It goes without saying that all great advisors operate from a solid professional foundation. That foundation includes the following givens.
Great advisors are knowledgeable about the characteristics and needs of their students and informed about their respective programs as well as institutional mission, goals, requirements, policies, procedures, rules and regulations.
They are accessible to students – logistically and personally.
They are accurate and timely in their response to student needs.
They are fair and seek to become aware of their biases.
They are ethical in their practice.
They are able to effectively refer students to appropriate resources.
What Great Advisors Do
Beyond the givens, great advisors do the following:
Great advisors see each student and every advising interaction as unique and have the ability to adapt their style, strategies and methods depending on the student’s needs and situation.
Great advising is based on a relationship between individuals. Advising is not something that is done to a student; at its best, it is a continuous, open, collaborative, authentic, honest, genuine, fluid, exchange between individuals. Vulnerability and kindness are core dispositions. Many advisors described this as an energy exchange – current flows from the advisor to the student and back again to the advisor – each learns from the other and is energized. Other descriptions of this exchange included use of a dance metaphor where the student is leading, and a tandem bike metaphor where both parties work in unison with doubled peddling power.
Great advisors are inclusive. They seek to become aware of their biases and create inclusive, welcoming environments for students.
Great advisors see themselves as advocates. Advocacy can take many forms including going the extra mile for students, creating a welcoming and safe space, and helping students recognize their own strength and resilience. They help students navigate the University’s complex systems and hierarchies and ultimately create a greater sense of agency and ability to self-advocate.
Great advisors are connected to people, resources and ideas. Advising is a complex interdependent activity and great advisors get and stay connected.
Great advisors are expert listeners, adept at asking the right questions and are aware of self and others. They are perceptive and they listen (without judgment) with their entire self to both verbal and non-verbal cues.
Great advisors see things from the student’s perspective, they have a unique capacity to empathize and remain humble.
Great advisors are creative and constantly see opportunities for continuous improvement. They often do not think they are great since they see greatness itself as an orientation toward never ending improvement.
What Great Advisors Know
Our greats identified one simple thing that all greats know:
Great advisors know that change is constant and that they cannot know everything. They admit this with grace and humor and constantly seek to discover what they do not know.
What Great Advisors Value
Great advisors value learning, cultivate the potential for growth in students and are themselves curious and continuous learners. The learning and growth that happens over time is often reciprocal with benefits to both the advisor and student.
Greats are progress, success and completion oriented. Many great advisors described the pride they take in seeing students reach important intellectual and personal milestones. They believe in every student’s ability to succeed.
They value feedback on their performance. Greats seem to have an innate desire to know how they are doing and they look for and use formal and informal evaluation of their performance to adapt, modify and improve their practice.
Greats are authentic. This quality is often described as the ability to be genuine, human, open, honest, and vulnerable. Much emphasis is placed by greats on openness and vulnerability in the advising exchange. When students know and understand their advisors to be human beings, they themselves are more able to confide, connect, reflect, accept and grow.
Greats are often creative, innovative, and fun loving. The ability to think outside of the box is a source of constant pride as is the ability to use humor to reduce stress and leverage connection.
They value teamwork, collaboration, connectedness, networks, and professional partnerships and they leverage these to create support systems for themselves and their students. They see their success as tied to the successes of others.
What Great Advisors Produce
The critical benefits and outcomes of advising are well known; enhanced engagement, performance, learning, intra and interpersonal skills, greater connectedness, wellness and improved ability to retain, transition, persist and complete degree requirements. In addition, greats described the following additional benefits of great advising:
Greats enhance learning, meaning making and help clarify purpose. Much emphasis is put on open-ended questioning, reflection and synthesis as strategies for helping students better understand their interests, experiences, choices, progress and future goals.
They expand opportunity, discovery and growth. Great advisors use a magical formula of support and challenge that leads to new possibilities, options and opportunities for students.
Greats understand the University to be a place of complex hierarchies and they work to increase agency, confidence and the ability to self-advocate.
Great advising supports identity development and opportunities to reframe one’s view of oneself and one’s ability. It provides the “safe space” or “brave space” needed to explore multiple intersecting and emerging identities and core values.
Great advising increases confidence. Advisors often provide the much needed “you are as good and smart as everyone else” encouragement students need to persist.
Great advising has a positive emotional impact – students often feel less stressed, worried, anxious, insecure, alone, and confused. They leave great advising sessions feeling more positive, calm, uplifted and empowered. In short, they feel cared for and affirmed. Students have greater awareness of and ability to manage a wide range of emotions; through trust and openness great advisors support emotional expression and create bridges to other critical support networks.
Great advising creates and expands connections– students are more connected to the institution, to their peers, to faculty, to resources and opportunities.
How Greats Get and Remain Great
Great advisors are open to, welcome and seek out feedback on their performance especially from students.
They engage in on-going professional development activities both formal and informal; they make learning a priority.
Great advisors are connected to others and to the advising community. They see their work has highly interconnected and dependent on the strengths, knowledge and expertise of others.
Great advisors can often be found helping and inspiring their colleagues. By supporting others they deepen and extend their own abilities and practice.
Great advisors become and stay great by surrounding themselves with greatness. All greats mentioned another great advisor who mentored or inspired them and upon which they modeled their own practice.
They are reflective and able to balance professional and personal responsibilities. They have developed and employ a wide range of self-care strategies to ensure optimal performance. They know when and how to step away and recharge.
With deep appreciation and gratitude to the great advisors who contributed to this project and to the many great advisors on the Berkeley campus who do so much to improve the lives of students. Thank you for leading and inspiring our advising community.
Dolann M. Adams
B. Yuki Burton
Dewey St. Germaine