Holistic Advising

The six phases of our holistic advising initiative are based on the work of Dr. Jenny Bloom (Florida Atlantic University) who described the concept of Appreciative Advising, and last year (2020) we hosted Dr. Amanda Propst-Cuevas (Florida Atlantic University), Dr. Bloom's colleague, for a day-long workshop on Appreciative Advising.

We used that experience as a starting place for W&L's holistic advising Fall Academy session where we worked with the six phases: disarm, discover, dream, design, deliver, and deeper reflection, and their definitions to produce our own guidelines for holistic advising. Below is the result of our deliberations with an amazing group of faculty & staff who produced this work in progress.

Advising is a continuous and repetitive process that requires building a unique relationship with each student. The six phases, outlined below, are meant to help your progress in developing each of these relationships. You will find that there is considerable overlap between each. Initially, you are unlikely to work through each of them, but perhaps only the first three (Disarm, Discover, and Dream). However, to develop a meaningful relationship with each advisee, you will likely touch on each phase over the course of your first semester as you get to know each student. Our hope is that you will eventually find that all phases become intertwined within your conversations, and our plan is to revisit these guidelines annually to continue to improve our approach to advising the whole student in an equitable way.

-Paul Hanstedt
-Helen I'Anson
-Paul Youngman


Disarm: This phase recognizes that first impressions and creating a safe, welcoming environment for your advisee provides a grounding for open student/adviser conversations.

Important Behaviors W&L Style: Consider what nonverbal behaviors and verbal behaviors will facilitate this phase. What other behaviors might assist in providing a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment?

  • Be human, be open but set boundaries
  • Explain the relationship of adviser/advisee to level the playing field
  • Create an environment conducive to professional relationship building - pay attention to your furniture layout and office decor
  • Raise awareness of other resources (explain what office hours are, let them know about peer tutors, peer counselors, profession counseling, class deans, etc.)
  • Listen actively
  • Consider having treats like chocolate
  • Be open to meeting in other spaces
  • Demonstrate, model, and expect respect
  • Share information about yourself

Questions that make good openers W&L Style: How will you begin your conversation to show your advisee that they are in a welcoming and safe space?

  • What is your preferred name/pronouns?
  • How was your move to Lexington?
  • What do you do for fun? Or ask about interest beyond academics without being intrusive.
  • What questions do you have for me?

Discover: During this phase you should discover your students' interests, strengths, and passions. Listening carefully to each answer to your questions is key to success in this phase.

Important Behaviors W&L Style: What behaviors will assist you in this discovery phase as you practice active listening techniques - pay close attention, withhold judgement, reflect, clarify, summarize and share?

  • Suggest/encourage inquiry and exploration with the objective of peeling back the layers for self-discovery
  • Actively listen - lean in, nod your head, summarize - with the objective of pushing students to self-reflect

Questions you might ask during this phase W&L Style: These should be open-ended allowing the student to build a narrative about themselves.

  • Why did you choose W&L?
  • What do you want to achieve while you're here? Academically? Personally?
  • What do you want to do after W&L? What would you want to do if no one were watching?
  • What are your interests?
  • What do you find [insert adjective here]?
  • Which classes sound interesting
  • What high impact practices seem interesting to you, right now and during the next few years?

Dream: Here you assist your student in articulating a vision of what they might become, and then you help them to develop their life and career goals.

Important Behaviors W&L Style: How do you help them to build a framework for dreaming? How will you help them to begin to make connections between the Discover and Dream phases?

  • Engage: Ask them questions and share about yourself. Build a relationship.
  • Explore: Go through an interest inventory with them. Explore contacts to help with the dream.
  • Encourage: Empower them with support and resources. Encourage intellectual risk taking.
  • Experience: Help them find pathways to their dreams. It's a process, not a destination. Half of our job is to try to lower the stakes and to show them potential paths to accomplish their dream.
  • Envision: Build bridges to design and deliver. Always be reflecting on your dreams.

Questions you could ask during this phase: Here's where you might help them to see opportunities and not barriers to their future, which could open up further conversations that empower your student to achieve their vision.

  • Spark Curiosity: What are you excited about here? What are your interests?
  • Care: What brings you joy? What do you care about? Whom do you care about?
  • Contributions: What's your "super power"? What do you want to leave behind?
  • Create: What ideas, big or small, do you have? Where can you innovate?
  • Calling (beyond career): Where do you see yourself after W&L? How do your gifts meet the world's needs?

