SEL Consultant Ellen Mahoney Conducts Workshop with Upper School Advisors

By Lindsey Kundel, Director of Communications & Marketing

Social-emotional consultant Ellen Mahoney worked with upper school faculty members on the November 12 professional development day to help clarify and improve the upper school advisor's role as a way to deepen the youth-mentoring program in the upper school.

Ellen Mahoney has worked in education and youth development as a teacher, counselor, and director since 1997. Her primary expertise is in youth mentoring and third culture kid development. She currently serves as the CEO and Co-Founder of the Circulus Institute, an organization that seeks to help educators improve their understanding of Social Emotional Well Being and its impact on students. Ellen is also the CEO of Sea Change Mentoring, an organization that helps international schools build and support mentoring, advisory, transition support and Social-Emotional Learning programs. Ellen is an alumna of Singapore American School and understands the TCK world very well. 

This was Mahoney's first session of a larger consultancy with the upper school planned throughout the rest of the year.

"We look forward to her work with us in clarifying and improving our role as advisors," said Upper school associate principal Jill Fagen in her introduction to faculty.

The theme of the professional development day was for advisors to focus on relationships, what Mahoney calls the fundamental aspect of an advisory program.

Mahoney practiced what she preached in her session with faculty, beginning the session with an emotional check in and ending with what she calls an "optimistic closure." She said that the beginning and end of each session is an important transitional period that honors what a person experienced prior to a session and helps them re-transition into that space after the work has concluded. 

"When we name our feelings, it helps us to tame those feelings," said Mahoney. "It also creates something called cognitive offloading, allowing us to not be distracted by those feelings."

As an advisor, Mahoney says this is doubly important because it helps you see larger themes throughout the advisory as a whole beyond just an individual's experience. It can help you to prepare for the time that you spend together, especially if the entire group's emotional temperature is trending lower than expected.

Prior to the session today, Mahoney was able to work with upper school student representatives to gather more information on the student advisory experience at TAS. She included this feedback in her workshop today to use these students' observations to facilitate action-oriented brainstorming within the grade level advisory groups.

One important theme had to do with the variability of the student advisory experience depending on the personality makeup of each individual advisory group. Group dynamics are at play, she reminded advisors. "It is a common challenge that I am here to help you with," said Mahoney.

Another takeaway that Mahoney stressed to advisors is the importance of fun in youth-mentoring programs. "Students around the world will tell you this," said Mahoney. This is different from playing games, she said. What advisors should be looking for are ways to connect with one another, which sometimes takes the form of games and other times is less structured.

One TAS faculty member said that after reading the student feedback he learned today that he needs to be listening more to the needs of his students in advisory. 


Mahoney agrees because the advisory relationship is a two-way street, one where both the students and advisors can co-create a positive experience for all. "It takes time to build that, but when we do, it ends up being a capacity builder for you [the faculty], and the work feels so much more relevant for them [the students]," said Mahoney.

According to recent research, there are 5 key elements of developmental relationships that Mahoney introduced to upper school faculty members today. Those include:

  • Expressing care: show me that I matter to you

  • Challenging growth: push me to keep getting better

  • Providing support: help me complete tasks and achieve goals

  • Sharing power: treat me with respect and give me a say

  • Expanding possibilities: connect me with people and places that broaden my world

These elements play an important role in the kind and strength of relationships that young adults can have with adult mentors. 

The ultimate goal of advisory is to create strong student-teacher relationships that include healthy boundaries for both individuals within a safe and non-academic context.

While Ellen will be directly presenting to faculty during two different PD sessions, our faculty also have the opportunity to engage in six different online modules to improve their advisory work. These modules include: 1. Advisory Fundamentals 2. The Inner Work of the Advisor 3. The School Context 4. Understanding our Students  5. Student-Teacher Relationships  6. The group experience. 

Advisors in the Upper School will also have open access to an "Advisory Database," an online database on curated (and free) activities to be used in advisory organized by theme, time needed, and age. 

Finally, Ellen is offering one-to-one coaching and small group work throughout the year for any advisors that need additional support or who are looking for some collaborative problem-solving time.