Career Pathways Through High School Advisor-Advisee Programming

By Mary Ellen Bell

Many public high schools across the nation, have implemented Advisor-Advisee programs, though programming varies from state to state (Hochman, Tocci & Allen, 2005). The core of most Advisor-Advisee programs, starts with matching groups of incoming ninth grade students with one teacher for the duration of their four years of high school. The goal is generally to provide consistent academic support and mentoring. Wiscasset Middle High School (WMHS) Wiscasset, Maine, was one of the first high schools in the state to implement this kind of program in the early 1990’s.


Advantages of Advisor-Advisee Program

There are many ways that Advisor-Advisee structures can be used for whole school programming. The advantages to using existing Advisor-Advisee programs for career education is three-fold. First and foremost, this concept utilizes existing teaching staff as a resource without additional financial outlay. Secondly, it supports Guidance offices and personnel, who are often over-extended (Harris, 2014). But most importantly, this programming utilizes a whole-school, integrated approach to instruction, which is generally more effective for more students than a one-teacher-one-career-class approach. It allows teachers to serve as career pathway mentors and widens the exposure students have to career pathways.


Piloting career education through the Advisor-Advisee program is an idea based on the combination of my 29 years of classroom experience, and the “Career Development Facilitator” (CDF*) program development model training. This kind of program planning is rooted in carefully assessing the immediate student needs and as well as identifying key stakeholders, both elements that often get overlooked in public school reform. There is exciting new career education programming at the secondary and post-secondary level that take a whole-school approach (Bates College, 2017).


WMHS Career Pathway Advisor-Advisee Pilot Program

The current pilot program began with assessing needs to support the existing career preparation requirements, namely the 10th grade ‘Career or Informational Interview’ and 11th grade ‘Job Shadow’. There are currently Maine State Department of Education K-12 Learning Results (MLR) career standards that must be met (MDOE, Career & Education). The principal and the Guidance office, saw the pilot project as an avenue to work on these standards, especially in relation to the new state Proficiency Based Education requirements (PBE). PBE is a Maine state requirement and is based on the idea that students demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge prior to progressing to different levels (MDOE, Standards in Proficiency Based Education, 2015). In addition, we identified the Maine Education Loan Marketing Corporation (MELMAC) grant supported team as a key stakeholder in the pilot program.

Initial implementation planning includes:

  1. Buy-in by teachers in the existing Advisor-Advisee program
  2. Meeting time to plan with the Guidance Counselor and the MELMAC team.
  3. Obtain one course-reduction teaching schedule to conduct instructional career education seminars as a certified Career Development Facilitators (CDF).

These initial requirements involved utilizing existing staff expertise and providing additional scheduling to devote time to the task. Essentially, it required a reorganization of existing resources.


Implementation of the WMHS Career Pathway Advisor-Advisee Pilot Program

The project began with building a calendar, publicizing it, and fitting in the career pathway seminars for 10th and 11th grade existing advisor time. As the seminars were piloted, it became clear that having a full grade seminar could work, as long as advisors actively worked with their own advisee groups. The first year pilot mostly repeats the 10th and 11th grade programming. Second year pilot will expand to the 11th grade Job Shadow seminar programming. The following represents the breakdown of the implemented pilot program:


Seminar 1: Jobs, Skills & Pathways - Part 1

Goal: Define key career vocabulary and use career theory to identify interests

Resource: O*NET Career Interests Inventory (paper version). https://www.onetcenter.org/tools.html


Seminar 2: Jobs, Skills & Pathways - Part 2

Goal: Analyze and discuss Interest Inventory, identify possible careers/jobs to explore using resource sheet, and select career cluster for required informational interview.

Resource: WMHS Career Resources


Seminar 3: Setting up Interviews & Learning Interviewing Skills

Goal: Employ professional ways to contact adults by email/phone and practice interviewing sessions starting with career pathway mock interviews of Advisors by their Advisees.

Resource: WMHS Informational Interview Question Sheet


Program Update and Suggestions for Future Work

  1. Student rate of completion of informational interviews and job shadows was higher this year. Advisor group completion rate was 100% for the first time in some groups.
  2. Seasoned Advisors informally reported that they enjoyed modeling some of their own job experiences and that the seminar support for the career pathway work was helpful.
  3. Integrating career pathway skills into existing programming as opposed to doing it in separate career classes, reaches more students school-wide.
  4. Advisor-Advisee Career pathway seminars address and track MLR Career standards
  5. Grade-level Advisor groups are now being given monthly faculty meeting time to continue to develop Advisor career pathway programming.

