(Thank you to Mr. Heck for sharing ELA journalism articles. Names of students have been edited out of these to protect individual's privacy.)
Restorative circles among students and teachers is a practice exercised by schools all across the country. The purpose is to grant students a place in the building where they can feel comfortable and connected. But, the execution and individual groupings here at MVM have scattered multiple viewpoints on how useful, fair, and functional advisory actually is.
Mr. Ben Doren, principal at Monument Valley Middle School, has shared his reasons for including advisory in our weekly schedule. “We want a positive and constructive school culture. We also want to teach our students how to be active and engaged citizens. And lastly we want a just and equitable learning community.” But, the engagement and equitability of advisory is a dubious topic which learners and teachers do not share just one outlook on.
Berkshire Hills is midway through its third academic quarter and some students are still not seeing this goal being accomplished. These students do not feel comfortable and emotionally safe among their peers, they do not feel like their circle is a place where they can share things about themselves that advisory is pushing them to share.
One cause for this is how it is run by individual teachers. “Instead of having us sit in a circle and talk about our feelings and spill our secrets, they [the teachers] should just let us talk and if we have something that we want to discuss, we should be able to,” says one student. For her, as well as many other students, this strategy for running advisories has prevented her from getting loose and creating friendships. But, for others, the same strategy has allowed the opposite to happen.
Another student, in eighth grade, feels that with all the talking going on within their small groups, kids have come out of their shyness and have developed bonds with their peers. “It has made me more open to talking to different people. I used to only talk to a small amount of people that I knew well, but since there aren’t many of my close friends in my advisory I was able to interact with others more. If I ever need help in class I won’t hesitate to ask these people for help because I know them more.” Hannah admires the effects of advisory, feeling that it creates friendships.
These differing feelings, based on the organization of advisory, come from two similar eighth graders in two very different advisories. In fact, with every opinion about advisory comes one that counters it, which goes to show that since advisories are so different, some kids get healthy advisory experiences, while others seemingly get their time wasted. Some kids, even, don’t get to socialize at all.
Yet another student said, I don’t get the point of having advisory if we don’t do anything social or team building.” Other students and teachers don’t think that that is the point of advisory, and that that shouldn’t be happening. It is clear among students that those kids are missing out on the so called “regular” advisory experience. When asked to comment on this, Mrs. Congdon, the assistant principal explained that she thinks teachers have the privilege to create their own unique advisory classes. “We wanted the teachers to design it as they saw fit, and if they felt their group needed a certain approach; we wanted them to have that freedom.”
Every student has a different view on advisory, depending on which advisory they come from, and what happens within those advisories. Seven out of eight people interviewed agree that all advisory experiences vary, along with the experiences of the students, like in the student’s mentioned above cases. When asked why that is, many people have different answers.
Lots of people believe that advisory experiences vary so much because of how people are put together. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but I think some people work really well together while others don’t,” says another student, of Mr. O’Dell’s advisory.
Others believe that it is because of the teachers. Mr. Park, as a new teacher to this school, had observed from a teacher’s angle how other teachers are handling it. “I think it’s because a lot of teachers are not entirely familiar with it, and don’t see why it’s important.”
And, still others think that it is the planning, or lack of planning, that is the problem. Teachers have shared that they do not get specific plans as to what they are to do each Wednesday morning. This has left teachers space for improv. While certain students think that advisory should be more relaxed and casual, others feel that there should be more activity. “I would maybe include more fun activities instead of talking all the time. We could have team building for the entire grade and maybe go outside sometimes,” says an eighth grader.
What six out of those seven people agree is that it is not fair. The fact that not everyone gets the same restorative practice has been seen as a fault to advisory. “I think that if we’re going to have advisory, everyone needs to get the same treatment,” says a student. When asked if that can be achieved equally fair experiences throughout our advisory groups, many people say no. They say no, for all the reasons that they think advisory is unfair. One student of the eighth grade seems to speak for everyone when he says: “ I don’t really think that can be achieved, because there will always be that one class that will have something different than the other, and every other class would want that”.
Mr. Doren does not see it this way. He agrees that all advisories are different, but instead of seeing it as a fault, he is pleased with the variation that others at MVM think are counter productive. “I like the flavor that comes from personalities and the makeup of a group. I want advisories to have a unique identity, and not have 25 cookie cutter small groups all doing the same lock-step activity. A diverse and healthy community should celebrate individuality, tolerance and depth.” He also contributes that with time, advisory teachers will adjust to advisory, and both students and teachers will adapt to the practice of it.
Mr.Park, a new teacher to Monument Valley as of 2015, worked at a school where advisory was a huge part of the culture. He has seen firsthand the effects of long term advisory, and shares that the end result is very powerful and good for students. He believes that putting lots of time into advisory will have great outcomes for the future, even though it may not be flourishing right now. “If we really dedicate to this system, really put a lot of work into it, it will pay off. I think that what will make advisory work is kids learning how to spend time and be comfortable around each other, and that doesn’t happen overnight, that takes time, maybe about a year.”