One of Envision Schools's four principles is about building relationships. Often, the difference between a student graduating and going to college and a student not finishing school or going on to college is the relationship that student has with just one adult at school who knows him or her well, believes in the student's ability to succeed, and will not let him or her fail.
This type of student-teacher relationship is especially important in the first years of high school. It's so important, in fact, that we've built it into our school design through our advisory system. Almost every teacher serves as an adviser to 16-18 students. Kids stay with the same adviser for two years (one advisor for grades 9-10 and another for grades 11-12). We have the following goals for our advisory system:
- know and demonstrate twenty-first-century leadership skills in critical thinking, project management, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and creative expression.
- create and maintain a safe, respectful learning community.
- investigate and experience the process of researching, preparing, and applying for college.
- know and demonstrate the practices and attitudes necessary to be successful in college and the workplace.
Being an adviser is often a new role for teachers. The teacher leaders at San Francisco's Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School created a job description to help teachers who are advisers for freshman and sophomore students understand this important role:
"Advisers meet at least once a week (at some Envision Schools, daily) with their advisees. Teachers receive support in the form of professional development and a curriculum. However, the key to being an adviser is "owning" one's students. That is, the adviser should know each student extremely well and be able to rally support, intervene, and acknowledge when needed. If the Envision advisory system is working well, no student will fall through the cracks."
Schools provide advisers with extensive guidelines and schedules (download a PDF) and distribute weekly schedules (download a PDF).
Finally, we have engaged in a new exciting partnership to support our students. Envision Schools and Oakland's Psychological Services Center (PSC) are partnering to provide a tiered set of interventions -- embedded in the advisory program -- based on a preventative, or wellness, approach to behavioral and mental health issues. (The PSC, affiliated with Alliant International University, is a community mental health center that serves the low-income population of the San Francisco Bay Area.)
So that there is no stigma about receiving PSC services, every student will have a wellness plan that includes goals around self-regard, self-regulation, relationships, and future orientation. This plan will be embedded within the first two years of our advisory system.
I will discuss this partnership in more depth in a future post, but please share your thoughts about what you've read so far.