How to Advise Your Students Well
When students ask for advice, don’t tell them what to do right away.
I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy recently in which the wise Dr. Bailey told another doctor how she gave advice: using metaphors. Her point was that when you give people practical, straightforward advice that turns out to be wrong, it will come back to bite you. If you use a metaphor, however, people will interpret it to fit what they already want to do. They’ll end up doing what they want to do anyway, but if it turns out to be the wrong choice, you can blame it on their interpretation of the metaphor.
Now, I’m not saying this is the best way to give advice. I’ve known people who constantly use metaphors and, quite frankly, I find it very irritating. When I ask for someone’s opinion, I want their opinion, not some vague metaphor you can interpret 10 different ways.
There is, however, one important piece of wisdom here: When students ask for advice, don’t tell them what to do right away.
That may seem very contradictory—after all, they ask you for your advice and opinion, so why not give it to them? The thing is they don’t always ask for your advice, even though that’s what it sounds like. Try to get a feel for what they need from you and see if you can provide that.
Sometimes they ask for affirmation, for support of a decision they’ve already made. Sometimes they ask for love, for someone to be there for them. Sometimes they just ask to be heard, they just need for someone to listen to them.
But even if they do want your advice, it’s better to not tell them straight away. That way, they won’t learn how to make solid decisions themselves. Instead, ask questions and help them through the process of decision-making. Here are a few questions you could ask:
- What would happen if you choose option A? What would happen if you chose option B? Which outcome is the best, do you think?
- What do you think your parents would advise you to do? How is this affecting your decision?
- Do you know if the Bible says anything about this? If so, how does that help you? If not, is there any way of knowing what God would want you to do?
- If you had to give advice to your best friend about this, what would you advise him or her to do?
Depending on the situation the student is asking advice about, you can come up with many more. Just ask questions, listen to the answers, reflect these back to the students (as literally as possible—it’s usually very effective for young people to hear their exact own words back) and help them come to a good conclusion.
The great thing is if you do this instead of telling them what to do, your students will feel proud and empowered because they made their own decision.
How do you respond when students asks for your advice? Do you find it hard to not just give them your opinion?