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.
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.
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.
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.
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)