Advisory Programs: Improving the Social-Emotional Needs of Gifted Students
By Joanna Simpson and Kelly Bragg
As two educators who have worked in an inner-city high school with nearly three decades of combined experience, we’ve seen quite a few curricular programs come and go. We’ve seen several programs help our struggling students. Read 180 was tested to see if it would assist struggling readers and ELL students. The Cambridge Curriculum was adopted to see if it would aid our general education students. Writing labs and tutoring centers were opened for our students who needed some additional help. The population that was often left to fend on its own, however, was the gifted population. It was wrongfully assumed that this population would succeed just fine without intervention. Gifted = self-sufficient, right?
In a faculty of more than 200, there were two teachers at this school in the inner-city that had gone back to school and completed the necessary steps to get a gifted endorsement (12 credit hours on gifted education from an accredited university and two plus years of verifiable direct work with gifted students). One of those teachers taught the enrichment course that was an elective for all students but was written for gifted students. The other gifted endorsed teacher acted as the gifted facilitator, which meant she was the liaison between the school and the district and was primarily responsible for testing and labeling gifted teens. That was the extent of the gifted expertise on this particular campus of 5,000 students, with about 150 gifted teens. Both teachers advocated for the gifted population by hosting parent nights, offering professional development, and trying to filter in as many gifted kids as possible into the enrichment course where they would have individual time with those students. However, to change the perception that these kids were self-sufficient, there needed to be a change in philosophy of the faculty. That change would only come with the faculty building personal relationships with these kids.
Some common questions emerged on this campus: How could we inspire those kids who were meeting all the standards to exceed them? What could we do to help our students who seemed so self-sufficient reach their true potential? At the same time, one educator, who did not have any training in gifted education, saw a connection between the testing data and the personal relationship that teachers needed to have with their students. Students who had made this personal connection with an educator on campus—one who understood their needs and coached them—consistently exceeded the expectations of their teachers. She wanted to increase this personal connection with all students, regardless of their label. It was at this point that this teacher decided to start an advisory program.
Advisory programs have been in place in secondary schools for decades. In 1989, Simmons and Kiarich1 indicated that Advisory programs had a positive effect on school climate, particularly related to an increase of belonging and security. Since this research, advisory programs have been cemented in secondary education as a way for students to learn to work together and develop a caring school environment. This was it! This was the way to establish that personal connection. Research has proven the success of advisory programs in both high and low socioeconomic status schools, as well as schools in the inner city, the suburbs, and rural areas. With this program being so adaptable, what benefit might it add to the gifted population?
Advisory programs are often offered for one class period a day and act as a homeroom for the students. The curriculum is tailored to the population but can offer teachings on character education, relationship building, curricular enrichment and productive citizenship. The purpose of the Advisory program is to build relationships and to continue those relationships throughout a student’s time in high school. The principal drive behind advisories is to create a custom-made environment for learning and encouragement provided by a significant adult figure.2 An advisory program offers the opportunity and time for teachers and students to develop a relationship that gives students the support they need and improves achievement on all levels of emotional, social and cognitive development. Each year, the student returns to the same advisory, further building on the relationship with the teacher and peers in that course.
Advisory and Gifted
For our gifted population, that meant gifted students would now be in a position to connect with educators that didn’t know much about the gifted label and would have the opportunity to know them on a personal basis. The advisors (teachers) were able to tailor the curriculum to those specific 30 students. As such, advisory became an opportunity to combat some of the negative behaviors that affect the socioemotional side of being gifted3 – behaviors that many teachers had little experience with. Those students, once thought to be self-sufficient, were exhibiting certain socioemotional characteristics such as perfectionism, lack of self-confidence, difficulty forming relationships, disorganization, isolation, and narcissism.4 Advisory teachers, and other students, were now developing relationships with these gifted teens and were witnessing these difficulties.
Beane and Lipka (1987)5 indicate the advisory programs could help adolescents deal with relationships with peers and aid in their socioemotional development. This was proving to be true for those 150 gifted students. Suddenly, teachers were approaching the gifted endorsed faculty with questions about how to help their students. What kinds of coping strategies could they teach that might combat perfectionism? How could they help their students deal with overexcitability? Teachers who were not gifted endorsed and had no formal training in gifted education were reading journal articles and blogs on what could be done to help these students. There was an awakening that was the philosophical change the gifted teachers knew needed to occur, and it was all started by the third teacher who wanted to connect with her students.
A Need for Relationships
In secondary education, the socioemotional support that an advisory program may offer is often sorely lacking for gifted students. No longer are these adolescents a part of a pullout program, and rarely are gifted students participating in a curricular option that allows for their specific socioemotional needs to be met.6 There are courses to meet their academic and creative needs, from advanced courses to competition courses and courses in the arts. However, which of those courses meet the gifted students’ socioemotional need to belong? Their need to develop positive relationships with both adults and peers? Where are they learning to cope with some of the socioemotional effects of being gifted?
