I have a long history in using and leading the Developmental Designs advisory meeting structures known as the Circle of Power and Respect (CPR) and Activity Plus (A+). I’ve led and co-led these meetings with student groups, participated in student-led advisories, and participated in adult-led meetings.
My experiences with both advisory structures have always been positive, and I always reflect on ways to improve. I usually plan my advisories thematically using content (activities, greetings, games, and energizers) from a variety of places, including making them up in my head. I like and appreciate the power and connectedness that the meetings give students and staff. Advisories can ramp up the brain and readiness for learning. After an advisory meeting, students and staff usually report a “get-ready” attitude and an active mind for the day.
However, there has always been something missing from these advisories—who we are culturally and how our culture influences us. I often wondered, “How many students and staff did I really get to know on a cultural level using the advisory meeting structure?”
Face to Face Advisories, a publication from The Origins Program (TOP) by Linda Crawford, brings content for cultural conversations in CPR and A+ formats. TOP has a long history of building positive, authentic, and strong relationships in school communities through the Developmental Designs advisory structures, and now those structures can assist both teachers and students in learning multiple perspectives to examine culture in lively and thought-provoking ways.
I had an opportunity to lead and participate in two Face to Face Advisories meetings with educators from schools across the country. The meetings were professionally, personally, and socially challenging, and encouraging in ways that I hadn’t experienced before in an advisory meeting. Culture was at the heart of each meeting.
As we participated in meetings from Perspective One: Identity and Diversity, the teachers and I quickly realized that the Face to Face Advisories content yielded a serious opportunity to cultivate connections across our differences. I talked face-to-face with two teachers who were professionally similar to me but culturally different in many interesting ways. In my small group, I listened to a white male and white female talk about positive and negative ways that their cultures helped shape their identities; their reflections were emotionally and cognitively stimulating. Both shared stories about their continuing struggle to reconcile their cultural experiences gained from their families, friends, neighborhoods, and geographic location while growing up.
My male partner reflected on how both his “whiteness” and high socioeconomic status have led to advantages in a variety of ways in life, in particular his experience in school growing up. He recalled having many resources in his predominantly white and “well off” school that promoted high academic engagement and inquiry in every fabric of the school day, compared to the limited and oftentimes low quality resources available to the predominantly lower socioeconomic student population that he teaches.
My white female sharing partner shared her struggle of being from a small rural town and being gay. She spoke about her confusion while growing up when hearing her family and community members discuss ethnic roles, gender roles, and sexual orientation roles in demeaning and dehumanizing ways. This partner discussed how being gay and being discriminated against for being gay have allowed her to be much more cognizant of her work with young adolescents of color. She talked about how her negative experiences with discrimination have given her an opportunity to openly discuss with all her students about both the individual and group cost of intolerance.
Face to Face Advisories allowed immediate access to stories about privilege, “whiteness,” “African-Americanness,” fairness, self-respect, guilt, and “ok-ness.” The volume for conversations about differences in the learning and community-building process can now be turned up.
Face to Face Advisories is the knob for turning on students and teachers to conversations through a variety of 20–30 minute daily meetings to develop the skills and appreciation for cultural diversity and to examine the price we pay for intolerance.
A variety of personalities, cultures, and ways of being are in classrooms all across the country. Many educators and adolescents must address the challenge of knowing how to have cultural conversations that help move learning along in classrooms when we’re all face-to-face.
Dr. Terrance Kwame-Ross is the Executive Director for The Origins Program. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and previously taught in the St. Paul Public Schools. He co-founded and served as principal for four years at New City Charter School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Posted September 2014