, and Activities this July 7–10 in Salt Lake City. Designed for upper and middle school advisers, the workshop addresses building a strong advisory program, individual advising, and group advising. Advisers will also outline a program to take back to their schools. Register here.
Additional ISM resources of interest
ISM Publication: Mission-Based Advisory
ISM Webinar: 10 Things To Think About Concerning Your Advisory Program
Additional ISM resources for Consortium Gold Members
Ideas & Perspectives Vol. 30 No. 15 Survey Faculty to Enhance Your Mission-Based Advisory Program
To The Point Vol. 7 No. 7 What’s Expected of an Adviser
To The Point Vol. 11 No. 8 Checklist Guides Efforts To Strengthen Your School’s Advisory Program
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