Steve Pearce

Steve Pearce is assistant superintendent of human resources for Batavia Public Schools in Illinois. He is former principal of Jane Addams Junior High School and Margaret Mead Junior High School.

A PLC Alternative to Advisory

There are many middle schools across our nation that have an advisory or homeroom period built into their weekly or daily schedule to meet the needs of the whole child. In theory, this concept sounds good and makes sense to plenty of educators. But let’s talk about the reality, and I will share some my personal experiences. I contend that many advisory/homeroom periods at middle schools are completely ineffective in meeting the intended purpose and that this time could be served for a better purpose that will impact student learning.

When I taught middle school, our advisory period was 25 minutes of survival for most teachers. Our well-intended social workers created lessons for us, but as a teaching staff, we had little ownership of these lessons, and the content usually lasted about 10 of the 25-minute period. Then we were stuck punting the remaining 15 minutes. This quickly created animosity directed toward this advisory period by most of the staff. I have four children, and two of them have been in middle school the last few years. They both had advisory periods once a week. I remember asking one of my boys about his most recent advisory period. He stated to me that they spent the entire time talking with their teacher about their favorite ice cream flavors.

With these two personal examples, I see 25 to 30 minutes of the school day that is being utilized in an ineffective manner. While I recognize that not all advisory or homeroom periods are ineffective, I have heard from hundreds of teachers in the last several years about plenty of ineffective models. I also hear from some of these same educators that they have no time during the school day to properly intervene and support their struggling learners. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Maybe we can use advisory/homeroom periods differently. Maybe we can be strategic about that time to impact learning. Looking for an idea on what to do with an advisory/homeroom period that has gone stale and doesn’t impact learning? At Jane Addams Junior High in Schaumburg District 54 (IL), the staff has come up with a twice per week 28-minute FLEX period as a way to use time during the school day to intervene with students.

Simply stated, FLEX happens twice a week at Addams. We have created this time by taking about three minutes off each of our nine periods during the school day. We have a fairly simple structure of what curricular area gets priority, and all teachers (core and electives) have access to this time. Electronic share folders are used to keep the staff aware of where students go, and the staff works together to make FLEX time as effective as possible. FLEX time is used for intervention, additional project time, reteaching, acceleration, and enrichment. Each department has the autonomy to determine how they will utilize FLEX each week.

While FLEX is not perfect, we do know that it is effective in meeting the learning needs of our students, and it has had a very positive impact on our overall student achievement. This concept was created by our staff, and they have great ownership over it. I would suggest that if you have an ineffective advisory/homeroom period and you are looking for extra time to support student learning, you may actually have the time—your staff just needs to reflect on a better way to use it!



My school has connected Advisory to our conferences. We have "student-led" conferences so, we use Advisory to build relationships and prepare for conferences. We meet twice a week for 30 minutes but one of the days, we just focus on watching a live broadcast of our announcements. Having Advisory has made it easier to prepare for conferences (we have 3 rounds) but we struggle with what to do after conferences are all finished. I am not sure what is going to happen with Advisory next year but the idea of FLEX would be a very interesting alternative.

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I whole heartedly agree with you about the wastefulness of advisory periods in schools. My current school has never had an advisory period, but is in the process of implementing FLEX time next year. Our school's leadership team visited a national "School to Watch" this past year to learn about how they implement FLEX time to increase student achievement. It was amazing to see it in action. The entire staff was on the same page and student achievement was at an all time high. The school we visited was Sunset Ridge Middle School (SRMS) in West Jordan, UT. There were several core academic teams located in isolated pods throughout the school. The school had hired an aid at 20 hours per week, to examine each student's class performance. After compiling this information, the aid passed it on to each team, where the teams could discuss how to proceed during the FLEX time. Each team decided on how to approach interventions with the students who were struggling with their courses and those students received a ticket on FLEX day to visit the classrooms of the class their were struggling in. The students who were not struggling received a reward during that FLEX time, but also had the option to visit a class where the felt they needed extra help.

We had a few concerns as a team about FLEX time. How can the FLEX model be implemented successfully with a student population of 800? SRMS population was 1,200 students and the building was designed specifically for this type of intervention process. I have also seen the FLEX program implemented in schools of about 400, but never in a mid-sized school. What exactly do the students who are not struggling do during that time? We want to make sure learning is still happening. Does anyone have any additional information?

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I liked your idea to use the 25 minutes in a different manor than suggested. I have student taught in a system that only had homeroom once a month and the students came in, attendance was taken, the teacher read messages from administration. During this time the students sat bored, those that new each other chatted the whole time without regard to the announcements. Why not have home room everyday, take attendance, recite The Pledge of Allegiance, Listen to the school announcements and this would take place during 1st period which could be increased by a few minutes. This way the students are updated everyday and they realize that they are already in class and will have better respect and listening skills because their teacher is already with them.

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Our middle school chose to take out morning advisory this year and replaced it by allowing each of the five teams (2 in grade 6 and one each for 7/8, 7, 8)to determine how and when they would deliver and additional 30 minute block. Unfortunately, the problem I encountered with this design as a 6-8 reading interventionist were conflicts with access to students who had too many conflicting schedules to group effectively for the limited time I could work with them.
Though the intent was to provide a range of supports from interventions to enrichment, since their was no clear school-wide mission to monitor student outcomes, I am disappointed to report this change has not met its expected success. I appreciate the component of FLEX time that uses electronic share folders to keep track of students and potentially what staff are doing. In addition to the file sharing, Addams has made a wise decision to include all of its staff including specialists to participate in the mission to address student needs during FLEX time. I would like to know what role, if any, parents are involved. From what I understand of key factors that work in a PLC such as FLEX, staff need a clear mission and each person or groups of teachers need time to collaborate on a regular basis to support exactly how they're progressing with the students for which they are responsible.
Our middle school has begun meetings to reorganize a similar school-wide midday break for next school year. I appreciate that I can bring the FLEX perspective to the discussion.

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I am proud to say that I am a product of district 54 and later went on to become a teacher myself. This article is particularly interesting to me because my school tried advisory last year. We did the same time management plan as FLEX by cutting off a few minutes off of afternoon periods. In total, advisory only lasted 10 minutes each day. It was also the last period of the day (poor planning). At my small, private school teachers were given no resources for advisory. We were expected to develop our own topics to discuss with the students. 40 students were crammed into 1 small room that did not have enough chairs, and many had to stand each day.

As you can imagine, advisory was a disaster for every teacher that had to participate. Without the support, I ended up doing a small science activity with the kids during that time. We had many in-depth discussions about topics they were interested with, and overall the kids enjoyed my new "advisory" much more. So did I.

I love this idea of FLEX. I am surely going to propose the idea to the administration for next year as we have decided to eliminate advisory this year :)

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I taught in two different high schools with advisory programs. In one, the advisory fully met the description you gave above, top-down curriculum, poorly implemented, and not assessed/examined. In the second, the advisory was totally opposite, and in fact the advisory was foundational to building relationships, relevance and rigor of the school and in meeting the needs of all students in the school. What was the difference? I would argue that the professional learning community in the second school supported the advisory program and professional development time was put aside to ensure that teachers could look at student work, solve teacher dilemmas, and really focus on student learning through assessing and adjusting the way advisory ran.

We all know that education (and particularly education "reform") is plagued by the "pendulum effect". We try something, it doesn't work, we try something else. PLCs hold the promise of allowing teachers, schools, and districts to really focus and work towards shared outcomes. Substituting PLCs for "_________ initiative" is not the right strategy; using PLCs to hone, refine, and amplify "________ initiative" is.

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