In addition to continuing with pilot testing this seminar, the school staff and Guidance Department is energized with renewed interest in offering additional career pathway programming such as senior internships and capstone projects, 9th grade work habits seminars, and Career Day which incorporates ‘speed informational interview’ opportunities.


Successful Whole-School Career Seminar Programming

Whole school integration of career education through the use of the Advisor-Advisee Programming is a powerful way to utilize dormant resources in any educational institution. Career education is uniquely rooted in the human experience, and many adults have within them untold stories that can become instructional material when cultivated. This approach, coupled with the CDF expertise of someone on staff allows for successful whole-school career seminar programming.



American Student Achievement Institute. Retrieved from http://www.asainstitute.org/advisory/index.html


Bates College. Purposeful work. Retrieved from http://www.bates.edu/purposeful-work/programs/curricular/infusion-2/


Harris, E. A. (2014, December, 25). Little college guidance: 500 high school students per counselor. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/nyregion/little-college-guidance-500-high-school-students-per-counselor.html?_r=0


Maine Department of Education. Career & Education Development. Retrieved from http://www.maine.gov/doe/careerandeducation/


Maine Department of Education. Standards in Proficiency Based Education. Retrieved from https://www.maine.gov/doe/proficiency/standards/standardsinprofbasededucation.html


MELMAC Education Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.melmacfoundation.org/about-us/


O*Net Resource Center. O*Net Career Exploration Tools. Retrieved from https://www.onetcenter.org/tools.html


Tocci, C., et al. (2005). Advisory Programs in High School Restructuring. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association conference, Montreal, Quebec, April 11-15, 2005. http://www.tc.columbia.edu/ncrest/aera/aera2005_advisory.pdf


Mary Ellen BellMary Ellen Bell, M.A., GCDF, grew up living on both coasts of the United States and in Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. She attended Bates College, where she earned a BA in Asian Studies. She attended the University of New Hampshire to earn her Master of Arts in Teaching and came to work and teach in the Social Studies Department at Wiscasset in 1988. Over this period of time, she has raised two daughters who are now in their twenties, taken two sabbaticals focused on community involvement in education and taught almost every course the Wiscasset Social Studies Department offers. In addition to her teaching and the regular mentoring of new teachers, she was recently certified as a Global Career Development Facilitator. She is currently piloting career pathway seminars for 10th and 11th graders at Wiscasset Middle High School, Wiscasset, Maine. She can be reached at


* Career Development Facilitator training is now called Facilitating Career Development. Career Development Facilitators are now called Career Services Providers. Thanks to Peak-Careers Consulting with Jim Peacock and Cathy Van Dyke. http://peak-careers.com/ for offering an intensive CDF course that blends online/in person platforms that is both challenging and interesting.

Printer-Friendly Version


JP Michel   on Tuesday 12/05/2017 at 09:49 AM

Great article Mary Ellen. Thank you for sharing your methodology with us. Could you please tell us, in your opinion, what is the best way to get teacher buy-in for these types of initiatives?
Thank you!
JP Michel

Mary Ellen Bell   on Thursday 12/14/2017 at 05:45 PM

Thank you JP Michel. Yes. That is a critical question. I think there are 2 ways to get buy-in on this type of initiative.
1. Admin. needs to support Advisor-Advisee programs with Prof. Devt. TIME, articulate it clearly as an expectation for teachers and provide good resources and guidance.
2. This kind of career pathway work needs to be celebrated in the culture of the school & shared in creative ways. Bulletin Boards, Academic assemblies, website pictures, tweets etc.
Mary Ellen

JP Michel   on Thursday 12/21/2017 at 10:28 AM

Thank you Mary Ellen!

JP Michel   on Thursday 12/21/2017 at 10:28 AM

Thank you Mary Ellen!

Jim Peacock   on Tuesday 12/26/2017 at 05:09 PM

Nice work here Mary Ellen. When you presented this in the FCD class I really thought it was great. You have proved it is great having your students begin their career development in high school.
The beauty is that teachers are getting this great information too!

Well done.

Amy P. Schroeder   on Friday 12/29/2017 at 01:51 PM

Thank you Mary Ellen - full school career development engagement and support is key to success - I appreciate you noting the dedicated Professional Development time needed for teachers and admin. Great article - Thank you.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.