Going all the way out!

Since social-emotional well-being directly relate to students’ academic achievement, schools should concretely commit to supporting it. This is particularly necessary for adolescents. Existing school structures rely heavily on school counselors to accomplish this goal. However, it is impossible for one or two counselors to authentically and comprehensively address all the social-emotional needs of adolescents.

There is a creative solution to this problem, already in use in several countries. The solution is a systemic implementation of Student Advisory.

Advisory explained

In a typical student advisory model, each student in the school is assigned a teacher or staff member to assist the learner to achieve academic and personal goals. A two-pronged approach is applied in the implementation of most student advisory programs; one-to-one interaction (personal coaching) as well as advisory classes (group coaching). While the former addresses students’ personal issues, i.e., their emotional well-being, the latter takes care of their need to connect positively with other peers.

Student advisory provides opportunities for adolescent learners to work closely with a coach. The idea of coaching learners is not popular outside of the realms of sports. However, it should be noted that anything that require skills-building involves coaching – hence, acquiring skills to overcome difficulties during adolescence definitely necessitates the need for “life-coaches.” While it may be a new idea within a school system, this practice is ardently advocated in Adult Learning Programs.

Social trends

The root of most academic problems is social-emotionally-based. Most adolescents have many unanswered questions about life, future, identity, relationships, physical changes, belief system, societal expectations and personal priorities. At the same time, they detach from parents and relate more closely with friends who are in similarly confused state of mind. As such, there is little or no opportunity for an adolescent to engage in constructive conversations with someone more experienced to help him make sense of things. This is where a coach at school could come into play, and do so effectively.

It is indeed shocking that most adolescents prefer relating to others through online means and hence expose themselves to greater danger of online abuses. Apart from consuming a huge chuck of study time, overuse of social media has made interpersonal skills a rare commodity that has to be taught to learners when they enter college/university or the world of work.

Student advisory offers the kind of emotional and social support needed during adolescence. Learners rely on face-to-face interactions that support the development of healthy and nurturing social networks within the school, across grade levels. It provides every student a specially allocated time to discuss about difficult social and academic situations by promoting peer recognition in an accepting environment. As a result negative peer pressure and its effects are prevented.

The cost

While student advisory does not cost any money, implementing it requires commitment of the highest degree from every member of the school. A systemic approach to implementation is crucial to its sustainability. If every member of the school does not buy into the idea, the program would fail. However, when successfully implemented, student advisory has proven to reduce instances of dropout, substance abuse and many other delinquent behaviors among adolescents. Additionally, it promotes self-esteem, strengthens social-emotional well-being, improves achievement levels and increases the overall accountability in the school.

Implementation tips

Ideally, a teacher or staff is assigned somewhere between ten to twelve students. In some cases, it may even go up to twenty in a group, depending on the student body. Different activities could be arranged for students during a student advisory class meeting (when students meet their coach as a group). Some examples are:

  • Advocacy – students share their problems and concerns and the coach advocates on the students’ behalf when appropriate
  • Forum – discussion about different aspects of day-to-day life at school
  • Building community – nurturing cohesiveness through in-house activities undertaken by the group; sometimes, this involves service learning and reaching out to the community outside the school
  • Reinforce academic skills or curriculum in a more relaxed environment (a coach may find it necessary to help his/her group in a particular area of learning)

Marshmallow effect

Perhaps the best things in life really do come to those who can wait

While it does not always provide specific tools to improve one’s life, psychology does help to create and increase awareness of factors that cultivate an effective and broad range of habits, attitudes and perspectives. Incorporating reputable psychological findings into your lesson plans can help you become a more effective teacher.

Time paradox

An example of such knowledge is found in the extensive work of Dr Philip Zimbardo (Professor Emeritus at Stanford University) and Dr John Boyd (research manager at Google Inc) in the area of time paradox.

This new science of psychology brings to light significant ingredients that determine an individual’s quality of life, which includes his or her performances at home, school and work.

Uneaten marshmallows

In the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted the famous Marshmallow Temptation Study among four-year-olds. In this experiment, Mischel presented each child with a marshmallow.

He then told the child that he or she could either eat the marshmallow immediately, or wait and get an additional marshmallow as a reward.

As anticipated, some children yielded to the temptation and some others withstood it. Walter Mischel followed the progress of these children, monitored their school records, and surveyed and interviewed their teachers and parents until the students reached age 18.


What he found has significant implications for education: children who had resisted the marshmallow temptation turned out to be more successful and emotionally balanced than those who had given into the temptation.

They were better-adjusted and more dependable.

More specifically, children who could delay gratification scored 250 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, worked well under pressure and when in groups, were significantly more confident, and possessed a number of other positive traits and habits.

The theory

According to Dr Zimbardo’s time paradox theory, individuals who could delay gratification are categorised as future-oriented, whereas those who could not resist are classified as present-oriented.

As revealed in the marshmallow temptation experiment, Dr Zimbardo argues that there are significant differences in people’s behaviour, attitude and approaches to life as a result of their “future” or “present” time perspectives.

He also sheds light on those individuals whose perspective is past-oriented. Various research studies confirm that an individual’s time orientation affects his or her quality and satisfaction of life, relationships, school and work performances, and a variety of other future outcomes.

As humans, we operate on all three time continua – past, present, future; but we are dominated by only one. This strong preference for one time orientation is formed over the years through biases that are influenced by our upbringing, educational opportunities, socio-economic background, religious conviction and geographical location.

Personal experience

I see this idea playing out in the lives of students at higher education institutions. Many would conveniently delay completion of their study program because they do not have the needed motivation to sustain them through the process of completing the thesis component. In contrast, students who are certain about their future goals do not waste time, make necessary sacrifices and complete their thesis no matter how difficult the process is.

Empirical studies point to the fact that students who hold past and present orientations under-perform at school and university while those who hold a future-orientation succeed and are invariably the top students.

Sadly, a majority of students that teachers come across at all levels of education have learned to be either past- or present-oriented, which poses huge problems in staying motivated, committing to long-term goals and learning for the sake of learning.

The good news is, time perspectives can be changed (unlearned and relearned) if students are made aware of the time paradox theory.