Distributed Guidance Model for Post-Secondary Success

Teachers, counselors, administrators – they all play essential roles in helping students prepare for life after high school. Still, amidst the business of the school day, it is a challenge for educators to address the essential topics of career, college, and life preparation alongside curricular requirements in the classroom to the degree each and every student deserves. With time constraints and lack of personnel, how are schools to prepare each student for the career or college path that best suits their individual interests and needs? How can only a few counselors adequately meet the needs of such large and diverse student populations?  And how do students keep track of it all?

Much of the STEPS post-secondary work focuses on these very questions in order to identify and better utilize systems that address the goals of increasing graduation rates and follow-on enrollment in college and career training. These are not new goals, of course, and educators have been embedding futures planning in their courses for years.  But how students plan for the future has drastically changed in the last decade.

Students must now wade through the quagmire of matching academic profiles and career goals to more educational options than ever – online, independent study, and dual-credit course offerings – in order to map out the most cost-efficient and productive path toward their end goal. And if a student isn’t tracking it all in a digital platform (such as AKCIS) with dedicated time and support from teachers and peers, they should be. The cost of being underprepared is missed opportunities and an interrupted trajectory from which some students won’t recover.

The research says it’s about working smarter and sharing the responsibility for helping students explore possibilities for their future. This model of shared responsibility is also referred to as homeroom, advisory, or distributed guidance and is detailed in the article Core & More: Guiding and Personalizing College & Career Readiness [1]. But whatever one calls it, the goal remains the same – to create a more personalized approach to help students match skills and interests to their future plans.

But here’s the real beauty of this approach – it is endlessly adaptable to meet the needs of each school’s student population because it operates as the structure through which multiple guidance functions meet to ensure every student has a plan.  It also doesn’t necessarily require a schedule overhaul, more teachers or counselors; just a shift in how those resources are utilized.  This dedicated time can be used to focus on mindset and school culture, academic monitoring, homework help, course selection, college and career guidance, social & emotional learning, or all of the above. What makes it so beneficial for students is the increased access to educational professionals and peer cohorts for guidance pertaining to specific secondary- and post-secondary goals.

Some school districts in Alaska already utilize a distributed guidance model with floating counselors or have a futures planning course in which all students participate. Here in Sitka, Pacific High School utilizes a dedicated time called Crew each day promote reciprocal peer learning as well as to address essential life and career topics beyond the classroom setting. And mindful of how to best showcase where curricular areas translate to career and job skills, Sitka High School is exploring opportunities in homeroom to allow for increased teacher contact with students regarding futures planning.  Because a distributed guidance approach, in any variation, combines digital tools with teacher support and dedicated time for reflection, even small changes have the potential to yield high-impact results for students.

The new reality is that schools must embrace a more cooperative approach to help students step successfully into their post-secondary career or college plans and actually have students document that plan, whether through the Alaska Career Information System (AKCIS) or a similar digital platform. Because what teacher advisors are ultimately doing for their students is nurturing hope – hope that can come to fruition because their students now have the skills, access to information, and a plan to make it happen.


Content provided to the AASB by Colleen Carroll, STEPS Post-Secondary Project Coordinator in the Sitka School District


[1] Ryerse, Mary, et al. “Innovations in Learning.” Getting Smart, 2014, www.gettingsmart.com/.