What is Advisory and Why Does It Matter?

What is Advisory and Why Does It Matter?

In school communities, the best way to grow authentic, productive, and sustainable relationships and ensure that every young person can name a trusted adult at school is to invest in an advisory program. When we say advisory, we mean a small group of students assigned to an adult in the building, separate from any connection to an academic topic, with the purpose of building personal skills and strengthening community. Whether your advisory
program is brand new or in need of a freshening up, and whether it’s ten minutes a day or sixty minutes a week, we are excited to share with you OTA’s 3 P’s, highlighting research-backed strategies that are essential to every successful advisory program.

The 3 P’s every successful advisory program needs:

1. Presence—a move from monitoring to mentoring
Effective school-based advisory programs require that advisors move from a monitoring to a mentoring mindset. This might sound obvious to some educators, but for many it’s a shift in their day and requires an approach different from the one they use to teach chemistry or history. Monitoring requires observing that students are on track, whereas mentoring involves investing in  students’ overall well-being and success—guiding, coaching, and fully acknowledging their presence.

Whether it’s asking students to do a 1–10 check in, make a blob tree, or share their mood in the form of a weather report, ensuring that every student’s name is said within the first five minutes of the advisory period signals that you are invested and present. Research shows that when individuals have a chance to speak within the first five minutes of a gathering, they are far more likely to speak up later when invited to do so. The first five minutes of advisory are crucial to signal presence and establish your role as a mentor, setting the tone for engagement for the period and all day long.

2. Play—a shift from doing things for students to doing things with students
We need to move away from the idea that advisory is more “work” and look at it as an opportunity for play, connection, and fun! Play in advisory groups necessitates a shift from advisors organizing activities for students to doing activities with students. Advisors need access to engaging activities, connection tools, and a no-prep curriculum that sets them up for success. Purposeful play, laughter, and smiles are catalysts for connection and are at the heart of every successful advisory.

3. Possibility—a focus on possibility over pathology
When we began assessing advisory programs in schools, we found that many of the conversations and curricula in advisory programs are deficit-focused, directing discussion and learning toward signs and symptoms of concerning issues. Advisory topics often focus on drugs, suicide, bullying, and school shootings. While the intention is prevention, these topics are problem-focused by name and by nature. 

Most often, advisors are not counselors or mental health professionals, and this is where a lot of discomfort lies when educators or other school professionals are asked to run advisory. For this reason, it’s important to provide materials that help all advisors, no matter their background, meet the ABCs—they need support that lets them show up as the accessible, boundaried, and caring adults their students deserve. They need to be equipped with advisory topics that are forward-focused and curriculum materials that move beyond pathology and toward possibility. A shift from prevention to invention naturally invites such rich topics as perseverance, communication, mindset, goal setting, leadership, connection, responsibility, perspective, and mentorship. These themes support the boundaries of an advisor’s role while creating the best opportunities for conversations that promote connection.

To prioritize the 3 P’s and make the most of your advisory time with students, follow these recommendations:

 If you have…
Focus on…
5 minutes
15 minutes
Presence, Play
45 minutes
Presence, Play, Possibility


Advisory is an opportunity to prevent our biggest worries and promote our biggest hopes for youth. We encourage you to explore OTA’s Comprehensive School Program, including our Ripple Advisory Program and Ripple Student Leadership Course for Middle School and our BeBOLD Advisory Program and BeBOLD Leadership Course for High School.

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