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Stephen O. Wallace, Shippenburg University

In one Peanuts cartoon strip, Charlie Brown stands perplexed before Lucy’s psychiatric help stand and pleads, “Tell me a secret. Tell me something that will make a difference in my life! ” Lucy responds with a question.“Do you ever get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water? ” “Sure,” replies Charlie Brown. Then Lucy smugly advises, “Before you drink be sure to rinse out the glass. There might be a bug in it.” Many academic advisors share Charlie Brown’s sentiments. Facing increasing institutional demands to manage unrealistic advising caseloads, to keep students and parents happy, and to keep the pipeline from enrollment to graduation flowing, a common plea from advisors is for a secret that will make a difference in their advising experiences. If I could suggest a bit of wisdom that would benefit your students and increase your professional and personal satisfaction, would you be interested?

A common concern among academic advisors is the lack of opportunity to engage in meaningful developmental advising with their advisees. There appear to be two common contributors to this problem—each pilfering precious time: daily schedules packed with back-to-back fifteen minute appointments and students who come to appointments unprepared to maximize the precious time. Rather than a time to develop a close student-advisor relationship, advising sessions often become a mechanistic process of answering questions, creating schedules, explaining institutional policy, and keeping students on track. Frequently, the same students with the same issues show up over and over again. Advisors often enable this behavior and create a relationship of dependency when they fail to empower students to maintain ownership of their decisions and experiences. Admittedly, there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to fix a student’s problem and a sense of pride in being known as the go-to person for quick answers. This may feed the advisor’s ego, but it does not make a difference in the student.

Here is my bit of wisdom. Actually, it is no deep, hidden secret, and unlike Lucy I will not charge a nickel for it. One of the most important learning objectives an advisor can have for students is to teach students to become responsible advisees. While advisor development programs seek to ensure that advisors fulfill their responsibilities, often a vital link is overlooked. Students do not instinctively know how to be responsible advisees. We must teach students the value and process of advising and how to fulfill their advisee responsibilities.

As an integral part of the teaching/learning process, advising involves a partnership and includes a curriculum (what we teach), pedagogy (how we teach it), and learning outcomes (what we want a student to know, to be able to do, and to value as a result of advising) (King, 2006). Lowenstein (2005) posed the question: If advising is teaching, what do advisors teach? Answers to this question often target basic survival skills, such as how to read the catalog, understand institutional policies, use the student information system, read a degree audit, and schedule classes. Indeed, these are valuable learning outcomes for the advising process; however, if we are to teach students to become responsible advisees we must help them move up the taxonomy of educational objectives (Bloom, 1956).

To become responsible advisees, students need to be able to:

  • realistically assess their academic, professional, and life goals. Students must be taught how to examine the beliefs and presuppositions that constitute their views of self, their world, and their place in their world.
  • employ critical reasoning skills. Students must be taught to accept ownership of the decision-making process and to become creators of their experiences.
  • understand that advising is a collaborative partnership. Students must be taught their responsibilities in the advising process and how to fulfill them.

How do we teach students to become responsible advisees? Lowenstein (1999) envisions the exemplary advisor as someone who:

  • talks with students about courses that will initiate them into the world of ideas, help them understand their interrelationships, and to appreciate the thinkers who have gone before.
  • helps students discover for themselves how courses and ideas from a variety of disciplines complement each other and guide them to develop an overall world view.
  • Socratically challenges students to examine their intellectual presuppositions about learning, work, and the nature of adult life so they can continue to refine their ideas.
  • makes sure students develop and understand the importance of tools for lifelong learning.
Advising sessions should be viewed as instructional moments that are purposely designed. During the initial advising session, two important understandings should be established. First, the respective responsibilities of both the advisee and the advisor should be thoroughly explained. An advising syllabus (see Trabant, 2006), Web sites, handouts and posters can effectively delineate the advisor’s expectations of the student and what the advisee can expect from the advisor. Second, from the beginning of the advising process, the advisee must fully understand that success is his or her responsibility and that the advisor is a partner in that success. This lesson often has to be reinforced.

During succeeding meetings with a student, time should be allowed to teach the student how to achieve the learning outcomes that characterize a responsible advisee. The CAS Standards for Academic Advising (2005) provides examples of student learning and development outcomes. Each meeting should focus on particular learning outcomes and incorporate appropriate teaching strategies. One way to teach students to be responsible advisees is to give assignments rather than answers. If a student does not understand issues, such as graduation requirements or institutional policies, teach the student how to access the relevant information. Then observe as the student discovers the answer. It is the old question of whether we should give a hungry person a fish or teach the individual how to fish. The best way advisors can teach students to be responsible advisees is to model accountability in fulfilling the responsibilities of a good advisor.

When we teach students to become responsible advisees, we empower them to take ownership of their educational experiences and develop skills that are transferable to other dimensions of their lives. When we develop responsible advisees, we reduce the number of students who become dependent upon their advisors and the advisor’s office ceases to be an information booth with a revolving door. In addition, advisors have more time to invest in effectively advising students and in professional development activities. Teaching a student to be a responsible advisee is a win-win situation for both student and advisor.

Stephen O. Wallace
Coordinator Developmental Education and Advising Development
Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania
[email protected]


Bloom, B.S., (Ed.) (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals: Handbook I, cognitive domain. New York: Longmans.

Council for the Advancement of Standards ( CAS ). (2005). Academic Advising: CAS Standards and Guidelines. Retrieved April 5, 2007 fromhttp://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Standards.htm .

King, N. (2006). Advising as Teaching. Manhattan, KS: National Academic Advising Association.

Lowenstein, M. (2005). If Advising is Teaching, What Do Advisors Teach? NACADA Journal, 25(2), 65-73.

Lowenstein, M. (1999). An Alternative to the Developmental Theory of Advising.The Mentor An Academic Advising Journal, 1 (4). Retrieved September 14, 2006http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/991122ml.htm .

National Academic Advising Association. (2006). NACADA concept of academic advising. Retrieved March 18, 2007 fromhttp://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Concept-Advising.htm .

Trabant, T.D. (2006). Advising Syllabus 101. Retrieved March 15, 2007 fromNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising ResourcesWeb site:http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/syllabus101.htm

Cite this article using APA style as: Wallace, S. (2007, September). Teaching students to become responsible advisees. Academic Advising Today, 30(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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