I started mid-year and jumped into TA with no expectations, on me, of the kids, of the culture. At the time, some disagreed on what the letters stood for and how the groups were constructed. I got what I expected, unsurprisingly. I bonded with my group over cards, homework and lunch. That’s what I had done before in a different system, so that is what I did with this group of kids. Fifteen years ago, there existed the physical structures of a good idea, but intentions do not build culture and community.
Being an advisor was like selling shoes. Everyone comes in, sales person and customer, with an expectation, some leave with exactly what they were looking for, some leave with something unexpected, some leave with nothing at all. This seems inequitable. The keys to change seemed to be in culture and community.
The deconstruction of culture within a school system is more challenging than the construction. Building within the confines a new culture to supplant an existing and easy culture proved to be more encompassing than thought. Organizational history, unknown cultural historians, folkways and a desire to maintain the status quo needed to be massaged, reshaped and recast into something else. Taking the leap into the unknown other proved worthwhile.
Working through to define a set of goals was the most rewarding aspect of redefining the system. Now we all had a say in where we were trying to go with students. These simple expectations would fall by the wayside without the construction of supports to reinforce, reform and kindle a sense of togetherness. Teaming of teachers proved to be the catalyst for this change.
No longer was I the advisor to a group of twelve students exclusively, but we (a group of seven adults) were advisors to 100 students. We met daily with a set of expected results. We met bimonthly together to review their academic and social progress. We decided with the help of others who merited local scholarships. We met with their families during open house, at the senior barbecue, participated in community service with them and made the groupings as equitably and overtly as possible. We remade the culture of being an advisor. We teamed, competed and built a culture of collaboration among the staff and students.
Remaking schools can challenge even the simplest of ideas. There is so much more to a school than the faculty, staff and students. The physical layout of the building, what is displayed on the walls, the makeup of the faculty, the traditions and graduation set up, the extracurriculars, where the school is located vis-à-vis the town, make up parts of the school culture. Becoming aware of these factors takes time, patience and persistence to understand, but leads to a new outcome that can increase equity of opportunity and growth of expectations.
Matthew DeBlois is a member of the 2009 Cohort of Fellows, a current Rowland Associate, and Principal at Addison Central School.
His work as a Fellow was focused on the personalization of learning at Vergennes Union High School through an advisory system. The system’s intent is to grow a community of learners partnered with an academic mentor – their advisor. This partnership, forged with parents and guidance counselors, assists them in identifying what success means for them, how they will go about achieving it, and what kind of success they achieve in the long-term.
Prints of Images can be purchased at Andrew Holder’s webpage.