Design: Work with your student to co-create concrete goals, and teach your student how to make decisions to achieve these goals.

Important Behaviors W&L style: How do you encourage your student to select their own goals so that they are more likely to follow through? How do you teach your students how to make decisions? What other behaviors would be helpful for modeling this Design phase?

  • Share your own experience.
  • Share who your role models are.
  • Encourage them to get in touch with their faculty members or those who might be important role models for them.
  • Point them to campus resources.
  • Look at suggested course list together.
  • Look at their course progress.
  • Encourage them to make connections with experiences outside the classroom.
  • Discuss time management.
  • Emphasize self-care.
  • Help identify critical decision points.
  • Encourage them to think about timelines.
  • Help set priorities - you can't do everything all at once.
  • Set goals for summer opportunities.
  • Check in at midterm, in addition to your regular meetings, and between terms.
  • Reassess all of the above!

Questions that encourage your student to work with you on this phase W&L style: Here you might encourage them to think about: short- and long-term goals; about who might help them to achieve their goals (effective referrals); about role models they can solicit for sound advice.

  • Where do you see yourself in xxx years?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • What steps can you take that lead to your dreams?
  • What are your goals for personal time?
  • What does balance look like to you?
  • What can you realistically accomplish in a term?
  • What's your learning style?
  • Do you have a personal strategic plan?
  • Have you entered goals/dates into your calendar?
  • What other ideas do you have for courses in case you can't get into one you want?
  • Do you periodically reassess?

Deliver: During this phase you help motivate, encourage and energize your student as they follow through with their plans.

Important Behaviors W&L style: How do you engender academic hope in the face of challenges? How do you maintain contact and follow-up with your student? How do you show that you believe in them and show confidence in their ability to succeed? How do you celebrate small victories with them?

  • Consistent contact with multiple modes of communication (email, teams, zoom, in-person meetings).
  • Meet them where they are mentally and emotionally.
  • Establish trust and boundaries.
  • Empathize.
  • Listen actively.
  • Celebrate successes both big and small.
  • Be attentive to their goals.
  • Normalize "failure"/give permission to fail and encourage ways to develop resilience..
  • Encourage them to tell their own stories.
  • Encourage asking for help.
  • Offer resources.
  • Decenter grades and focus on learning and progress.

Questions to ask that help your student to follow through on their plans: Here your questions should encourage your student to think about and celebrate small successes along the way; to overcome roadblocks that they encounter; to motivate them and encourage resilience when they stumble.

  • Self Care
  • How's it going?
  • How are you feeling?
  • Are you taking care of yourself - sleeping, eating well?
  • Reflection
  • What is your favorite/least favorite class?
  • What were your big and small wins this term?
  • How can you measure success beyond the letter grade on paper?
  • Do you feel on track to reach your goals?
  • What changes can you implement to keep you on track to achieve your goals?

Deeper Reflection: This is the phase where you support and challenge your student to raise the bar as they continue to move forward. "Good is the enemy of Great".

Important Behaviors W&L style: What behaviors might celebrate their accomplishments, but also challenge them to do more? How might you encourage them to challenge themselves as they set new goals?

  • Model your own process of self-reflection.
  • Encourage self-reflection.
  • Encourage them to believe in themselves.
  • Repeat.
  • Encourage self-reflection
  • Encourage them to believe in themselves.
  • Repeat.

Questions that might support and challenge your student W&L style: Here your questions should help students turn mistakes into a learning process. They might challenge the student to raise (or lower) their own expectations. They help a student to refocus and regain positive momentum by designing a new plan if they have not followed through on a previous plan.

  • What were your goals prior to this inflection point (midterm, end of term, end of year)?
  • What worked for you? Why?
  • What didn't work? Why?
  • What have you learned from what worked and what didn't work for you?
  • How will you incorporate this knowledge into your future plans?
  • What were your expectations? Were they reasonable?
  • What worries/fears are holding you back?
  • Do you have peers/others you share goals with?


Adapted from Appreciative Advising Workshop by Amanda Propst Cuevas (2020) by 43 dedicated faculty and staff members of Washington and Lee on August 31.