Some call it a morning huddle; it used to be just a drowsy homeroom check-in.  Now, the platform for student-adult relationships to form in Hartford schools is a daily advisory group meeting.  As this is so crucial to student-centered learning, it was good that Hartford Board of Education members had a chance to experience it firsthand – with a group of Eighth Graders who do it every day.

At this week’s Kinsella Magnet School of the Performing Arts workshop, seven Board members had a chance to see what it means to test wits on their most important values, declare their best character traits, and hear what is important in other people’s lives; to experience what a daily advisory can bring.  It’s that memorable conversation at the coffee pot, on the bus, at the counter; a good daily exercise for everyone.

Environmental Sciences Magnet School at Mary Hooker Spanish Teacher Elizabeth Wilson has been busy, as the school’s advisory coordinator and student representative mentor – not to mention, but also to consider, being a new mom to her own child.  Tuesday evening, she masterfully put the Board members through their paces with some of her Eighth-Grade students, also masterful!

The exercise was very instructive, illuminating a foundational part of the District’s Strategic Operating Plan: Student Success Plans are one of its six high-leverage strategies … and they rely on the caring adults who serve as mentors or conveners of advisory groups.

“Advisory is just one way of connecting with a caring adult,” Superintendent Beth Schiavino-Narvaez said Tuesday evening, as she and Board Chair Richard Wareing and Board Members José Colón-Rivas, Robert Cotto, Jr., Tiffany Glanville, Craig Stallings, Beth Taylor, and Karen Taylor came to the tables with Ms. Wilson’s 12-year-olds.

“It’s easy for students to just check out,” Ms. Wilson said in a follow-up interview, by way of shedding light on why the advisories, and the intimacy of their small groups, is so invaluable.  When children get a chance to air their views, they tend to reciprocate later when they have to take on complex tasks, like reading and interpreting complex text.

“It is understood that we are all in this together … it’s an agreement, not a battle,” she explained.  Students get an entrée into speaking up instead of hanging back – but also know they must deliver in the classroom.  Another benefit of the advisory relationship-building exercise: “It kind of gets adults off their high horse!”

Here’s Tuesday’s video, which proves not only that a picture is worth a thousand words, but also that slowing down to think … and have conversations without a device in hand … might not be such a bad thing.

For Eighth Graders, as Ms. Wilson put it, “Their specialty is talking about themselves!”

In advisories, however, growth comes from exposure to a broader spectrum of ideas, rather than simply being confined to one’s own.

It is noteworthy that Tuesday’s Board of Education session – and several other recent workshops – have moved toward person-to-person dialogues, in which Board members and District leaders in small groups probe key issues.

In past years, Board workshop meetings were characterized by lecture-style presentations; this new participatory approach by the District is distinctly different … and a positive development.