In the education field, individual attention or personalization for adolescents is important because it is a vehicle to lower student dropout rates, provide individual tutoring and improve student achievement.7 This suggests that advisory programs inherently benefit underachieving students—what about the gifted? If the advisory program teacher was gifted endorsed or was operating with the assistance of gifted facilitator at the school or district level, how could this population be served? Curricular options could include coping skills for dealing with perfectionism, rejection or critical competitiveness. Goodenow (1993)8 expresses the idea of what students want at the high school level in terms of being recognized, taken in, and wanted by others. This is not specific to any population; it is a want of all adolescents, including those who are gifted. They want not just to be liked but also to be supported and held in high esteem as individuals.
The intent of an advisory program is to give the students the self-worth they need to survive the experience of high school on all levels, both socioemotional and academic. With the sense of belonging being linked to that of academic success, positive feelings of belonging initiate help-seeking behavior in the academic arena.9 Students who are struggling are more likely to seek the help and advice of an adult or peers they have built a positive relationship with. The fact of the matter is that students who like school tend to be more successful than those who do not.10 This is just as true for gifted students as it is for their non-gifted peers.
For our gifted teens to get the help they need combating these negative socioemotional behaviors, they need opportunities to develop relationships with educators who can guide them. It is unlikely that you will convince an entire faculty to get an endorsement or a degree in gifted education. You can offer all of the professional development and parents’ nights possible in any given school year and still find that your gifted students need more help. The fact of the matter is, we had gifted endorsed teachers on our campus, a course written specifically for gifted students, and held professional development and parents’ nights to try and rally the troops in support of helping gifted teens. We found that the “troops” simply didn’t understand the needs of these kids because they hadn’t been given the time to develop relationships with them. Once they did, they no longer had to ask what could be done to help gifted students reach their potential. The battle cry of moving students from “meets” to “exceed” began to fall away to the actions of helping Jose, or Donna, or Jimmy with achieving their potential. The label was not of some uneducable child that was self-sufficient. The label didn’t much matter to those teachers. The fact that Jose struggled to turn assignments in that weren’t perfect or that Donna couldn’t control her tears in any given situation became more important than meets or exceeds. The answer was simple. Teachers had to get to know the kids, not the label, and advisory provided them a venue to do just that.
Simmons, L., & Klarich, J. (1989). The advisory curriculum: Why and how. NELMS Journal, 2(2), 12-13.
2See Educators for Social Responsibility: http://esrnational.org/professional-services/high-school/partners-in-learning/advisory-program/
3Vialle, W., Heaven, P., Ciarrochi, J. (2007). On being gifted, but sad and misunderstood: Social, emotional, and academic outcomes of gifted students in the Wollongong youth study. Educational Research and Evaluation.13 (6), 569-586.
4 See Pratt, M. (2009). Looping to Meet the Needs of Gifted Children. Principal, 88(5), 22-24.
5 Beane, J., & Lipka, R. (1987). When kids come first: Enhancing self-esteem. Columbus, OH:
National Middle School Association, 40.
6 He´bert, T, & Kelly, K. (2006). Identity and career development in gifted students. In F. A. Dixon & S. M. Moon (Eds.), The Handbook of Secondary Gifted Education. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
7 Forte, I., & Schurr, S. (1993). Definitive middle school guide: A handbook for success.
Nashville, TN: Incentive
8Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30, 70-90.
9 Newman, R. S. (1991). Goals and self-regulated learning: What motivates children to seek
academic help? In M. L. Maehr, & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement: Goals and self-regulatory processes (pp. 151-184). New York: Academic Press
10 Hallinan, M. T. (2008). Teacher influences on students’ attachment to school. Sociology
Of Education, 81(3), 271-283.
Beane, J., & Lipka, R. (1987). When kids come first: Enhancing self-esteem. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association, 40.
Educators for Social Responsibility. (2011). High School Advisory Programs: Designing and
Implementing an Effective Advisory Program. Retrieved from http://esrnational.org/professional-services/high-school/partners-in-learning/advisory-program/
Forte, I., & Schurr, S. (1993). Definitive middle school guide: A handbook for success. Nashville, TN: Incentive.
Goodenow, C. (1993). The psychological sense of school membership among adolescents: Scale development and educational correlates. Psychology in the Schools, 30, 70-90.
Hallinan, M. T. (2008). Teacher influences on students’ attachment to school. Sociology Of Education, 81(3), 271-283.
He´bert, T, & Kelly, K. (2006). Identity and career development in gifted students. In F. A. Dixon & S. M. Moon (Eds.), The Handbook of Secondary Gifted Education. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Newman, R. S. (1991). Goals and self-regulated learning: What motivates children to seek academic help? In M. L. Maehr, & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Advances in motivation and achievement: Goals and self-regulatory processes (pp. 151-184). New York: Academic Press.
Pratt, M. (2009). Looping to Meet the Needs of Gifted Children. Principal, 88(5), 22-24.
Simmons, L., & Klarich, J. (1989). The advisory curriculum: Why and how. NELMS Journal, 2(2), 12-13.
Vialle, W., Heaven, P., Ciarrochi, J. (2007). On being gifted, but sad and misunderstood: Social, emotional, and academic outcomes of gifted students in the Wollongong youth study. Educational Research and Evaluation.13 (6), 569-586.