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Responsive Advisory Groups

By: Upper School Director Jordan Andes

January 26, 2022

Every Tuesday morning after grammar class, sixth graders spill out of their classroom and bounce down the halls to various conference rooms and offices to meet their advisors. These small groups of five to six students meet every week and are led by Sixth Grade Teachers Zack Mouw and Rachel Price, Learning Consultant Heather Blome, Head of School Elizabeth Zurlinden, and me as Upper School Director. Our Tuesday advisory meeting is one of my favorite parts of the week.

While advisory groups are a unique opportunity for sixth grade students, the program at its core is a continuation of what begins in Junior Kindergarten with morning meetings. Both our advisory and morning meetings are founded in the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching, which holds that “integrating academic and social-emotional skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning.” 

In sixth grade, advisory groups are a key way that we we explicitly teach and facilitate reflection and discovery around social-emotional competencies (cooperation, assertiveness, responsibility, empathy, and self-control) and academic competencies (academic mindset, perseverance, learning strategies, and academic behaviors) that are rooted in our Rossman character values of respect, responsibility, honesty, and kindness. Such competencies deepen students’ learning, cultivate character, and lead to building relationships and strengthening a sense of community, belonging, and self.

At Rossman, we take the Responsive Advisory meeting framework and tailor it to meet the developmental needs of the class. Each meeting is designed with a focus:

  • Build student to student affiliation
  • Support academic readiness and skills
  • Strengthen advisory community
  • Develop social-emotional and communication skills
  • Energize and re-engage
  • Reflect and Recalibrate
  • Extended learning through themes

In preparation for student-run literature discussions in reading class, we had a series of advisory meetings focused on developing communication skills. Students practiced generating opposing viewpoints for topics that ranged from the playfulness of “thin crust or deep dish pizza” to formidable reflections about “are books better than their movies” or the role that homework should play in our learning. With the support of explicitly taught conversational cues and sentence starters, students practiced agreeing thoughtfully and disagreeing respectfully while taking turns supporting all perspectives. Having practiced these specific communication skills in advisory, students were ready weeks later to use those skills to deepen academic conversation as they discussed their class novel independently in the style of a socratic seminar.

Earlier this fall, we took the temperature of the class and noticed it was a season with common stressors for students between tests and the secondary school application process. We decided to have an advisory dedicated to social-emotional wellbeing, inviting Fourth Grade Teacher Jessica Arnold to teach students about mindfulness and tools they can use to observe and process stressful or strong emotions.

Around parent teacher conferences (which sixth grade students lead), we took time in advisory to reflect and recalibrate, encouraging students’ ownership of their learning by inviting them to reflect on their progress, identify short and long term goals, and determine how they plan to work towards them. 

One of my favorite advisory meetings each year is when we help students practice their communication skills by bringing back Rossman alumni to hold mock interviews with our students, a special event you can read more about in a blog by Rachel Price.

Whether discussing what it means to be a leader, reflecting on the differences between a growth and fixed mindset, or simply eating donuts while playing Bananagrams, advisory meetings are a time where students grow as individuals in the context of community. As students experience belonging and deepen new connections with classmates and teachers in these smaller groups, I am always in awe of the wisdom and insight that students share in our times together. While advisory groups are a hallmark of the sixth grade year, the heart of weaving social-emotional and academic skills together permeates the teaching practices and classroom routines of each grade level.

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Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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